STORY WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON
For Digital First Media
Philadelphia’s known for its Mummers, but a more ethereal type of “Mummers’ Dance” is coming to the Keswick Theatre. Singer-songwriter Loreena McKennitt will perform there, along with two musicians, during her U.S. tour.
McKennitt, well-known for “The Mummers’ Dance” and “Dante’s Prayer,” will feature some of her more traditional songs during the performance. There also will be a section of words and music inspired by the history of the Irish coming to Canada during the potato famine and the Easter Uprising of 1916 (when the Irish wanted to end British rule and establish an independent republic). It will include some poetry and first-hand accounts of the refugees that came to Canada. McKennitt told me during a telephone interview that she believes these historical events resonate with what’s happening with refugees around the world today.
McKennitt’s history in brief: she grew up in rural Manitoba, Canada. She started to explore Celtic music in the late 1970s and connected with its history thereafter. She says on her website, “I found myself drawn into a rich, ancient tapestry of sounds and rhythms and stories. I discovered myths and traditions that resemble one another from far corners of the globe, people who share traits and yet are distinctive.”
Her songs are inspired by history, travel, and literature. Her songwriting is known for its storytelling, something she considers a harkening to the Celts from whom she draws inspiration.
“They were an oral culture,” she said as she rode in a car to a tour stop in New England. She feels that some of her lengthier ballads and stories are “a nod to that oral tradition, which is still to some degree active in Ireland and Scotland.”
McKennitt started her music career on her own by creating her own label, Quinlan Road. She did all of the work that comes with being a musician/performing artist herself. Her office: her kitchen.
“I’d love to say I knew what I was doing,” she said, but she just knew she wanted to be independent.
When she first began recording in 1985, she couldn’t even name a record company. She just made her music, she said. She toured in Toronto and Vancouver, and in London and Dublin.
“I built my career brick by brick,” she said.
She has learned a lot along the way, originally selling cassettes at concerts and through consignment at stores, then learning about marketing and the other business details of a music career. She signed a licensing deal with Warner in 1991, she said. They told her that her career would probably only go so far without some industry assistance. That was true, she said, but to this day, she still doesn’t have traditional management. She has music distributors, but that’s about it.
“I think how my career has existed on my own terms and relative to my own concept of success – it’s not all built on fame and money,” she said. “I have control of my creative process as well as control of my life.”
It’s a “very normal life,” she said. In Canada, “where I live, I can go shopping and to the post office.”
Originally, she wanted to be a veterinarian, but “music chose me,” she said. She still has a passion for animals and wildlife, but music is her calling. It has been, for 30 years now. After 14 million albums sold and years of touring, she’s still content – with the process, with her definition of success, with the opportunities this career has afforded to her.
“The most important thing has been an introduction to the world and people and culture and history,” she said. “I feel that I’ve had a very rich existence in terms of meeting people and learning about things and being exposed to situations. It became far more successful than I ever could have imagined it.”
She feels lucky that she has been allowed to do something she loves for so long, to make music – an enriching medium that connects people, she said. It connected us, at least until our call was finished and then she continued along her life on the road, which eventually will lead to Glenside.
IF YOU GO
What: Loreena McKennitt
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 28.
Where: Keswick Theatre, 291 N Keswick Ave., Glenside, PA
Tickets: $45-$75. Call 888-929-7849, or 215-572-7650 or visit www.keswicktheatre.com.