Media outlets are flocking to Natalie MacMaster. The Cape Breton fiddler recently appeared on "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" and "Good Morning America." She is the folk darling of the moment, yet it was with utter modesty that she surveyed the crowd at Symphony Hall on Sunday.
"This is wicked. We have a full house here," she exclaimed, seemingly surprised.
She shouldn't have been, because Boston has long been in the palm of her fiddling hand. Her first fiddle came from here (when she was 9 years old), and her first American performance was at the Canadian-American Club in Watertown when she was 12.
She turned in a grand performance, and with the radiant joy that ran throughout her show, one can only surmise that even bigger things are in store.
Let's not get ahead of ourselves, though. Let's enjoy this magnificent, two-set marathon in which she played jigs, reels, and strathspeys for all they were worth, while adding Cape Breton step dancing skills that were updated to include a Michael Jackson moonwalk. It was maximum entertainment, especially considering that MacMaster rarely sings.
She did a brief rap/vocal intro to "Touch of the Master's Hand," but the song was mainly sung by guitarist Brad Davidge. If MacMaster could ever gain the confidence to sing (and she's not bad from what we heard), she could easily be the next Alison Krauss, who likewise started as a fiddler.
Everything else is in place for her to achieve stardom, for MacMaster takes folk music and makes it seem larger than life. She bounced around during the first set in an iridescent, reddish-pink suit, scoring with "Appropriate Dipstick," which started as a slow air and built majestically, as well as with the poignant "Autumn Leaves," a jazz standard sung by bassist John Chiasson. There was also a fast-paced Cape Breton medley that saw the local Four on the Floor step dancing troupe come out gallantly, and the simmering "David's Jig," which she wrote for her brother.
The second set, in which MacMaster dressed in tartan plaid with a sexy hint of bare shoulder, was even more energetic. It opened with a polyrhythmic bagpipe solo from Matt MacIsaac (who also played electric bagpipes) and hit peaks on "Jig Party," "Blue Bonnets Over the Border," and "The Olympic Reel" (by Mark O'Connor). MacMaster's fiddle bow was a blur, and she allowed her five-piece band to stretch out, especially keyboardist Allan Dewar, drummer Miche Pouliot (who has previously played with k.d. lang and Bruce Cockburn) and the versatile Davidge, who switched from acoustic to electric guitar and even added some wah-wah pedal riffs.
MacMaster also played some extra Cape Breton classics for the occasion ("Bovaglie's Plaid" stood out), and the crowd, which included some locally based cousins, wouldn't let her exit before a prolonged standing ovation was heard.