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Loreena in Chicago
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The following review was written by Angie Johnson

Chicago, May 9th 1998 - The Chicago Theatre

IN JETTISONING ASIDE any preconceptions one may have about situations they are initially unsure of, one may find in that same experience that it can hold more than what first meets the eye. That in turn can also lead one to find that those things can turn out better than they initially expected. The above can be applied to my first concert experience not only as a whole, but also my first Loreena McKennitt concert back on May 9th, 1998.

The whole exercise of discovering Loreena McKennitt's music was one done in the fog of uncertainty and with the mantra of "why not?" defining my quest to find out more about this person and her music. When the advertisements in the newspaper appeared that she was heading to Chicago, I decided to go even though I only knew very little of her music. The concert was to be held at the beautiful Chicago Theatre and even the tickets said "An evening with Loreena McKennitt". It didn't sound like many the concerts my peers attended; ones held in outdoor amphitheaters with screaming fans and mosh pits. I didn't know any people my age that listened to her, much less know who she was. Then again, Loreena McKennitt didn't seem like your ordinary musician. I knew little of how much of an individual she really was.

May 9th came and my brother and I rode in on the elevated train from the airport. By the time we arrived in front of the theatre, the sun was setting and the sky was turning various shades of orange to violet. A sign in black lettering proclaimed "Loreena McKennitt 8 PM" and under it a gathering crowd of Loreena fans stood milling around. My brother and I joined the group and I looked around the crowd estimating how old the people making up the groups were. Many looked to be from their twenties to their fifties and dressed comfortably. After a half an hour wait the doors opened. In the lobby, tables were set up with merchandise offering recordings, posters, and other tour souvenirs. My brother wasted no time and we ascended the lushly carpeted staircase, passing by glass-adorned lights and antique statues. When we arrived to where we would be sitting, the ushers told us we'd be seated in fifteen minutes. After creating mischief by sneaking up to the balcony and looking down at the stage - which sat empty bathed in a purple glow - the ushers seated us with the rest of the incoming crowd. Twenty minutes later the seats were filled and we gazed at our programs. People read Loreena's introduction and chatted amongst themselves. The cover featured a picture of Loreena and the words "The Book of Secrets Tour 1998" under her. The theatre was beautiful. It had been restored several years before and Victorian accents were gracefully incorporated into the design.

Suddenly, the curtains parted and the stage was dark. The eight musicians she played with came on by flashlight and found their places. In the darkness they waited until Loreena herself came onstage; she walked head bent downward straight to the front and center part of the stage where her kanoon sat. Her wavy strawberry blonde hair cascaded down her shoulder and her black dress fluttered with her movements. Without a word she began to play the first song of the first set, "Prologue" from "The Book of Secrets". I marveled at how her hands moved in time with her voice and it was then that it hit me. Everyone around me sat motionless; their eyes fixed on Loreena singing and her fingers plucking the strings in time with her fellow musicians. At the end of the song she whirled around and picked up an accordion that sat behind her on a table, delving into "The Mummers' Dance". Her mood swiftly changed from the quiet concentration she'd had starting out to a lighter more carefree mood. She sang the chorus skipping and whirling around and her hair flew around with her. At the end of that song she didn't start into another song but instead took a seat next to her harp, which also sat at the front of the stage. It was then that she first talked to us, and while she did, she tuned her harp. She bid us good evening and began to tell us about the story behind her next song. The crowd could've watched her tune her harp and listen to her speak for hours. Her voice was so light and had this lilt to it that I couldn't quite place. While she paused occasionally I looked around the stage. To my left stood her guitarist Brian Hughes. Behind him to the left a little on an elevated platform stood her hurdy-gurdy player Nigel Eaton. Danny Thompson on bass and Rick Lazar on percussion stood more towards the back and middle. Donald Quan on percussion and Rob Piltch on guitars came around to my right. Then Caroline Lavelle, Loreena's cellist and Hugh Marsh on violin made the complete half circle that stood around Loreena, who occupied the center of the stage. She moved between her harp, keyboards, accordion, and her piano, which sat in the center of the stage a little to the left. Behind the band stood a huge metal Byzantine arch, complete with lantern. For about every other song that made up the first set, Loreena would sit and talk about her experiences while tuning her harp. For "La Serenissima", she told us about this Celtic Exhibition she'd traveled to see in Venice. There she'd learned that the Celts were these "short stocky men who rode on these short stocky horses and wore these caps with flaps that went up and down" illustrating what she meant with her hands to the laughter of the audience. Finally she ended the set with "Dante's Prayer", accompanying herself with piano, with Hugh Marsh and Caroline Lavelle adding strains of their violin and cello, respectively, to the song.

I found that with most of the other people around me, that I was sitting on the edge of my chair and sat back for once after the first part of the concert as intermission began. My brother proceeded to stake out the lobby and join the masses downstairs. I sat and tried to take in what I'd just seen. Ten minutes however, does not do one justice to do so. The crowd, including my brother, took their seats again. Loreena came on, this time bedecked in a black skirt with a white shirt and a woven jacket. The second set started and it was filled with material from her albums I had yet to experience, so this was all new to me. The only song I was familiar with was "The Mystic's Dream" and was a crowd pleaser. For "The Lady of Shalott", I found myself taking in wonder both Loreena's voice and the woman next to me, silently whispering the words. Loreena's radiant countenance came back with "Santiago" as she skipped, danced and turned to each of her musicians, acknowledging them. She didn't stop before songs and talk to the audience as much as she had in the first set, as this music was quite familiar to the majority of the crowd. I found myself on the edge of my seat often, dazzled by spotlights that would sweep over the audience at certain points of a song. Before "The Old Ways" she sat down and thanked the audience for coming and that she really enjoyed having us there that night. I still can remember her hitting the chords on the bass clef range of the piano, how she leaned into it and slowly sat back and how the crowd would cheer as she moved up the scale. Finally the concert was almost over at ten thirty. As I stood and applauded to the roar of the audience I watched her dash off the stage and dash on a few moments later with renewed vigor, surprising the stagehands that had begun to take her harp away. Two delightful encores and we had to leave to catch the train home. As I stood on the platform that night at eleven, I watched the delighted crowd of 3,000 or so pour out of the theatre. That night, as I thought about it, showed me that things do turn out better than one may expect.

Angela Johnson, 1998