I listen to public radio. Mornings, there is a show on that is similar in character to the "Prairie Home Companion" Show, and indeed, this is where Garrison Keeler honed his talents for many years. They play a variety of music, and I always enjoyed hearing the Chieftains played. The Chieftains are a marvelous Irish group that plays wonderful traditional Irish and Celtic Music.
I heard they were coming to town in March, so I managed to get tickets. Joan and I went to the concert, and it was a great evening, because we ended up with just excellent seats for some reason, like one or two rows back from the stage, and in the middle of the theater...the seats couldn't have been much better!
The Chieftains were marvelous. As a guest that night, they had this gal named Natalie MacMaster who was from Nova Scotia. Well, she fiddled and danced circles around the group, and really ended up being the highlight of the evening. Joan and I both commented that she had stolen the show with all the energy and talent she showed.
I remembered the name, and one night a couple months after we had seen the show, I did an internet search for her. I found:
This page told a bit more about her than I had known before, and on the page, there is a "guestbook". I left a little note on the page that if Natalie is ever scheduled to come to Minnesota again, I would like to be notified, because she was such a treat to watch.
Minnie, Natalie's mother, takes care of the mail, and she wrote me back that Natalie has no scheduled tours in Minnesota, but if she does, she would let me know.
About two weeks after I had written the note and heard from Natalie's mom, I got an e-mail from a person in Webster, Wisconsin saying she'd seen my note, and that Natalie was scheduled to appear there on November 5th as a part of a small cultural/folk program they were starting. I looked at the map, noticed Webster was a little over an hour from here, and wrote back immediately saying how much I'd enjoyed seeing her before, and I'd like tickets...four of them, since I was pretty sure that a fellow I work with and his wife would be interested too.
So she saved me four tickets, on the spot, and sent the address, etc. to send the check.
About a week later, her husband, Kevin Klucas, who was coordinating the series, called me up, and we chatted a bit. He then asked me if I'd like to be the Master of Ceremonies, since I was the first person to ask for tickets, and I sounded so enthusiastic. I immediately said no. I explained to him that it would be too much to worry and fret about and it would ruin my appreciation of the performance. I knew I would worry and be anxious about appearing in front of a large group, so turning it down was pretty sensible. He said he understood, and we said goodbye.
Well, I got to thinking about what Helen Keller had said...
"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing."
When I told this fellow at work, who was buying the other tickets to see her, that I had passed up the chance to be Master of Ceremonies, he called me crazy, because it would put me right in the "thick" of the action, and I would get to meet her and talk with her.
You guessed it. I wrote an e-mail to Kevin saying that I am sure I would be "scared spitless", but that I would be Master of Ceremonies if no one else had taken the job yet. I was hoping it had been filled on the one hand, and hoping it hadn't on the other. Exciting, nonetheless!
Sure enough, he e-mailed me back a few days later saying that the job was mine, and what my duties would be: Welcome everyone, introduce the opening act, a guitarist/singer from Duluth, tell about intermission, give the introduction for Natalie MacMaster, inform the folks of a brief intermission between her sets, thank all the folks who contributed to the evening, wish everyone a good night.
Wow! I was right. I started worrying and fretting and losing sleep. I think I probably prepared a dozen jokes and introductions, and kicked myself relatively continually for accepting the role. I had trouble getting to sleep. I'd wake up thinking about it in the middle of the night, thinking, maybe I should just call him and say I changed my mind. But a part of me still wanted to do it, and it WAS exciting!
I also remembered another of my favorite quotes:
"You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, "I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along".....You must do the thing you think you cannot do."
Well, November 5th came, and the day was upon me. My speech had become briefer and briefer, stripped to its essence. After all, they were there to see a great musician, and not to be entertained by some amateur.
Adrenalin pumped freely through my veins (and arteries too, I think). We picked up the other couple, and headed for Webster, Wisconsin. A long drive in the daylight, longer in the dark. We arrived in plenty of time, and had time to go into the local cafe...further time for me to contemplate the fate awaiting me. I had a cup of coffee. What was a little more caffeine in my veins, along with all that adrenalin.
The time finally came to enter the community center. Webster is a tiny town...maybe 650 people, and it's a little community center. The crowd was growing though, since it had been a sellout for a couple weeks, and the seating was open....first come, best seats.
I asked the ticket taker to see Kevin, the coordinator, and we found each other. He brought me downstairs to meet the band, but Natalie was resting, so I didn't meet her right away. . I also met Karen, his wife, who was kind enough to send me the original note about Natalie performing in Wisconsin. I thanked her.
I met the opening act, a gal named Kim Rose, from Duluth, and talked to her manager about what she wanted me to say.
Then came my reward! Kevin brought me downstairs to meet Natalie MacMaster! She was in a room with the band members. We shook hands, and I noticed how tiny her hands were, and so delicate. I asked her if there was anything she would like me to include in the introduction, and she said I should say that she is with Rounder Records. I could handle that. I told her that I had written to and heard back from her mom a couple times, and she said she wasn't surprised...that her mom answers all her letters when she's on the road. We chatted a while longer, and I decided right there that all the anguish I had put myself through at least had some reward. Here was this cute, energetic, talented starlet, and we were having this little chit chat. Kinda neat.
Back upstairs to my seat. Then it was time. Kevin made a few opening remarks, and then told my story of how I had contacted him via the internet. My heart approached my throat, and I think it was beating slightly faster than if I had run a mile. He introduced me, and I went up, and had the audience thank him for setting all this up, and introduced the first act. It went well, and I went back to my seat.....the biggest hurdle of introducing Natalie was still to come. The first act ended, and I told people it would be a few minutes until the next act.
So far, so good. Then came the big introduction. I had a few notes that I referred to to remember the main points I wanted to make, and I made them! I introduced her to thunderous applause, and went back to my seat, relatively knowledgeable that I would survive the evening now, and able to watch the show. Eventually, my heart slowed its beating, I could concentrate once more, and I started to enjoy this talented young lady.
And what a show it was! This woman is amazing, the way she can fiddle, and the band sounded wonderful. And then she started her step dancing, simultaneous to playing a complex tune on the fiddle! High steps, kicks, taps, twirls, and always playing a peppy Scottish or Irish tune. Amazing!
And the small setting, with the audience close, made it all the more wonderful, and I think she enjoyed it too. The audience was enthusiastic and appreciative, and was having a marvelous time keeping beat to the tunes.
After the first set, I made my little announcements, had intermission, and reintroduced Natalie. There was cheese, coffee, and tea set out, and it really was a fine audience. Middle aged, reserved to a point, and appreciative of a real talent. Oh, can she play the fiddle, and the step dancing on top of that makes for such a rousing performance. If you read the material on the internet, you'll see she's played before crowds of like 100,000 people, and here she was in this intimate setting.
After the performance, and a standing ovation, and a curtain call, the evening was over so I thanked the audience for coming. My job was over. A few people said, "Good job" or similar, so I guess I did all right. Oof dah! That was an evening to remember!
I wanted to buy a couple CD's and get my picture taken with Natalie, so we hung around a while, and I thanked Kevin for asking me to do the job.
Natalie eventually came out, looking
weary, but friendly, so went and asked if I could have my picture taken with
her...she said sure, so Joan took the picture. She had been signing
autographs, so she stood up, and put her arm around my waist, so I felt
compelled by good manners to do the same.
Joan took the first picture but Natalie said she was licking her lips so she asked to take another one. Joan tried again. This time the flash didn't go off, so I had to remain there, with my arm around her. I really didn't mind. This was wonderful! Finally, the picture got taken, I thanked her, and we headed home. Joan really hates to use my camera to take pictures, especially the focusing. She was a good sport about it though.
As you can tell, it was a memorable evening....a great adventure. The ride home was long but I still had a good quantity of adrenalin pumping, I think, so I didn't get tired, and actually I wasn't tired when I got home. I had a hard time getting to sleep after the excitement. that is for sure.
And that was only my first adventure involving Natalie....more to come!