Bio & Publicity Photos copyright Howie MacDonald's Website
Concert Photos Copyright Island View Creations
Interview by Kimberley for The Canadian Celtic Music Website

Howie MacDonald is a self-employed, full-time musician / entertainer.  His lively, Cape Breton style of fiddling has entertained audiences across Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

Besides being a well-respected musician in his own right,  Howie had toured extensively with the Rankins for the past ten years, appearing on all of their recordings, tours, and in their television appearances.

Howie has maintained a solo career with 10 recordings to his credit: Howie MacDonald & His Cape Breton Fiddle (1985), A Taste of Cape Breton (1987), A Few Tunes (1989), Live and Lively (1991), The Ceilidh Trail (1993), the dance last night (1997), Just Relax (1998), WhY2Keilidh (1999), Cape Breton Fiddle Music NOTCALM (2001 ) with Ashley MacIsaac, and Howie's Celtic Brew (2002) live show recording, music and comedy.

Howie also appears on several recordings of Natalie MacMaster's, and is featured on The Bridges of Cape Breton County(s),  Cape Breton ConnectionThe Sounds of Nova Scotia (over 50,000 units sold - June '97), Atlantic Fiddles, and Rosin' the Bow.
Howie has also recorded with J.P. Cormier, Natalie MacMaster, Ashley MacIsaac, Dave MacIsaac and many others.

Howie's achievements throughout his busy and diverse career are many.  His tune "The Westburne Reel" was recorded by Leahy in their popular song "The Call to Dance" and his haunting arrangement of  "Skye Boat Song" (from The Ceilidh Trail) was used in the movie "White Squall" starring Jeff Bridges. 

Howie was honoured with the Roots/Traditional Artist of the Year Award at the 1991 ECMA's and nominated for the following: Canadian Country Music Award (1996), Instrumental Artist of the Year (1997 ECMA),  Producer of the Year (1999 Nova Scotia Music Week), Roots/Traditional Artist of the Year (2000 ECMA).

This performer has gained a momentum of respect in the comedy industry as well.  Howie carried a dual role of comedic actor / musician in the Cape Breton Summertime Revue in 1997.  That same year,  Howie landed a mainstage showcase for the East Coast Music Awards in which he again mixed music with zany comedy antics.  In February 1999, Howie appeared on Nancy White's Joke Box which was broadcast nationally on CBC; the reviews......"MacDonald stole the show".

Most recently, during the past two summers (2000-2001), "Howie's Celtic Brew," a comedy and musical revue type show, played to audiences throughout the Maritimes.  Howie is about to release  a new CD that features comedy and musical tracks from the two year touring show.  Summer 2002 found Howie starring in "Canadian Loonie" in Ontario. 

 Hi Howie,

Thanks for allowing us to do an interview with you for The Canadian Celtic Music Website.

What is the "Howie MacDonald" history?  Where were you born?  What got you started in music?

Hi.  I was born in Sydney, Nova Scotia and my mother and father both grew up in musical households and going to square dances, ceilidhs, etc.  My mother also speaks Gaelic which she used to communicate to friends, relatives growing up...not so much now.  I just picked up the interest in the music spending most of my summers and holidays in Troy and Glendale at festivals and functions growing up.

For someone who is new to your music, how would you describe it?

I would describe my music as passionate, lively, emotional and rootsy I guess. A lot of the melodies were carried over to Cape Breton by our ancestors along with the sense of humour, dry wit, etc.  None of my older relatives used music as a means of making a living even though at times they did get hired to do weddings, dances, funerals, etc.  It was a way of passing the time and a form of recreation.  However they did and still do take their music quite seriously and hold their opinions mostly to themselves as do a lot of Cape Bretoners.

Do you have any other musicians in the family?  Are your parents musical?  Siblings?

My oldest brother was the first to play in public back in the 60's with my uncle and my mother at times for mostly concerts, dances, weddings, funerals, house parties...that type of thing.  A lot of house parties, especially on holidays, during haymaking season and just about any other excuse.  I have 4 sisters, 2 of which dance and another sings.  And 2 of those were in Howie's Celtic Brew doing comedy as well.  We have a huge history of mimicking as well as do most Cape Bretoners.  The other sister was  mostly into sewing and crafts...although her sewing machine's a "Singer"....ha...

Everyone knows that you are a fiddler.  Do you play any other instruments?

I started out playing piano when I was pretty young (7 or 8) at fiddlers' ceilidhs.  Festival tuning rooms were always fun.  There weren't many kids playing piano at that time, other than John Morris Rankin.  He and I played together at the Glendale Festival (in Cape Breton) during the outdoor square dance for the first time in 1978 or so.  Then we switched instruments (fiddle/piano).  That always kept things interesting.  I also play a little guitar.

You've just released a new CD called "Howie's Celtic Brew", which is not like your earlier albums which are all fiddle music.  This is a CD from your comedy show.  How long have you been doing comedy for?  Are the stories you tell based on true stories or are they all from your imagination?

The first time I ever did comedy in public was in 1997 in the Cape Breton Summertime Revue.  I did several characters in one particular skit I called "Is This Cape Breton or What" which was a radio show guy with guests, which I also played.  I used different hats to do each character.

The stories and characters are both imaginary and part based on stories and people from around Cape Breton.  I've always kept my most outrageous comedy restricted to dressing room humour and behind open car trunks at dance halls.  I've never called it comedy.  It was always just having fun and mostly mimicking people and telling stories...that's where the real fun always was.

You toured with The Rankins for 10 years.  What was this experience like?

Touring with the Rankins was a wonderful experience and a great education in travel, the music business, meeting interesting people, etc.  They've always been and still are like a real family to me.  I've known them for many years.

You've composed some popular fiddle tunes, such as "Call to Dance" made famous by Leahy.  Do you still do a lot of composing?

I have quite a bit of stuff that I've written and have been working on over the years.

What is your ideal composing situation?  (by yourself, in a certain location, etc.)

The ideal situation for composing for me strangely enough is the first 5 minutes of a square dance when we're just getting primed up.  Other than that, I have to work at it, get in the mood, and sit at the kitchen table...forever.

You toured Western Canada with Ashley MacIsaac a few years ago.  Are there any plans to bring your "Celtic Brew" show out west now that the CD has been released nation-wide?

The CD is available nation-wide, distributed by Tidemark/EMI.  I've toured The Celtic Brew in the Maritimes in 2000 and 2001.  Then this summer a good deal of the material, humour and comedy was incorporated into a show in Ontario that ran from June 5 to Aug 31 called The Canadian Loonie which was 113% sold out.  8 shows a week.  Great experience!

Ontario fans got to see alot of you this summer as you spent the summer in a production there called "The Canadian Loonie."  What was the audience response to this show like?  Was it a solo show or were there other musicians involved?  Was it like your "Celtic Brew" show?

The response to The Canadian Loonie was terrific.  It played in a little village just outside Kitchener-Waterloo, not far from Stratford.  All of the reviews were very positive (knock on wood).  The audience response was great as well.  There was one other musician on stage with me, pianist Christopher Mounteer from Ontario and Neil Aitchison, who played a Mountie doing political and Canadian humour and 2 families of stepdancers who split their performances throughout the summer. Rachel and Whitney Bushell, and 2 sisters and a brother called "The Ballaugh Bunch".

What's on the agenda for the coming months for you?  Will you be doing any touring?

I just arrived home from Ontario and I'm still unpacking so I haven't any idea what's next at this point.

Do you play a certain type of fiddle?  Do you have a preference as to the make of the fiddle you like to play?

I have 2 fiddles I normally play.  They're both Stratavarious copies.

Who are some of your musical influences?

Buddy MacMaster, Jerry Holland, Mark O'Connor, Jean Luc Ponty.

What do you enjoy to do when you're off the road?

Most of my free time I spend with my family.  I also like to golf a bit.

What have been some of the highlights of your career so far?

The Rankin experience, The Summertime Revue, The Celtic Brew and The Canadian Loonie.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?  10 years?

Not a clue...

Is there a place that you have yet to tour that you would like to visit?

Not that I can think of.  I like Canada and the U.S.

What are your favourite movies / TV shows?

I've always liked the original Star Trek.  The only shows  I seem to watch now are Frasier and Everybody Loves Raymond...the kids hog the TV a lot.

Who are your favourite singers/instrumentalists?

I like early Elton John, Billy Joel, J.P. Cormier's a great musician.  Ashley (MacIsaac) / Natalie (MacMaster) are great.

If you could perform with anyone in the world, who would it be and why?

I can't really say...Elvis is dead...I think...ha...I'd have to ponder that one.  I'd like to meet Jim Carrey.  I think he's been down the road and back.  I think I understand where he's coming from, in my own Cape Breton way.

Best of luck with your career in the months and years to come!

Thanks for keeping in touch!  Take care.

Howie MacDonald

“Could be used as a signpost to show where Cape Breton fiddle music might be headed as we approach the millenium.” - Cape Breton Post

“Absolutely nuts.” - Frank Magazine

“Always a crowd pleaser, an unbridled talent.” - Savoy Theatre

“Fresh and spontaneous....combined with energetic playing....screams for a video....Howie cracks open the fiddle format like a fresh two-four." - What’s Goin’ On Magazine

"Howie has a real talent for putting an album like this (WhY2Keilidh) together.  He's got the old Scotch talent for mimic and observations.  He can capture social subtleties that will make you smie and be so blunt it may make you cringe.  But it's just the right stuff for these times. - Am Braighe Magazine

December 2002

  • 26 - Cheticamp, NS - Doryman Beverage Room
    26 - Westmount, NS - Westmount Legion
    28 - Port Hawkesbury, NS - Papa's Pub
    30 - Glace Bay, NS - Savoy Theatre

These dates are subject to change.  For the latest tour dates, please visit Howie MacDonald's Website -

For more info on Howie MacDonald, check out his website -

Fan Mail/Booking Information:

To order Howie MacDonald's CD's, visit his website.

If you're interested in more Canadian Celtic Music, visit the Canadian Celtic Music Website.