Cassie and Maggie McDonald
Cassie and Maggie McDonald

 To listen to Buain A’Choirce (Reaping the Oats), click below.

By Peter Vankevich

The maritime provinces of eastern Canada are a long way from Ocracoke, but the love of each other’s music traditions makes them close.

For the last two years, sisters Cassie and Maggie McDonald, have performed at the Ocrafolk Festival, playing their Canadian Celtic music to appreciative audiences.  Cassie’s primary instrument is the fiddle and Maggie plays piano, guitar and banjo.

Dave Tweedie, the director of the Ocracoke Festival and fiddler for Molasses Creek, saw the two perform at a Northeast Regional Folk Alliance conference 2012 in Albany, NY, and was impressed with their energy on stage and their interaction with the audience.

“I had spent time in Cape Breton studying the traditional music and dance,” he said. “So I was familiar with that culture and loved it.

“Watching them perform live, I was impressed with their fiddling, step dancing, piano playing style and Celtic guitar,” he continued.  “It all came together and was really impressive. I thought they would be a good match for the Ocrafolk Festival.”

Hailing from Halifax with family roots in the small coastal town of Antigonish, Nova Scotia, the sisters come from a family rich in music tradition. Their grandfather was one of the first fiddlers to record Celtic music from Nova Scotia back in 1935. “He had a unique style that is not often heard,” said Cassie.

Both grew up hearing fiddle music and studied classical music beginning at a young age. Maggie started piano lessons at five, and Cassie began using the Suzuki method for violin.

Cassie & Maggie McDonald Ocrafolk Festival 2014. Photo by P. Vankevich
Cassie & Maggie McDonald Ocrafolk Festival 2014. Photo by P. Vankevich

“Suzuki method starts with learning by ear which really helped me later with learning fiddle music and how to pick up melodies,” she said in an interview on WOVV 90.1 FM, Ocracoke’s community radio station. They write many songs and instrumental pieces and also  reinterpret traditional tunes.

One of their favorite gigs is the Ocrafolk Festival.

“The best festivals are those with musicians who are willing to play a song they’ve never heard before,” Cassie said. “They listen once and chime in. This festival is one of the best for this.”

Their latest album, “Sterling Road,” has been nominated for Roots/Traditional album of the year at the 2015 East Coast Music Association Awards. They also were named the New Group of the Year at the 2015 Live Ireland Radio music awards, as well as “Emerging artist album of the year” from the Chicago Irish-American news.

The McDonald sisters have performed in France, Austria, Germany, throughout the United Kingdom and Bermuda.

This year, they will not perform at the Ocrafolk Festival (June 5 to 7) as their spring tour includes include western Canada and California and Washington.

You can learn more about Cassie and Maggie and contact them at:

Buain A’Choirce (Reaping the Oats) is a milling song that weavers would sing as they worked. They performed this song at the Ocrachicks concert at the Ocracoke Festival last year with the audience singing the  chorus. It has been nominated for “World traditional song of the year” at the 14th Independent Music awards.

Maggie and Cassie McDonald
Maggie and Cassie McDonald spin some tunes at last year’s Ocrafolk Festival for the sponsor party on the skipjack Wilma Lee. Photo by C. Leinbach


Cassie McDonald playing at the 2014 Ocrafolk Festival. Photo by P. Vankevich
Cassie McDonald playing at the 2014 Ocrafolk Festival. Photo by P. Vankevich
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  1. This music speaks to me…I have Irish ancestors,I wish I could visit one day..Janice(O’Connor) Rowe..♥

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