Rufus and Martha Wainwright take over family tradition with Noël Nights

The late Kate McGarrigle used to corral her kids to the annual McGarrigle Christmas Hour. Since her death, Rufus and Martha have taken charge and this year bring the celebration home for two nights in Montreal at the Maison symphonique.

Concert runs tonight and tomrrow at the Maison symphonique in Montreal, will air on CBC television on Dec. 16

RAW: Rufus Wainwright on the annual McGarrigle Christmas Hour concerts

7 years ago
Duration 0:48
Rufus Wainwright hasn't always had fond memories of the annual McGarrigle Christmas Hour concerts.

Rufus Wainwright hasn't always had fond memories of the annual McGarrigle Christmas Hour concerts. 

Wainwright remembers being on a beach in Maine as a teenager and his mother, the late Kate McGarrigle, asking, "So what are we going to do for Christmas this year?"

"I have so many distinct memories [of] mid-August at the sea in the heat, trying to get a suntan, and Kate would say, 'We gotta sit down and talk about Christmas. Should we make gift bags with reindeers?'"

"I was so furious she was hijacking my summer." 

But now, five years after her death, Rufus and his sister Martha are parents themselves, and they're preparing their own version of that traditional Christmas get-together. 

They call their show Noël Nights.  It runs for two nights, this Saturday and Sunday at the Maison symphonique in Montreal, and it's going to be recorded for broadcast on CBC Television on Dec. 16.

In keeping with the quirky, unconventional concert style of the McGarrigle Sisters, the siblings will be on stage with a collection of friends from their mother's generation --  Emmylou Harris, Robert Charlebois and their father, Loudon Wainwright III.

There will also be musicians from their own crowd: DJ Kid Koala, Daniel Bélanger and Louis-Jean Cormier.

"I think there's a whole subculture or parallel court of guests who've been in shows for many years, so they will show them the ropes," said Wainwright, laughing.

A family affair

Rufus Wainwright's daughter won't be on stage, but Martha is bringing her two sons.

"We always try to have kids involved. That's how we were introduced to it: to have the whole family hang out and have fun and make a little money and educate the children about the truth of show business, which is that it's hard work and thrilling."

The concerts are also fundraisers for The Kate McGarrigle Fund, which supports cancer research and teaching at McGill.

"It is very much a way to bring back her memory and her mania – which of course at the time you couldn't stand but now you miss every day."


Jeanette Kelly works as the arts reporter at CBC Montreal. She's also the host of Cinq à Six, Quebec's Saturday afternoon culture show on CBC Radio One.


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