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Golden Lake’s Xavier Leahy embarks on tour with Brett Kissel

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GOLDEN LAKE — Xavier Leahy has been performing since he was about six, so he is very familiar with being in the public eye, but there was an extra note of excitement in his voice about his upcoming tour with country music star Brett Kissel for the month of February.

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“This is a whole other ballgame,” the 20-year-old said from his home outside Golden Lake. “I have never been on tour without my family, so this is something different on my own.”

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It is also an incredible opportunity for the young musician who comes from a well-known family of musicians. However, this is also something he did very much on his own, embarking into a new genre which he loves and where he has been making a name for himself as a guitarist — country music. He will be part of the Brett Kissel band, performing on the guitar as part of the Compass Tour.

“I will sometimes be playing lead and a secondary guitar part,” he explained.

Brett Kissel has had a rapid rise to superstardom in the Canadian country music scene in the last decade. He has won Junos, as well as been the Country Music Association award winner in various categories. With gold certified albums and singles to his credit, as well as top-10 radio hits, he is a well-known name, having toured himself with country music icons.

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Last month, Xavier was busy practicing and getting ready to hit the road for rehearsals with the band. There is a lot of practice involved in making sure he is ready to play with the band for all the songs, and he wanted to make sure he was ready for the first performance.

“I’ve been following Brett for a good while and I couldn’t be happier to join him and the band, especially in my home province,” he noted.

The tour will take him to Regina, Winnipeg and then into Ontario and Quebec. Beginning the Ontario portion in Thunder Bay, he will be in Ottawa on February 22. Another close by performance will be in Huntsville and family members will likely be in Huntsville and Ottawa to cheer him on and enjoy some great music, as well as many other local fans.

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Xavier has what might be called a natural predisposition to being musically talented. The Leahy name is very well known in fiddling and music circles across Canada. For many years the family has toured across North America.

Xavier’s father, Frank, is part of the Leahy Family folk band where he plays drums. Xavier’s mother, Chandra (Gibson) has been stepdancing since she was quite young. The Cobden native performed internationally and ran her own school of dance.

In Xavier, his family genes have come through and he is a multi-instrumentalist and performer. He plays the accordion, guitar and fiddle.

“I started playing fiddle when I was four,” he said. “That is a family tradition.”

In the Leahy family, all the cousins were introduced to the fiddle at four and stepdancing was a big part of the early training as well. So, he was playing, dancing and then performing at an early age.

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“I always toured the road with my dad,” he said. “I toured all around the States.”

Usually the “next generation” with Xavier, siblings and cousins would be invited to perform a number with the group too. He said this started out with stepdancing with the cousins’ group at about six or seven.

“And I started playing accordion at seven,” he said.

He had a feature on the Leahy show playing the accordion. By 11 he was playing guitar and at 16 started with the electric guitar.

“I started playing fulltime electric guitar with Leahy,” he added.

While Leahy performed all over, his own family with dad Frank and mom Chandra also performed at festivals and shows. Many locals would have seen the “Golden Lake” Leahy family performing at Melissa Bishop Park for Canada Day last year, as well as at other local venues. As the oldest of six children, Xavier is part of a very musical family.

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The family moved to Golden Lake about two years ago. It was during COVID, so Xavier, who was in his last year of high school, continued learning online with his class from Caledon East and graduated with his class there.

The Leahy family music has strong Celtic roots, a bit of folk music and a lot of individual style. It is hard to pinpoint it into a category, even for the group members. Xavier’s foray into country music began a few years ago.

“It is a completely different style,” he said.

For the last few years, he has been making a name for himself in Guelph as part of the country music scene and playing there. Which leads to his invitation to play with Brett Kissel.

“A lot of people know Calvin Vollrath,” he began. “He is a fiddle legend.”

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His nephew is Brett Kissel’s fiddle player. So when Calvin reached out about “a possible gig” Xavier was excited, but not really thinking anything specific and he never imagined he would be invited to go on tour with a major country music star.

“Then 20 minutes later Brett Kissel started following me,” he said.

Pretty soon, the band leader called asking if he would like to go on tour in February.

Xavier is enrolled in Algonquin College’s Urban Forestry program in Pembroke and he had to see if he could defer his second semester. The college was very supportive and made this possible, he noted. Now it is lots of hours of practicing guitar instead of climbing trees.

“It is one of those things where you want to be ready. You want to be prepared,” he said.

Xavier has never been to a Brett Kissel concert, or many concerts other than Leahy, so he is excited about what the next month holds. With 13 concert dates in February, it is going to be busy.

Interestingly enough, it was 10 years ago Brett Kissel was in Eganville for the Eganville Fair in 2014 and for many he was the highlight of the weekend.

Debbi Christinck is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter working out of The Eganville Leader. LJI is funded by the Government of Canada.

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