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-Photo by Adrie Smith
I first heard Margot MacDonald singing entirely by accident. I was walking through the Reston Town Center during one festival or another - who can keep track of how many festivals are held there? In the distance, I heard the familiar heartbeat rhythm from my days of programming computers while listening to Massive Attack records on headphones. Someone was covering "Teardrop" in a semi-a-capella fashion, apparently with the aid of some digital loops. I pushed through crowds of suburbanites to work my way closer to the heartbeat. When I finally found the makeshift stage setup, I was surprised to find a petite red-headed teenage girl absolutely wailing the lyrics by herself in perfect harmony with her own voice, which was pulsing through the loop pedal on the ground. There were at least three photographers with expensive, telephoto rigs photographing her performance as if this Reston festival were Lollapalooza.
I've found this to be the curious paradox of Margot MacDonald. On one hand, she has been massively successful in her music career, especially considering she is only 19 years old. She began singing with the Washington National Opera when she was 10 and was recording her first album with a Grammy-nominated producer by age 12. She was the 2010 Washington Area Music Award "Artist of the Year", her seventh "Wammie" award to date. And yet, to my knowledge, as of this publication, she is yet unsigned.
To be fair, MacDonald wasn't interviewed for this piece, and maybe she isn't looking to be signed right now. To be even fairer, she is extensively involved with non-profit organizations and is constantly playing out at these local festivals and seems nothing short of thrilled to do so. And to be beyond fair, she has graced stages no less prestigious than the 9:30 Club and even the Kennedy Center itself and doesn't have a thing left to prove to anybody. But, honestly, it's hard to hear a voice so refined, so bold, so versatile, and so fresh being showcased at a quaint, town festival and not have that old "Piano Man" thought, "Girl, what are you doin' here?"
I feel like I'm sounding negative, so let me clarify my stance: Margot MacDonald is an absolutely bad-ass singer. And I am nothing if not a sucker for her obsession with (and mastery of) the loop pedal she's become so associated with. And, I love that I can find her singing her heart out at a cute little festival just as hard as she would on a huge stage. She writes great original songs and has an arsenal of unique, gutsy covers, like Imogen Heap's "Just for Now." To me, the detached observer, it seems like you can almost see her true artistic soul and edginess in the way she plays those cover songs than even in her own original music. But, there's no doubt that her original songwriting is moving rapidly in a direction that is unmistakably her own and in a direction that really highlights her unstoppably strong voice that seemingly is unbounded by range limitations.
Margot is definitely an artist to watch, and I suspect we've only seen the tip of the iceberg that is her music career. And, speaking of watching her, why not check her out while she's still playing local festivals? Her next appearance is Friday, July 15, at the Wheaton TGIF Series.
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