When three siblings ride in the car together, there’s generally some squabbling involved, and The Fitzgeralds are no different.
“We’re always arguing,” says Julie Fitzgerald, laughing. “Where are we going to eat, or this one needs to stop but that one doesn’t want to.”
There, the similarities with the average family largely end.
The three Fitzgerald siblings — Julie, Kerry and Tom Fitzgerald — are a wildly talented clan of late 20-somethings who fiddle and step dance with extraordinary energy and high spirits.
Billed as The Fitzgeralds, they hail from the Ottawa Valley of Canada. The area borders the provinces of Ontario and Quebec and is near the nation’s capital of Ottawa.
Their culture is a mélange of Irish, Scottish and French influences, reflecting various waves of settlers who poured into the area throughout the 19th century.
While performing in Ireland last year, The Fitzgeralds were surprised to discover how deeply traditional their Irish roots were, particularly when it came to step dancing.
“The cool thing was seeing how styles have come full circle,” Julie says in a phone interview from home in Canada, shortly before the group was due to fly out to a festival in western Canada.
“There are definitely similarities between Ottawa Valley step dancing and traditional Irish dancing, known as the Sean-nós style. Our style is more like that than the modern Irish dancing you see now. It was really neat to make that connection while we were in Ireland.”
Because the French were the first to settle in the Ottawa Valley, some of their influence has also seeped into The Fitzgeralds’ performance style, especially on the dance side.
“The Ottawa Valley style is a bit more French Canadian,” Julie notes, “because it involves some tap dancing.”
Between old-time fiddling and step dancing, The Fitzgeralds present richly rhythmic and lively performances. They get audiences clapping and moving in ways that are not dissimilar from old-time string bands and clog dancers in the South.
The Fitzgeralds will bring their infectious dancing and fiddling style to the N.C. Folk Festival in downtown Greensboro from Sept. 7 to Sept. 9.
In their Canadian homeland, they are three-time Canadian Grand Master Fiddle Champions and Ontario Open Step Dance Champions.
All three siblings are multi-instrumentalists, with sisters Kerry and Judy taking turns switching from fiddle to piano and Kerry plucking a thick-stringed ukulele bass as well. Brother Tom doubles on guitar, and the group is often joined by a fourth non-family member to round out the ensemble.
Their musical repertoire “comes from everywhere,” Julie says. “My brother is the most into Irish music, while I’m more into the French and East Coast styles. And my sister has been writing a lot of original compositions.
“We really do mix up all the styles we like and make them our own with our arrangements,” she continues. “With the dancing, we just love coming up with new routines while keeping with the traditional steps as well.”
The three Fitzgerald siblings still occasionally perform with their parents as part of the larger family act with which they began. When they perform as “Everything Fitz,” they are joined by their parents, Pam and Paddy.
Various of the siblings have also performed with the Stepcrew, another celebrated Canadian act that focuses on step dancing.
Indeed, The Fitzgeralds have all the work they can handle. They are especially in demand at Irish festivals in the United States, while folk-festival bookings keep them travelling all over Canada.
They divvy up the non-musical responsibilities to suit their respective talents and interests.
“Tom is more into the technical side of stuff, so he looks after that end of it at venues and sound checks,” Julie says. “Kerry’s great with social media. She’s always coming up with one-liners to post and keep our audience engaged. I handle the logistics of booking flights and coordinating with presenters and hospitality.
“Food is very important!” she says with a laugh. “I’m very passionate about that. I want to make sure the food’s there.”