There is perhaps no other band on earth that can take a group of people – whether large or small – and induce such a state of foot-stomping, beer-guzzling frenzy as the fast-paced group from Newfoundland known as Great Big Sea.
Taking a traditional, conservative genre like the revered Celtic music and turning up on end is a bold step. Artists such as The Barra Macneils, The Rankins and The Cheiftains, while all respected masters of their craft, have nothing on Great Big Sea’s live show. But instead of shunning the energetic boys from St.John’s, other bands have taken influence from Great Big Sea.
Picture a scene in 1995 (when Great Big Sea were first breaking onto the scene). The venue was St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish. Perhaps forty of fifty people wandered about the room quickly drinking their draft, ashamed that they were the first arrivees to the big Barney Bentall concert. Some Newfoundlad band named Great Big Sea were opening for the talented Bentall, and the only people that bothered to show up were students from Cornerbrook, Conception Bay and St.John’s who were amazed that their any band from their home province would get a gig off “the rock”. The band, with only one release behind them (1993’s Great Big Sea, took to stage red-faced at seing a small handful of frosh drunks staring at them.
After quickly starting into a fast paced tune the crowd, along with bewildered Campus Police, began to tap their toes and bob their heads to the familiar tune.
Another song passed, and another. Soon, concert-goers started trickling in for the main act, and too looked upon the frenzy which was growing in front of the stage. The crowd, which had grown to room capacity, were dancing wildly, singing boldly and sreaming with delight over the new act which played in unabashed delight.
Fast forward to the end of the same year. Again a large concert at St.F.X University, again Great Big Sea the opening act. This time the main act were Blue Rodeo, another great Canadian band, but the scene couldn’t be different from Great Big Sea’s first trip to the school, only months earlier. This time the crowd was ready for Great Big Sea, and excited over the band’s latest release, Up, which produced superhits “Mari-Mac”, “Fast As I Can” and the spectacular “Run Runaway”.
When Blue Rodeo took the stage an hour later the scene was almost anti-climatic. The crowd, fresh from wiping dance-induced sweat off their faces sat down with a smile. The Boys from Newfoundland has arrived…