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Great Big Sea
By Cheryl Mullen - 12/23/2002 - 10:31 PM EST

Greetings! Hope you’re having (or will have, or have had, depending on when I get this column finished) a peaceful and happy holiday season.

What would be the first image that would come to your mind if I said, “Canadian Celtic folk group”?

Whatever you’d be thinking, it probably wouldn’t be hordes of screaming young women, globe-trotting sold-out shows, and hard-driving performances with serious roof-blowing potential. But that’s exactly what you get with Great Big Sea, a band that infuses so much energy into their playing that attending one of their concerts (or Picnics, as they like to call them), is like getting a high-impact aerobic workout—only it’s a lot more fun than climbing the Stairmaster!

The group hails from Newfoundland and they perform a mixture of traditional folk songs and original compositions. The four members (Alan Doyle, Sean McCann, Darrell Power, and Bob Hallett) met while they were students at Newfoundland’s Memorial University. Interestingly, they all obtained degrees in the same subject—English. They banded together in 1991. More than a decade later, they are wowing audiences across North America and Europe with their unique blend.

My first exposure to Great Big Sea came at the Nassau Community College Folk Art Festival in 1999. It had been a long evening. There were many groups performing that night. I was actually there to see another group, and as luck would have it, that group was the last one scheduled to perform. Great Big Sea was the next to last group. As they took to the stage I remember feeling very tired and cranky and thinking to myself that I didn’t care who these guys were, I just wanted them to do their thing and get the #$&*# offstage as quickly as possible so I could see the group I had come to see. Then they started to play. And I immediately forgot all about being tired and cranky because they absolutely blew me away.

Now I know what some of you Canadian readers are thinking. “Hey Cheryl! Your column is supposed to be about OBSCURE musical talent. Great Big Sea isn’t obscure—they’re hugely famous!” Yes, you’re right. They are hugely famous—in Canada. While the guys are insanely popular in the Great White North (routinely selling out huge arenas from St. John’s to Vancouver) and are slowly but surely building up a following in Europe, they remain relatively unknown in the US. While it may be a shame that they have not yet achieved the fame and fortune that they deserve here in America, their obscurity does provide American fans like myself with a distinct advantage. While you Canadians have to shell out big bucks for tickets to some jam-packed arena to see them, I routinely get to see them play in wide open outdoor spaces—for free. (Note to all Canadian readers: Nyaah nyaah nyah NYAAH nyaah!)

On a more serious note, one of those free outdoor concerts that I was fortunate enough to attend happened at the Austin J. Tobin Plaza at the World Trade Center in July of 2001. I had just been hired a month earlier to do temp work at Morgan Stanley. I had never been to the World Trade Center prior to taking this job. When I learned that there were lots of free concerts in the plaza during the summer, I was stoked. Then when I discovered that Great Big Sea was one of the groups scheduled to perform there that summer, I was really stoked.

That show was the first concert I ever saw at the World Trade Center. Unfortunately, it would also end up being the last concert I ever saw at the World Trade Center. My temp job at Morgan Stanley ended a week early when a bunch of crazy terrorists decided to hijack a couple of airplanes and crash them into the building where I worked.

Great Big Sea did not return to the NYC area until March of 2002, when they played at the Bowery Ballroom. During the show Alan Doyle had some brief but heartfelt words to say about the whole event. Here’s what he said, to the best of my recollection: “The last time we played here in New York was at the World Trade Center. I don’t want to say a whole lot about what happened that day, but whenever we go on tour, there are certain faces that we get used to seeing in certain cities. I just want to say that it is REALLY good to be seeing some of those faces here tonight.”

GBS is currently taking a well-deserved rest in their native Newfoundland after a grueling cross-Canadian tour. You can get the latest updates on their schedule by checking out the tour page on their website. Their CDs can be purchased at most major music stores or through their website. There really isn’t a bad album in the bunch. However, if you can only afford one, I would highly recommend Road Rage. This is a compilation of live tracks recorded during their last cross-Canadian tour. It’s as close as you can get to a Picnic without actually going there.


And now, I’d like to offer you music types out there (and those of you who love them) the opportunity to help out some of your fellow artists who are in need this holiday season.

Seattle-based m-pact is aptly named, as they have made a tremendous impact on the a cappella community with their tight harmonies and their smooth-as-silk jazzy style. A few months ago they went on tour. They had a couple of gigs scheduled in Denver and while they were there, their touring van was stolen from the parking lot of the hotel where they were staying. The van, which contained all of their sound equipment, has not yet been recovered by police. Their total financial loss is estimated at more than $80,000, the bulk of which is NOT covered by insurance.

When word got out about this unfortunate incident, donations started pouring in—so many that the group set up a fund just to handle the influx. Contributions can be sent to the following address:

C/O VWC Management
13343 Bellevue-Redmond Rd.
Bellevue, WA 98005-2333

Even a cappella mogul Don Gooding has gotten into the act. Don is the founder of Mainely A Cappella, a company which (as the name would suggest) specializes in selling a cappella recordings. Sez Don:

Most professional a cappella artists struggle financially in order to experience the glamourous life of cheap motels, 10 hour drives to perform, and occasionally the thrill of making great music for people who love a cappella, like all 14,000 of us on this email list.

I've known the guys in m-pact from the time they came from nowhere to win the Harmony Sweepstakes in 1996. They've been a Billboard Unsigned Artist, and I worked with them on their holiday album, "The Carol Commission," on which their unflinching quest for perfection produced a world class recording. I'm happy to call them friends.

While m-pact was on tour this fall, their van along with all of their sound equipment and other gear was stolen. Sadly, insurance does not cover most of the $85,000 loss. We've been trying to find a way to help them while spreading their music to a much-deserved wider audience.

So here's how you can help in a pretty painless way. If you buy a copy of their CD "The Carol Commission" between now and Christmas, we'll treat it like you're buying it directly from m-pact at one of their concerts. We think you'll find they make great Christmas presents, so feel free to buy multiple copies! And we'll let you know in our final Holiday e-mail how much you've been able to help them out.

Here's the CD

Now I realize that according to what’s written above, this cool offer ends at Christmas. I also realize as I’m typing this that there’s probably no chance on earth that this column is going to make it onto the website before December 25. However, Mainely A Cappella is a small family company. I can’t speak for anyone there, but I’m willing to bet that if you order the CD & let the MAC folks know that you didn’t find out about the special m-pact deal until it was too late, they might be willing to cut you (and m-pact) a break.


Congratulations to Deni Bonet on her recent engagement. The happy event occurred while she was on vacation in Italy. “I got proposed to in Venice on a gondola. And yes, my boyfriend was the proposer and not the gondola guy.” Congratulations, Deni!

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