Great Big Sea draw a wave of diehards

The folk-rock stand-bys ranted and roared to an adoring crowd at yesterday's Westcott Theater performance.

Let’s get something out in the open right now: the accordion is sexy.  I thought so before last night’s performance of Canada’s Great Big Sea, and now I’m ready to challenge anyone who tells me otherwise.  It’s the one instrument that rock bands avoid, and the one instrument that can get people on the dance floor without any persuading.

Now, before yesterday’s concert, I doubted anyone shared my opinion.  But when I showed up an hour early to the Westcott Theater there was already a line down the block.

Westcott Theater filled with a good-natured crowd of fans from age ten to almost 90.  That’s the wonderful thing about folk music - it’s all-inclusive.  GBS is classified as Celtic Rock, but the band really has no resemblance to other Celtic Rock groups like Dropkick Murphy’s or Flogging Molly.  GBS’s tunes are the traditional Newfoundland breed ranging from country-style melodies to sea shanties to pub songs.  It’s the type of tap-your-foot music that brought out every Celtic music fan in Syracuse … on a Tuesday night, no less.

Inside the theater I found a good place to stand, right behind the last row of metal folding chairs.  As it turns out, the spot I had chosen was right next to a couple of fellow Buffalonians, Debbie and Chris.  After buying me a couple drinks and insisting that I meet their son (“If we had to choose a daughter-in-law, we’d choose you!”), I learned that they had been touring with GBS for almost ten years.  The band is in its 17th year now, which means that Debbie and Chris are more than fans, they’re practically part-owners.

(Photo: Leah Rankin)

After seeing GBS for the umpteenth time myself, I am reminded why they have such a following.  For one thing, you could record one of their concerts and it would be as good - or better - as one of their albums.  Each member (Alan Doyle, Bob Hallett, Sean McCann, and Kris MacFarlane) is a multi-talented musician aside from being a spot-on singer.  They play a range of instruments from fiddle to accordion to tin whistle, and they also have a few impressive a cappella songs. 

Like many folk artists they are incredibly grounded people.  During the middle of last night’s concert, the band sang “Happy Birthday” to a Newfoundland woman in the audience who was celebrating her 88th birthday.  They also praised Syracuse for Dinosaur BBQ and reminisced about their last trip to the city when they went to a Crunch game to fill their Canadian appetite for hockey.

“I got into a fight with a guy from Austin, Texas when I told him that the best BBQ was from Syracuse,” lead singer Doyle said.

GBS is celebrating the release of their tenth album, “Safe Upon the Shore.”  They are continually modernizing their sound, but make sure to keep old favorites like “The Night Pat Murphy Died” and “Mari-Mac” in their concert list. 

GBS infuses an addicting energy into all of their songs (and their accordion playing), but especially in their song “Consequence Free”: “Wouldn’t it be great if the band just never ended?  We could stay out late and we would never hear last call.”  GBS doesn’t just write their lyrics, they live them.  After almost two decades as a band, there’s no end in sight.

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