Great Big Sea

The family has gravitated to preferring a genre of music that you never read about in Rolling Stone, Spin or even Entertainment Weekly. It’s an odd blend of Celtic, folk, sea shanties, pub songs and the like. You can hear the music at Renaissance Faires and even some of the bigger multimedia conventions such as the forthcoming Dragon Con. At the faires you can sample the varying troubadours and if you like what you hear, you can buy their cds since, after all, you’re not likely to find them at most music etailers. On the con circuit, the best known of those groups as probably Emerald Rose and the Brobdinagian Bards.

Another way to try them out, for free, is to try the various podcasts that showcase these groups. At the iTunes store this morning, I saw 5-6 different podcasts and I heartily recommend Marc Gunn’s Renaissance Festival Podcast, which usually spotlights performers at that week’s ren faires around the country.

The one band that has risen to a greater degree of critical and commercial success is Great Big Sea. They’re a self-described folk-rock band from Newfoundland, best known for their blend of traditional Newfoundland folk songs including sea shanties, in addition to original material. Kate discovered them while at college and some time later, I found them when WUMB, a terrific folk station out of Massachusetts.

We bought and shared and enjoyed several of their albums but Kate always said we had to see them live. The opportunity finally presented itself on Wednesday when we went to see them at the Ridgefield Playhouse.

It was a great venue to see them, with a stage large enough for them to move and the seating small enough that everyone had a great view. Once they took the stage, I could easily see why they won the Entertainer of the Year award at the East Coast Music Awards for every year between 1996 and 2000, only to take themselves out of competition to be fair.

They’re energetic and very funny, terrific musicians and delightful showmen. The quintet play a wide variety of instruments and take turns on the vocals, providing a rich and varied sound to each song. We were on our feet for much of the night, clapping, singing along and highly entertained. Much of the material came from albums we knew and they sampled a song or two that were likely to be on their 2008 release. They chatted up their experience of being in Ridgefield for the first time, gently mocking its upscale environs and lauding a local sushi restaurant. It was evident they were having a good time on stage and enjoyed performing.

All told, they played just over 90 minutes and no one was ready for them to leave.

We were also pleasantly surprised at the quality of the opening act, Steve Kellogg and the Sixers. We were told they were from Massachusetts and it turns out they’ve been together for something like six years and have five cds to their credit. The band was tight and playful and engaging. Robbie rushed out and bought several of their works and met the band since they were hanging out at the sales table until the night ended. (They’ll be playing in Fairfield on October 25 for those interested.)

4 comments

  • If you like Great Big Sea, I’d also recommend Carbon Leaf.

    Or my personal favorite, the now-gone-Underhill Heather Alexander. Her heir, Alec, is now playing with the band Tricky Pixies, which, while I’ve not heard them personally, is receiving positive acclaim from Heather fans.

  • Another convert. Good to know.

  • Chris Marshall

    Bob, Have you ever heard of the NPR show Thistle & Shamrock? Wonderful show.
    I think it may be what you’re looking for.
    http://www.npr.org/programs/thistle/
    Best,
    Chris

  • David

    I listen to Celtic Music News Podcast. Also, have you heard of the Bedlam Bards? They have a cd called “On the Drift” which contains songs related to or inspired by firefly and Serenity.