Great Big Sea make a big splash in Lowell

A review of Great Big Sea at the Lowell Summer Music Series on August 26, 2011

, Managing Editor

Great Big Sea may not be a household name but in a city that knows it’s folk, like Lowell, Massachusetts does, that name goes a long way. After 18 years of Celtic-inspired folk-rock, they showed just how large a following they’ve built in these parts with the largest Lowell Summer Music Series show of the season on Friday night.

The trio of Sean McCann, Alan Doyle, and Bob Hallet have always been road warriors, touring up to 300 days a year in their early career. Although they’ve lightened their touring load over the years, they showed that they’re still dedicated to touring as they hit town behind Safe Upon the Shore, more than a year after its release. The show was worth the wait as GBS delivered two sets of barroom anthems, tender ballads, and plenty of jokes in between.

A Great Big Sea show is full of laughs, sometimes so much that it carries into the performance, such as when Alan Doyle couldn’t keep himself from chuckling through the first verse of “When I’m Up (I Can’t Get Down)”. But when the group decided to get serious, everyone paused in awe of the beauty that they’re capable of as well. The most poignant moments on Friday where when the band put their instruments down and captured the audience’s affection with their voices alone. The star of these moments was certainly McCann, who with his soft, whispery voice, shined on ballads “Safe Upon the Shore” and “River Driver’s Lament”.

Shows in Lowell can often fall victim to the comfort of Boarding House Park as the energy fades thanks to the welcoming lawn chairs and blankets that most fans arrive with. However, GBS had fans on their feet all night despite the ballads, as they never strayed too far from the folk-rock with sing-alongs coming in the form of the tongue-twisting “Mari-Mac” and the hockey themed “Helmet Head”. Doyle, a Montreal Canadiens fan, nicely swallowed his pride on the latter and congratulated the Bruins fans on their victory.

The guys from Newfoundland may not have the Cup but they were certainly winners on Friday night in Lowell. Great Big Sea have always found favorable audiences in Massachusetts and it’s shows like these that make it easy to see why.

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