Séan McCann, former singer and founding member of Great Big Sea, shares his personal stories and songs in Vernon March 4 and Kelowna March 5. (David Howells/www.davehowellsphoto.com)

Great Big Sea fame shares story of abuse, recovery

Séan McCann performs in Vernon March 4 and Kelowna March 5

When he was 15-years-old, Séan McCann was sexually assaulted by his priest.

McCann, former singer and founding member of Newfoundland folk-rock legends Great Big Sea, hid from his truth behind a wall of alcohol addiction. Now six years sober, McCann is a touring solo artist and mental health advocate.

Presented by and in support of CMHA, McCann will share his story and songs of healing at Vernon’s Powerhouse Theatre March 4 and Kelowna’s Rotary Centre for the Arts March 5.

“When I was 15-years-old, I was sexually assaulted by my priest. I spent the next 35 years drinking heavily to numb my pain and avoid my truth. Twenty of those years were spent singing in the iconic Canadian party band Great Big Sea. I was high functioning and hiding in plain sight and everything was fine, until one day it just wasn’t,” McCann said. “On Nov. 9, 2011, I put down the bottle and finally faced my past. I have been in recovery ever since and I credit my work in communicating through music as being essential to my continued clarity and overall well-being.”

On tour for his fifth solo album, There’s A Place, McCann said his songs tell of his hardships and his healing in hopes that it will impact others.

“I believe music is medicine, and I credit it with my ability to heal,” McCann said. “I’ve been successful in my sobriety because I’m out there. It’s very liberating.”

McCann’s writing changed significantly when he began to share his story, using his music as a medium to convey his message.

“These songs are about things that are hard to say,” McCann said. “The songs speak for themselves. I’ve made peace with my past. I’m in a happier place and I want to bring people there with me.”

Stoked to be back in the region following his last Okanagan tour in 2015 with the Vernon Folk-Roots Society, McCann sings from his impressive discography of more than 200 recorded songs in the two-set performance.

There’s a Place, the 50-year-old singer/songwriter and Juno-nominee’s third record that speaks loudly about his past and recovery, brings together 11 tracks that draw from both the deep message weaved throughout Help Your Self and You Know I Love You and the acclaimed sound of Great Big Sea.

Formed in 1993 by McCann, Alan Doyle, Darrell Power and Bob Hallett, Great Big Sea rose to international acclaim for their maritime Celtic folk rock and sea shanties sound. After nine studio releases, McCann left the band in 2013 to seek a change of pace. Great Big Sea ultimately disbanded, though some former members continued on to pursue solo careers.

But, after two years of sobriety, McCann knew leaving the band was the right thing to do.

“I am starting from zero. I’m preaching something different now,” McCann said, laughing that he only misses the money from Great Big Sea. “I’ve never had so much reassuring feedback. I’ve never had so much fun going to work.”

Now self-employed and working 10 hours per day, the husband and father of two has never been happier.

“Ultimately, music is still there for me as a friend. You’re never alone with a guitar in your hands. It’s a bit of a healthy calling for me. I’m very grateful to be doing this,” McCann said, adding that he’s the best version of himself when he’s on stage. “At the end of the day, to be able to get on stage and help people with music, that’s hugely rewarding. It keeps me grounded. It keeps me sober.”

Because for McCann, sharing his story and his music is what it’s all about.

“Music for me is now my religion. To me, there’s nothing more powerful than being in a room and sharing music face-to-face,” McCann said. “A secret can kill you, but I know how a song can save your life and that is what I would like to speak about.”

McCann shares his story at Vernon’s Powerhouse Theatre March 4 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $35, available from www.vernon.cmha.bc.ca or by phone at 250-542-3114. A portion of proceeds support local CMHA operations. Tickets to McCann’s March 5 performance in Kelowna are available for $45 through rotarycentreforthearts.com.

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