Alan Doyle’s Fave 5 Live Music Venues in Newfoundland and Labrador
Whenever anyone asks singer-songwriter Alan Doyle where he likes to play the most he invariably has the same answer.
“I always say a room full of excited people,” the frontman for the now beloved but sadly defunct Canadian folk-rock outfit Great Big Sea says with a chuckle from his home in St. John’s, Newfoundland. “If that happens to be 80 people, then great. If it happens to be 1,000, that’s also fine. Doesn’t matter where it is, if the room is full of excited people that’s the most important thing.”
This is not so surprising given that Doyle grew up in the music rich culture of Newfoundland and Labrador, where some of the best players never leave the island. Doyle himself has stayed put, though a successful career has certainly given him the option to live wherever he wants; he’s simply not willing to walk away from the East Coast music scene that’s nourished him. Doyle channeled something of that tradition on his latest EP, Back to the Harbour, eschewing intensive studio sessions for the sort of loose-limbed, alive-in-ever-note sound usually captured at an ad hoc folk jam session.
“It was just me and two members of my band, (multi-instrumentalist) Cory (Tetford) and (fiddler) Kendel (Carson), sitting around an old piano playing with (producer) Joel (Plaskett) in his studio over a couple of days, singing into old mics,” says Doyle. “It was just so cool to capture the vibe of three people who were grateful to get a chance to sing together. In a way it’s the most instinctual record I’ve ever made because we planned none of it, and we recorded it simply and honestly.”
Alan Doyle, Back Home on the Island:
Doyle is a man who loves to play, whether at a tiny hole-in-the-wall or a stadium stage. Here are 5 of his favourite venues in Newfoundland and Labrador:
Iceberg Alley Festival
“My number one favorite place to play all of Newfoundland and Labrador is here in St John’s. It’s called the Iceberg Alley festival and it happens in September. It’s like a giant, 2,500 person fun house that they built down by the lake and it resembles one of those European festivals. It’s over a week long and it has all kinds of music, classic rock, traditional music, country and it’s done up like an entertainment center because it has a full hockey arena sized stage. You’re not on the grass or anything, you can go in and sit in a soft seat and watch the concert, or you can dance in a mosh pit, or you can sit in a posh private box and have some high end drinks. It’s within walking distance of downtown St John’s and it’s just one of those things that keeps the summer vibe here for an extra few weeks.”
“We have some amazing pubs here like O’Reilly’s Pub on George Street. It’s probably the busiest music venue in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, there’s always somebody playing some music. I’ve played on that stage a few times myself for fun. It’s the perfect kind of mix between an old Irish pub and a concert venue with all the cool stuff that you want in the pub, brass taps, great beer, that kind of thing. So it’s a cool hybrid.”
Rose & Thistle
“There’s another venue that’s even smaller in downtown St John’s called the Rose & Thistle which is near and dear to my heart. It’s literally a hole in the wall, maybe 80 people max, a stone walled basement, basically. It has a tiny little stage, and that was where I first played in St. John’s. I played every Thursday night there for three or four years when I was going to university, Friday and Saturday sometimes as well but always every Thursday. It was where I cut my teeth learning to sing hundreds of songs, because you had to have hundreds of songs ready to go. That’s where I met (future Great Big Sea bandmates) Sean (McCann) and Bob (Hallett) and Darrell (Power), because they would play across the street in a band they had. So, without the Thistle you don’t get Great Big Sea.”
“In the Bonavista area, there’s a place called The Garrick, this beautiful, beautiful theater that I wouldn’t be surprised to learn is a century old. It’s right on the main street of bustling downtown Bonavista and you can just tell from the second you go in that there have been thousands of awesome nights in that room. It’s just absolutely perfectly preserved. I love it so much.”
Woody Point Heritage Theatre
“On the west coast of Newfoundland, in Woody Point, is this building called the Woody Point Heritage Theatre. It’s an old hall (built in 1908) that’s been converted into a music and arts venue, and it’s hub or home base for one of my favorite literary festivals, called the Writers of Woody Point Festival. They do these wonderful events where they have prose writers and songwriters, and they’ll do readings and concerts. It’s in this postcard perfect little town in the middle of Gros Morne National Park, surrounded by mountains. It’s just an incredible place.”