Music Spotlight: Séan McCann

Music Spotlight: Séan McCann

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Continuing to conquer his demons, Séan McCann harnesses the power of music for good ahead of his Easter Seals showcase

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For Séan McCann, the road to redemption and healing has not come without its share of struggles. 

Indeed, The Shantyman has had to face his share of demons in his battle for sobriety, yet today there stands a new man, with eight years worth of clarity and a rejuvenated outlook on life. 

“I’ve been on this path and music has been crucial to me,” shared McCann, who on November 9th celebrated his eighth year of sobriety.

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The Medicine of Music

 “Music has been my medicine, it has been my therapy. It has brought me down a very different path then the one I was on. It’s been positive and it’s given me the energy I needed to be successful, to be sober, to be productive and have a sense of purpose. It has given all that back in droves.”

The founding member of Great Big Sea has been on a journey of self-discovery in the wake of his shock exit from Newfoundland’s biggest band in 2013. A host of emotionally investing solo albums – including 2017’s There’s A Place – have supplemented McCann’s work in the area of mental health and addictions. 

“If anything, those experiences are what sustain me,” McCann shared. “People always ask how do you stay sober? Are you in AA? I’m not a part of any particular form of counseling or therapy. My counseling and therapy come from these direct experiences in these small halls, with 200 people or less, being face to face with people and singing songs. I think that shows them that what they see there is a person who is very honest and open, who is willing to make himself vulnerable and share what he’s learned. I know that has a positive effect on people. It shows them what it can look like and of course they find their own.”

McCann returns to St. John’s on Dec. 5th for his fifth Celebrate The Season event with Easter Seals, an organization who helped him in his life at a time where guidance was in short supply. 

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‘I Lost a lot of Friends’

“They changed my life,” he admits. “When I first left the band, sobered up and entered my recovery it was a really hard time. I lost a lot of friends and I was really vulnerable. I felt very much alone in St. John’s because most of my friends were big partiers. Early in your recovery you never know which way it’s going to go. I was really lucky that I met the good people at Easter Seals and I was really lucky that I got to work with them. 

“The relationship is now five years old. They spoke to me so directly, without artifice, no bulls**t whatsoever, just honest and with no superficiality. I really needed that in my life at that time. You never know what you’re going to find if you’re really open to it and awake.”

The holiday showcase with Easter Seals sees the songwriting veteran team up with participants of the organizations music therapy program, who join him on stage for an event that is as emotionally investing as it is entertaining. 

“It’s a real heart-melter of a show,” he explains. “It’s like nothing else and I could never do it without them. It really moves me every year and I think it moves them. There’s a lot of tears and a lot of laughs, and it’s just something people don’t see. If I had any message to the people in Newfoundland, it is that this is not a  Séan McCann show. I’ll be there, but I’m not alone, no sir. These are my friends and they have overcome so much and they have overcome so much just to get on stage and do what they do. I’m blown away by the bravery and the strength of these people every time.”

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Melting Rooms & Hearts

Indeed, it is performances like this that provide McCann with the ammunition to continue to battle his dark past. His connection with audiences is palpable, and in a day and age where social media and tech rule the roost, those connections are more important than ever.

“The real power is when people are physically together in a room. I’ve learned that about myself. I don’t play in bars anymore. I partner with small communities and I go into small churches and small halls and I do concerts. I go in and I want to melt those rooms and I want to bring people together face to face so they can share the power and see what it is to be the best version of yourself by finding it. I’m on stage alone with my guitar, but I’m never alone because those rooms are full of people who are feeding me energy.”

McCann will likely never perform in bars again. His days on raucous tour buses traversing the country are over. But McCann has found his calling on the other end of the musical spectrum. It’s as rewarding to the big-show veteran as any sold out stadium or world tour.

“My career has somewhat evolved into speaking events, which involves my guitar and my songs. The story is in those songs, the truth is hardwired into them now. I don’t write pub anthems anymore, but I do write anthems, I write songs that can be sung. Anytime I do have an exchange it is always an emotional roller-coaster. I do tell my whole story and it starts in a dark place, but it ends in a bright place. People cry, people laugh and it shakes them. I try to reach in to those chest cavities and squeeze their hearts a little bit and let them feel what I feel. That’s a powerful thing to do. It hurts every time, but it feels great every time as well. 

Defeating a Secret 

“The truth is a very difficult thing to deal with sometimes. I know for a fact that 90 per cent of the people that use drugs and drink too much, there’s usually a reason and there often is trauma,” he adds. “A secret can kill you, but you can defeat a secret by telling it. When I do it, when I openly share my truth with people, it shows them that it can be done. When I walk on stage and tell my truth and walk off again without catching fire, that encourages people to do that work and help themselves. When the guy from Great Big Sea can be sober for eight years, when that guy can stop drinking and using drugs, anybody can.”

To become a sponsor of Easter Seals, purchase tickets contact Samantha Parrell at 1-709-754-1399 at ext 229 or email samantha@eastersealsnl.ca. For more on McCann visit seanmccannsings.com

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Dillon Collins is a writer based out of St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador. Multi-time MusicNL nominee for Media Person of the Year. Lover of heavy metal, hoppy beverages and the loveable canine.

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