December 2, 1998: The Iron Horse, Northampton, MA

After Sunday night’s show in Philly, I was even more excited to be seeing GBS play The Iron Horse.  Northampton is about a two hour drive from Boston, and my road buddy for the evening was Shawn, who had gone to the Chieftains concert with Bob and I back in June when we all saw GBS for the first time.  Too bad there wouldn’t be a dance floor at this concert, because I could have had a dance with Shawn - he was "dancing barefoot on the grass" when GBS played the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival last August!  We got to the club early so we’d be in line when the doors opened.  Bev had already arrived, and Caitlin and her friends had just left to get some dinner.  Shawn’s friend Mike was also there, and Alice, Becky, and Alice’s mom and sister showed up very soon after us.  We could hear the guys doing sound check because the stage is on the side of the club which faces the street.  Soon they were done, and they walked right by us when they came out.  I hope they were pleased to see dozens of people waiting in line before the doors even opened. 

While we waited in line, we discovered that we were standing next to three generations of Newfoundlanders - a teenage daughter and her mother who both lived in the area, and her grandmother who was visiting from NFLD.  They had never seen GBS live before, but the daughter had all the albums so they were very excited.  When the doors opened, Mike negotiated with the hostess and got her to seat us at the front center tables since we now had a party of 11 and we’d all be able to sit together.  I was also photographing the show, and they didn't allow flash, so I really had to be up front.  The Iron Horse is one of the premier folk clubs in New England, and with GBS having played there before and word of mouth being so strong, the place was soon packed, with only standing room left before the opening band started. 

We were waiting for the show to begin, and I felt a tap on my shoulder, so I turned around - it was my friend Jennie, a.k.a. the “intrepid folk grrl” and fellow BAIGL (Boston Area Indigo Girls Listee)!  I was so excited to see her that I jumped up and gave her a big hug.  She attends college in the area, and I knew that she was a regular patron of the Iron Horse, but I hadn’t known that she would be at this show, so I was very pleased that she had found me.  We chatted for several minutes, then she went back to her seat as she was there with a friend.  The opening band was Jump Little Children, from North Carolina.  They gave a very energetic performance and were a lot of fun to watch.  They had played the area before, opening for The Nields, and I felt that they were a good choice to open for GBS.  In fact, we noticed that Alan was watching them from the back of the club. 

Finally, GBS took the stage, and once again we heard a full headlining set (24 songs!), which is SO much better than an opening set!  The set list was: Ordinary Day, Process Man, Billy Peddle, Old Black Rum, Fast As I Can, Little Beggarman, Tunez, Paddy Murphy, Consequence Free, Goin' Up, Fallin' In, General Taylor, Lukey, Ferryland Sealer, Boston and St. John's, EOTW, Mari Mac, When I'm Up, Excursion Round the Bay, Aunty Mary, then a very brief break followed by Something To It, Jakey's Gin, Old Brown's Daughter, and Rant & Roar.  The audience was very enthusiastic, and every singalong was loud and strong.  And fortunately, my camera performed well enough without the flash that I was able to get many photos of the guys. 

I had peeked at the setlist and knew that we’d hear Fallin’ In, so I made a little sign on my notepad with the word “HOT!!!” in block letters.  I held it up on our table while the guys played the song, but when it didn’t seem like Alan had seen it, Alice and Becky started gesturing to him when the song was over.  He looked at my sign, then pretended to be shocked and said, “Put that away - this is a family show!”  We laughed hysterically because it was so funny. 

The one song which I had never heard, but which I’d been dying to hear since I’d heard the title, was Boston and St. John’s.  It’s written and sung by Alan, and it’s about having to leave a loved one behind.  It's not that I’m biased because I live in Boston, but this song is quite possibly the most beautiful ballad that Alan has ever written.  It is hauntingly accompanied by Bob on the Low D whistle, and it’s just one more reason to be excited about the new album!  The lyrics begin: 

    Girl don’t tell me that it’s morning, 
    Can we leave the curtains drawn? 
    I haven’t given you fair warning, 
    My ship, she sails at dawn, 
    And I know I must be going, but I swear it won’t be long, 
    ‘There isn't that much ocean between Boston and St. John’s, 
    I’m a rover and I’m bound to sail away, 
    I’m a rover can you love me anyway?” 
Seán sang Something To It, explaining that he had visited the Viet Nam Veterans' Memorial in Washington, DC a couple of nights earlier with the owner of the club where they had just performed.  The visit had made quite an impression on him, which lent new meaning to an already poignant song. 

Alan introduced Old Brown's Daughter by explaining that it was a song about a lad that was in love with the shopkeeper's daughter, so Seán yelled, "SEX!!!" and of course everybody cheered.  Alan continued to explain that the lad wanted so badly to marry the girl that he was willing to run for public office, and Seán yelled, "YUPPIE SEX!!!"  Now that's one we'd never heard before! 

After the show was over, we were heading out and I saw the grandmother from NFLD again.  I asked her if she enjoyed the concert, and she exclaimed happily, "I never knew they could make the old songs sound like that!"  It was so nice to hear her say that!  Next, I bought Jump Little Children's CD and got it signed by most of the band.  Then, Shawn and I headed downstairs where GBS was greeting fans and signing autographs.  Alan caught me by surprise, because he saw me and said, "Fran, you live in Boston, right?"  Now I knew that he knew my name and not just my face or t-shirt.  He was telling Alice and Becky about the in-studio appearance that they would be doing at WXRV the next day, so I said, "Oh yeah, I already heard about that - my sister-in-law works at the station.  I'll see you there tomorrow!"  I also had him sign my copy of the self-titled debut CD.  Soon, Bob came out and signed it too, and I got to have a brief chat with him - he knew about my website, and told me that he was looking forward to seeing my photographs of the tour! :) 

On the ride back, Shawn and I were so hyper after a GREAT concert that we chatted non-stop during the entire ride home, and never even bothered to turn on the CD player!  We were also extremely excited that we'd both be seeing GBS at The Paradise on the following night.... 

And as for my friend Jennie the "intrepid folk grrl", she sent this message to the BAIGLS the next day: 

    Another fabulous show at the iron Horse last night, with Jump 
    Little Children opening for Great Big Sea. 

    I never thought anyone could beat the Nields for on stage energy, 
    but GBS take the prize!  They are so entertaining (for god's sake!) 
    and I guarantee that you will have a big dopey grin on your face 
    after leaving their show(:  So go see them at the Paradise tonight! 

    I'll be feelin' merry when I marry mary mac 

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