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Atlantic Blue: a celebration of east coast songwriters with Tara MacLean

Review by Evan James Ceretti

Performed by
Tara MacLean (vocals, acoustic guitar), Todd MacLean (vocals, keyboard, acoustic guitar), Cynthia MacLeod (vocals, fiddle, banjo), Caroline Bernard (vocals, accordion, bodhran, djembe, piano), Mark Geddes (vocals, stand-up bass), Aaron Crane (understudy for all musicians).

Written and directed by
Tara MacLean

Supported by
Danny Costain (associate producer), The Guild (presented by), ITY Productions (produced by), Alanna Jankov (executive director of The Guild), Chris Gauthier (musicial director), Shawnte Burrell (stage manager), Eric Fortune (sound and lighting design), Curtis McNevin (lights and projection), Tara MacLean (biography films directed by), Jason Rogerson (edited by), Tara MacLean and Jennifer Abbott (opening film directed by), Adam Gallant (film sound), Laura Morgan (hair), Ryan Hutchinson (graphic design), Emma Fugate (bookkeeping), Anna Victor (assistant to Ms. MacLean), Denis Larocque (guitar tech)

The Show
Atlantic Blue: a celebration of east coast songwriters is just that — a show that celebrates the lives of influential East Coast songwriters. Through an engaging mix of documentary-like storytelling and live performances, Tara MacLean recounts the footsteps — and maybe more importantly, the footprints left behind — of many songwriters from the Atlantic region and how their music, words and lifestyles impacted listeners. From Ron Hynes to The Rankin Family, Rita MacNeil to PEI’s own Gene MacLellan, MacLean has created a beautiful tribute to both those who have left us, and to the living legends who continue to play traditional music.

The Performance
The show goes back and forth from dramatic storytelling to captivating renditions of famous songs from the East Coast. To a backdrop of images of the featured writer(s), MacLean gives a biographical account of each of their lives, so the audience can be right there with them. The band then performs a hit from the featured writer. About 12 writers were featured in the same style. The crowd joined in on an impromptu ceilidh just before intermission, which livened things up a bit. MacLean saved a couple of surprises until the end of the show — each Atlantic Blue performance showcases a different special guest, this week’s guest being Damhnait Doyle.

Best thing
When MacLean walked on stage in a stunning blue gown after intermission and started singing a haunting rendition of The Rankin Family’s "Fare thee well love." Special guests also brought an extra element of surprise and energy to the show.

Shortcoming
At more than 2.5 hours, it’s a tad long. (But I would hardly call that a shortcoming).

Final Thoughts
At times sad and heavy-hitting, at others happy and upbeat. MacLean’s storytelling and the band’s performances take the audience on a wave of emotions, to deep blue, Atlantic waters and safely back to shore again. Hearing the harrowing accounts of some of the writers’ lives sometimes made the transition back to live music a little difficult, but it ultimately worked. If you’re looking for a history lesson and a captivating performance at the same time, this show is the place to be. One thing is for sure: the Maritimes has a LOT of talent.

—Select dates at The Guild. Tickets/info: theguildpei.com.

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