George Street Festival invests in big-name bands

Dropkick Murphys, Great Big Sea among headliners for this year's event

Published on July 25, 2011
A crowd enjoys the Juno celebration on George Street last summer. The George Street Festival is hoping to draw a big crowd this year to shows by big-name acts.

It's no secret. George Street is a place for drinking, eating, dancing, picking up (people and things), and socializing. All the usual characteristics should be present during the 27th annual George Street Festival, which runs July 28 - Aug. 2, but to a notably different backdrop: bigger bands.

The George Street Association, a consortium of George Street bar owners, has upped the ante this year by booking headliners Dropkick Murphys, Great Big Sea, Trooper and The Roadhammers, as well as opening acts such as Elliott Brood, The Heartbroken and Plants and Animals.

"We try to attract the best level of entertainment within our budget at a price plan which is affordable for (people)," explains George Street Association executive director, Seamus O'Keefe, adding this year's budget is in the range of $250,000.

"We've put more of an emphasis on entertainment the past number of years and worked with our corporate partners to up the level of acts that take to the stage," he said, referencing last year's headliner Our Lady Peace and 2009 headliner Blue Rodeo.

This year's price tag includes two shows that roused concert goers when the bands were announced in March.

On July 28, Great Big Sea and energetic Toronto death country trio Elliott Brood will open the festival, and on Aug. 1, American Celtic punk favourites Dropkick Murphys are expected to perform for a sellout crowd.

"Dropkick Murphys is someone we've been chasing for a couple of years," sayid O'Keefe, adding about half of the 4,200 tickets for the Aug. 1 show are gone.

In 2007, with headliners Sloan and Kim Mitchell, admission to the street each night was $10. This year's ticket prices range from $25 to $35 per day.

"We know we're charging a premium for tickets and we've been rewarded by increased attendance," said O'Keefe.

"The more we invest in entertainment the more crowds we get. Last year was the first year we averaged over 6,000 people per night."

To address the concern of excluding lower-income city residents unable to afford the new admission prices, O'Keefe said the association "made a conscious effort, after the bands at 11 p.m. each night," to charge $15 admission to the street.

"You can get on the street and still enjoy tons of entertainment within the bars themselves," he said, adding 20 of the 25 participating venues will have live entertainment.

Great Big Sea member Bob Hallett is enthusiastic about opening the festival and about this year's lineup.

"We haven't played George Street in eons," he said. "The (festival), I feel, hasn't been that amazing the last few years but this year the lineup is absolutely superb, and to see bands the quality of the Dropkick Murphys playing here, I'm very excited about it."

Hallett recalled Great Big Sea's brief stint on George Street in the band's early days, but said most of the shows he and his bandmates played were with various other bands.

"By the time we got to Great Big Sea we kind of knew we (couldn't) just drink ourselves to death playing gigs on George Street. We did for a while though," he said.

"We were kind of learning our trade and developing our repertoire, and at the time we were also trying to make enough money to begin touring.

"We definitely put in a hard six months," he continued. "We knew too that we had to move on, because as amazing as George Street can be, we knew for us that it would be a bit of a trap. We had to get out and expand our career and staying on George Street wasn't going to do that for us."

Two decades later, the band will headline what's shaping up to be one of the street's biggest shows in years.

With rumours circulating of a potential Russell Crowe appearance in St. John's this summer, most likely alongside Great Big Sea, it seems the George Street Festival is one of the probable venues.

"There's a buzz about Russell Crowe, and there seems to be some sort of buzz around his relationship with Alan Doyle of Great Big Sea," O'Keefe said, unprompted, "so we're excited about the opportunity that might lay between us, and if that can come to fruition we'll be very excited."

Asked if his speculation is based on the Tweets Crowe had sent out hinting at a Newfoundland appearance, O'Keefe responded, "A little bit, and a little bit of insider stuff. (I've) also heard some rumblings from other people to just be prepared."

For the full George Street Festival lineup and ticket information visit