Séan McCann, a co-founder of Great Big Sea, is performing a solo show at the Grace Jollymore Joyce Arts Centre on Aug. 19 as part of this year’s TATAFEST. It’s been five years since McCann left the group after a battle with alcoholism. Dave Howells photo

Séan McCann first heard of TATAFEST through friends and fans.

But as soon as he looked at a map and found Tatamagouche, the co-founder of Great Big Sea knew that’s exactly where he wanted to play. Two years later, and McCann will take to the stage Aug. 19 at the Grace Jollymore Joyce Arts Centre as part of TATAFEST.

“I’ve been looking for smaller places to perform that aren’t bars, places where my songs can be the focus,” said McCann, who now lives in Ottawa. “I think this will be the first time I’ve ever drive on that road, and that, for me, is a sign I should go.”

The musician did some digging about The Grace, and said it’s his dream gig.

“These communities, they’re small but they’re mighty. They’re full of love, the people. They care.”

He said in today’s day and age of the news of the world, it’s refreshing to play in smaller venues. He’s drawn to them.

“In small theatres, for me, there’s no better place to do what I want. They’re intimate. They’re really powerful, and I get the audience to sing. I’m not done yet. I have lots of places I want to go.”

It’s been five years since Great Big Sea last toured as a band, with McCann announcing his plan to leave. He said he wanted the band to continue to work, but he sobered up.

“Just because I sobered up didn’t mean the bus sobered up,” he admitted. His wife, now of 13 years, had told him on Nov. 9, 2011, she didn’t want to watch McCann kill himself with his alcoholism.

“I heard it, and I’m grateful she loved me enough to do that,” McCann said. “I needed to change, I knew my survival depended on it. I didn’t think I would ever play a song again, but music, it’s medicine. It’s a constant friend and a way to deal with my problems.

“Without music I wouldn’t have been able to face my demons.”

Before he made the decision to become and stay sober, McCann said he wasn’t able to focus on the show or the music.

“Now, I’m more vulnerable and honest. I’m saying more.”

McCann admits everybody has problems, and some, like himself, choose drugs and alcohol to deal with those problems.

“Secrets can kill you,” he said. “I was sexually abused by my priest at the age of 15. I chose to drink and do drugs. You can’t solve your problems if you’re not willing to face it.”

He said people are stronger than they think, and if “the guy from Great Big Sea can sober up, anybody can.”

Along with his solo music, McCann does a lot of speaking engagements where he shares his story with others. He said speaking out and performing helps him.

“My greatest accomplishment in my life, the thing I’m most proud of is that I’m able to do this,” he said.

“For 35 years I remained the victim, but for the last seven years I’ve had the status of survivor. I think I did what I had to do. I’m sober today and I have my family.”

Because he and his family now live in Ontario, McCann said one of the biggest things he misses about the East Coast is the smell of the sea.

“I’m going to be full of that – I’ll be inhaling big breaths of the sea air while I’m in Tatamagouche,” he said.

McCann’s performance begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $30 each and can be purchased at C.G. Fulton Pharmacy in Tatamagouche, or online at www.gracejollymore.com.