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As soon he was old enough to make road trips, Brian Byrne would drive eight hours across the island from his tiny community on the west coast of Newfoundland to St. John's, to check out the rollicking George Street festival every year. Mr. Byrne made another trip in 1999 to Newfoundland's capital city for the festival -- but this time, the lead singer for I Mother Earth performed for the crowd instead of watching the big-name bands as he did as a wide-eyed teenager.

When brothers Jag and Christian Tanna originally formed I Mother Earth in 1991, Mr. Byrne was only 16 years old and living with his family in Steady Brook, a community made up of around 500 "strong" residents just east of Corner Brook. After he completed a physical education degree at Memorial University's Sir Wilfred Grenfell campus in Corner Brook, he moved to St. John's and lived in an downtown apartment for a while. Then he moved to Toronto.

It was there while he was working odd jobs and singing in a band called Klaven in 1997 that he heard that Edwin -- I Mother Earth's previous front man -- was leaving the band to pursue a solo career. Mr. Byrne decided to submit a demo tape, not really thinking he had a chance. It was big news around the music scene when the band's relationship with Edwin started to slide, said guitarist Jag Tanna. The heavy rockers received "about a million" demo tapes as soon as word got out they needed a replacement. They listened to about five seconds of Mr. Byrne's tape and threw it out.

"We were so tired of listening to tapes that we didn't even give it a chance," Mr. Tanna said. "And he sent us this funny looking passport photo that was really hilarious." However, a mutual friend convinced Mr. Tanna that he should listen to the tape properly. "We basically did it as a favour," he said. "I listened to it again. It was this metal kind of music but I realized that something was there."

He called Mr. Byrne and they just "connected right off the bat." "Once I found out he is from Newfoundland I knew he was going to be a good guy and I was right," he said. "I think he has kept a lot of his old values. There are no pretensions, no rock star stuff. He loves home, his family, his friends. All of his values carry a lot of weight for us, because we are the same way." As soon as Mr. Byrne found out he made the band, he called his mother in Newfoundland.

"I was just so thrilled," he said. And although fans have reacted enthusiastically towards Mr. Byrne, he admits he was a little stressed when the band started recording, Blue Green Orange, because he knew he had big shoes to fill.

But Mr. Tanna says Mr. Byrne has all the talent and charisma the band could have hoped for and more. "Everyone is saying that musically we have jumped leaps and bounds," he said. "It's all because of Brian. We all actually like one another now. It's kind of nice. I'm so happy with my band. We feel great."

Mr. Byrne's optimistic disposition really brought the band together, he said. "If you are in a negative situation, you tend to carry it with you, you know, wherever you walk you carry a chip on your shoulder. Brian has allowed us to put that aside and now it's like we are kids again and it's all about making music now and not about the business side."

The band's road manager, Kevin Meikle, said Mr. Byrne has brought a new dynamic to the band. Mr. Byrne, who always tries to run and stay fit while on the road, was a much-needed breath of fresh air for the other members. "I think the chemistry really works," he said. "There is a better
spirit now and they are all so much much happier. Brian is so eager."

Mr. Byrne says it is important for him that shows go over well in his home province. The last year he was living in St. John's, the Tragically Hip played during the George Street festival. "That was just amazing, it was one of the best weekends I have ever had," he said. "You always see so many people you know and they are always so happy to see you. It's not like other festivals where sometimes it can be really pretentious. It's just a different attitude."

Life is exciting with the band in Toronto but Mr. Byrne says he still misses home. "I miss the hills, the sea and the people. I miss a whole lot," he said. "There are some things I can't even pinpoint. There is just an overall vibe when you hit the east coast, more specifically Newfoundland that you don't get anywhere on the planet, I'm sure."

By Susanne Hiller.