Shanty Fest: Singing to support medical groups in Greenbank

Featured singers at Shanty Fest include the Shify Sailors. - Contributed photo
Featured singers at Shanty Fest include the Shify Sailors.
— image credit: Contributed photo

Sailors sang shanties while hard at work, and these musicians will be hard at work singing to benefit the three medical support groups on Whidbey Island at the third annual Shanty Fest.

Concerts will be held Friday and Saturday, Jan. 20 and 21, both at 7 p.m., with free workshops beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday. Each concert will feature different songs. Workshops include a class for kids, women and shanties, how to arrange and sell your music and a sing-along.

All events take place at the Greenbank Farm. Whidbey Pies cafe will stay open late for dinner and have pies available during intermissions.

Tickets to each concert cost $20; a festival pass is $30.

Profits will go to Medical Safety Net of North Whidbey, Coupeville’s Small Miracles and South Whidbey’s Friends of Friends, all of which help Whidbey Island residents pay medical bills they can’t afford.

Last year, Shanty Fest raised more than $3,300 for these groups. This year’s goal is $5,000.

“I’m so proud of our island, the community feeling and the support, helping these people live a close to normal life even though they’re struggling,” said Shanty Fest coordinator Vern Olsen, adding that the support is especially meaningful in the economic downturn.

This year’s cast of musical talent includes the Shifty Sailors, Tom Lewis, Whateverly Brothers, Watch the Sky and Chris Roe.

“I like festivals. You’re together for a purpose, not just an evening concert. A lot of people are really interested in this type of music,” Olsen said.

“It’s something to do in January; there isn’t very much,” Olsen added.

Olsen is a strong supporter of having a non-summer festival because he said it encourages tourists to visit Whidbey during the winter, a time when performers’ schedules aren’t as full, housing on the island is more readily available, eating establishment aren’t as booked and the weather isn’t as bad as in other parts of the country.

Next year, Olsen said he hopes to change the name from Shanty Fest to Maritime Festival.

“We are an island. We’re surrounded by water. We have a fantastic history with the sea,” Olsen said, naming ferries, fishing, settling the island and more. “We are the best place around to think about having a maritime festival.”

Changing the festival would allow a wider variety of musicians to join because the topic would expand to any songs of the sea, not just shanties.

“It becomes more of a festival where we can draw participants and attendees from across the country,” Olsen said, adding that next year, musicians from Maine and Massachusetts have already pledged to attend.

If next year’s festival proves successful, Olsen plans to invite German and other international groups.

Shanty Fest is a big event for the Greenbank Farm and the only big event there in January.

“I feel so strongly about making things work for the people who are here,” Olsen said, adding that doing something for the farm is important to him. He was part of the movement to save the farm years ago.

The musicians are all volunteers. Olsen is the director of the Shifty Sailors. The group has five CDs out and has performed internationally.

“It’s our way of giving back to the community,” Olsen said.


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