Arts and Entertainment

Greenbank's Shanty Fest shares songs of the sea

The Shifty Sailors are just one of the many bands performing at the inaugural Shanty Fest, taking place Jan. 22 and Jan. 23 at the Greenbank Farm. - Submitted photo
The Shifty Sailors are just one of the many bands performing at the inaugural Shanty Fest, taking place Jan. 22 and Jan. 23 at the Greenbank Farm.
— image credit: Submitted photo

Greenbank Farm will carry a line-up of hearty choruses, and several “yo-hos,” during Whidbey’s inaugural Shanty Fest this month.

Performers from across Washington State have signed on for a two-day event, Jan. 22 and 23. It will be only one of two U.S. sea shanty festivals available in the wintertime, organizer Vern Olsen said. The other is in Chicago, Ill.

“If we develop here, we can get people from all over the world such as Netherlands, England or Ireland,” Olsen said.

But what exactly is the draw? Shanties came from the hardship of a life at sea in the days before motors and safety regulations. Musically, they were sung to coordinate efforts—-sailors pulled and pushed to the rhythm—and the lyrics served as a way for these men to let off some steam. Many themes involve a longing for women, drink and home.

“A song always had a purpose. True shantiers weren’t always in tune but showed this gruff voice style,” Olsen said. “Some of the Irish melodies are really beautiful.”

Another big appeal is that shanties are uniquely rooted in their purpose and time. The shanty scene is growing popular in Europe, and many of the songs are the same throughout the world.

“A lot of the early ships came out of England, New England and Ireland, or the English-speaking countries. If you go to the Netherlands or Norway, many shanties are sung in English, even today,” Olsen said.

Whidbey’s Shanty Fest has 25 shantiers so far, including family band “The Cutters,” “The Shifty Sailors,” Chris Roe, a singer and harpist from Seattle and Tom Lewis, whose French fans dub him “The Springsteen of Sea Shanties.” South Whidbey’s perennial emcee Jim Freeman will host.

Olsen said Whidbey’s seafaring history, including well-known sea captains and vessels, makes it an ideal place for a shanty fest.

The proceeds will go to Hearts & Hammers, an annual one-day blitz where volunteers gather on Central Whidbey to repair homes of those who are physically or financially unable to do the work themselves. Olsen hopes to collect at least $2,000.

The concert is indoors in Barn A, and beer, wine and refreshments will be available. There will also be unique shanty-themed workshops, including one for female shanty singers.

Tickets are $5 for workshops, $15 for night performances and $25 for a combination Shanty Fest ticket. They can be found at Wind & Tide, ClickMusic.Biz in Oak Harbor, Greenbank Farm, BookBay in Freeland and Moonraker in Langley. Or call Brown Paper Tickets at 1-800-838-3006.

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