This Saturday, I attended the 12th annual Chicago Maritime Festival at the Chicago History Museum. It was my second time at the festival and I enjoyed it. It’s not quite as old and established as the University of Chicago Folk Festival, but that’s been around for 54 years. The festival is a combination of sea shanty music and workshops.
I started my day with “Seaworthy Shakespeare” workshop put on by Chicago based “Shakespeare All-Stars.” They were charming. They did little scenes three of the four plays with shipwrecks: The Tempest, The Comedy of Errors, and Twelfth Night. The group was charming. With few costumes and no scenery, they did an amazing job of evoking all the different characters from these plays. They began and ended their workshop with the play scenes from Midsummer Night’s Dream, which they acknowledge has nothing to do with the sea. But it was great so it doesn’t’ matter! I got to play the moon for a brief moment.
I spent the rest of the day in the various music workshops. The workshops are with the various performers on different topics. This year the topics included “Loss and Lament,” “Reflection,” and my personal favorite “Drinking Songs.” Most musicians would play in the evening concert. Some performers would give a little back-story about the song they were about to sing. There was a delightful workshop on squeezable instruments, like the concertina and accordion, which was super. One gentleman talked about how learning the harmonica was great for learning the concertina.
The most vivacious of the workshops was the drinking songs one. There were songs about alcohol, songs that you’d sing if you drank too much, and songs about what happens if you drink too much. My two favorite groups led the session: the San Francisco based Barbary Ghosts and the Columbus based HardTackers Shanty Crew. The Barbary Ghosts sang about a nasty fellow in San Francisco who owned a bar that served “cheap liquor.” He’d get men drunk, and drug them and then send them through the trapdoor in the floor to out of to sea. They also sang about boozing and rye whiskey. The HardTackers sang about the Empire and Queen; it’s what you’d sing if you were really far along… They also sang a rousing rendition of “All for Me Grog” which has to be my favorite Irish drinking song.
In an earlier session on “Loss and Lament”, the Barbary Ghosts sang about a famous captain who could not sail anymore. The song is about his desire to go to the docks to see his old ship Alice once again. The chorus is “Rosie get my Sunday shoes, Gertie get my walkin’ cane. We’ll take another walk to see old Alice sail again.” It’s so lovely. Apparently, the old captain is related to one of the musicians through his brother-in-law.
And then my favorite shanty group did a half hour concert. They are the Bounding Main, an a cappella, humorous group that wears garb. What’s not to love? They sang about the shipwrecks in the Great Lakes and about the storage containers that are used today. As much as I love the old songs, it’s nice to hear some new songs about the current situation. They told amazing jokes including: “Two parrots were sitting on a perch. One turned to the other and said, ‘Do you smell something fishy?'” Teehee.
Then the daytime part of the festival was finished off with a workshop of bawdy shanty songs. It was really charming that all these adults would get together and sing fairly raunchy songs together. Some of the workshop musicians played various naughty songs (including one about condoms), others sang songs with swear words (sailors swear! Who knew!). Audience members were invited to come up and sing as well. It was good dirty fun.
In the evening, there was a concert of many of the musicians from the festival. Next year, I’ll probably go to either the day events or just the concert since it’s the same musicians at both. There weren’t many repeat songs and when a song was repeated in the evening, it was done by another musician or group. The HardTackers sang Admiral Nelson’s favorite song, which was a real hit in our party.
It was a lovely event and I look forward to next year.