Mystic Seaport's Sea Music Festival marks its 35th year

Festival participant Don Sineti joins the music-making onboard the Charles W. Morgan at last year's event.
Festival participant Don Sineti joins the music-making onboard the Charles W. Morgan at last year's event.

The Sea Music Festival flows into its 35th year with concerts starting today at Mystic Seasport, and, as has become tradition, it boasts an eclectic lineup that comes from around the world.

One of the fest's highlights is the Barrouallie Whalers, who are from St. Vincent in the Grenadines. This quartet of men, now in their late 70s and early 80s, rowed whaleboats in their youth. They built their own whaleboats and hunted pilot whales.

They'll perform in all three days at the Sea Music Festival, doing rhythmic songs they used to sing when rowing those boats, says Geoff Kaufman, who is director of the Sea Music Festival and foreman of the seaport's chantey program.

"They sing in energetic four-part harmony. They're singing in English, but it's in that wonderful accent of the Caribbean," Kaufman says. "They are the last singers of material that comes from the period of the sailing of the Charles W. Morgan."

The many other performers at the Sea Music Festival include a trio of folk singers from The Netherlands - Ankie van der Meer, Nanne Kalma, and Tseard Nauta. Nanne Kalma has written a musical play about British explorer Henry Hudson, and the group will present a new version of the piece that explores the Dutch influence on the Eastern seaboard. Among the subjects: Adriaen Block's sailing through Long Island Sound - and naming what is now Block Island after himself (although he actually called it Adriaen Island). And Fisher's Island is named after the navigator on Block's vessel.

"There's all kinds of history they will be teaching through what are, in fact, new compositions," Kaufman says.

Another returning fest favorite: storyteller Jack Dalton from Anchorage, Alaska. He's half Yupik and half German, and he's picked up the storytelling tradition of his native tribe. There is a definite connection between the tribe and the sea.

"The Yupik culture was affected in a significant way by the arrival of whalers," Kaufman says. "One of the stories he's told in the past is the story of these ships showing up on the coast. They were incredible things that the native people had never seen before, so the reaction of the indigenous folks to these winged things that were coming to their shore was pretty amazing."

Concerts, of course, are the key component of the Sea Music Festival - highlighted by shows at seven locations throughout the seaport from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday - but they are not the only element. The festival also offers an array of workshops. Topics range from women and the sea to instruments that went to sea.

Visitors can learn things first-hand in some of the workshops. They can get onboard a ship and experience what it's like to sing sea music while working, as sailors used to do. The rhythms of pulling or pushing - hauling a line or heaving on an apparatus - are set up by the singing. When people do that without something to coordinate the effort, they aren't exerting effort at the same time, Kaufman says. When they are told to pull on certain words, everyone works together - and it makes the job much easier.


Sea Music Festival schedule

Seaport admission during regular hours, which are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., are $24 ages 18-64, $22 ages 65 and up and for college students with ID, $15 ages 6-17, and free for kids 5 and under. The night concerts are $32 adults, $24 students/youths ($25 and $16, respectively, for seaport members). Call (860) 572-0711.

The evening concerts include the following:


7 p.m. "Fitting Out" Concert at the Boat Shed, with the museum's chantey staff and guest performers.


7 p.m. "Unmooring" Concert at the Boat Shed, with Ankie, Nanne & Tseard, The Barrouallie Whalers, Forebitter, more.


7 p.m. "Full Sail" Concert at the Boat Shed, with Jack Dalton, Winston "Jeggae" Hoppie, The Johnson Girls, Dan Milner & Robbie O'Connell, more, and Geoff Kaufman as MC.


Final concert at the Boat Shed from 3-6 p.m.


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