Rolling Down to Old Martins: the sea shanties festival kicks off

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It’s taken over a year of work and worked through two viral sensations – one literal – but St. Martins’ first annual Fundy Sea Shanty Festival is taking place this weekend in the Bay of Fundy community.

The three-day festival features 11 acts from around the world, as well as talks, whiskey tastings and a pirate parade.

And all it took was the art form’s revitalization brought on by boredom during the coronavirus pandemic, prompting the songs to go viral on Instagram and TikTok.

Gary Caines is the festival organizer. He also performs in the slum band Before the Mast.

“When TikTok went crazy with The Wellermanthere was a lot of enthusiasm and interest in sea shanties,” Caines said.

Festival organizer Gary Caines performs in the sea shanty band Before the Mast. (Lars Schwarz/CBC)

“I’ve been interviewed by a number of newspapers and radio shows about sea shanties. I took that as a sign it might be time for a festival.”

There’s a lot of history in the songs, some of which are hundreds of years old.

While many of them can be considered drinking songs, with their place in a pub, their origin was much less casual.

“They were work songs,” Caines said.

“Most people don’t know that. They think sea shanties are something you sing in the pub… but they were real work songs. They served a purpose and they need to be respected because they have been sung by those who helped forge nations as we know them today.”

Chris Ricketts, who is from the UK and is one of the performers at the festival, said it was nice to be back on tour after the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. He said it was his first sea shanty festival in four years.

Some younger pirates participate in a treasure hunt during the festival. (Lars Schwarz/CBC)

“It’s been a really tough couple of years with the pandemic, but it’s just nice to be singing in front of real humans again,” Ricketts said.

While many people have fallen in love with sea shanties during the pandemic, Ricketts’ appreciation dates back to her college days.

“We were told we had to sing songs where we’re from and I was from Portsmouth, a seaside town,” Ricketts said.

“I was trying to be a little rebellious…and I sang a bunch of sea shanties as part of my recital at the end. And needless to say, I failed.”

After a lifetime of love and more than a year of planning, Caines said he can’t wait to connect with lovers in the slums.

“I can’t wait to look at the audience and see them tap their feet and nod and say, ‘Wow, that’s cool,'” Caines said.

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