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Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council.

Photo by Aidan Johnson
By Aidan Johnson

Sea shanty singers from around the globe were called from the briny deep to perform at the 2nd annual Port Jefferson Sea Shanty & Maritime Music Festival on Saturday, Oct. 1. 

Performer Monti Babson of “Pirates at Large”

While the event was due to be held outside at Harborfront Park, it was moved to inside the Village Center due to inclement weather. Yet this was no issue for the singers, as they still gave delightful and entertaining performances.

Amy Tuttle, program director for the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council and creator of the festival, wanted to give sea shanty singers a place to share their talent. 

“Last year, there were some sea shanty singers from Mystic Seaport [Connecticut], and Mystic had discontinued their sea shanty [festival], so those shanty singers were distressed and sad that they had no place to play,” Tuttle shared. “And I said Port Jefferson has a very rich and interesting shipbuilding history — come here.”

Over a matter of a couple of months, GPJAC was able to put together the inaugural Port Jeff sea shanty festival. After seeing that the event was successful, the arts council decided to hold it annually.

Performers Bob Conroy and Bill Grau of “Stout”

Shanty singers came from afar to participate in the festival, including Connecticut, New Jersey and England. “They’ve come from all over to perform in this festival,” Tuttle said.

The performers aren’t the only ones excited about sea shanties. TikTok has thrown the genre into the spotlight amongst the youth, especially with the song “The Wellerman.” 

“I know during the pandemic it was a thing on TikTok, and a lot of the kids were experimenting with different things and writing their own music, which was fabulous,” Tuttle said. “We thought, how fun would it be to get some of the [original] singers to come and do sea shanties here.”

Many of the performers have had several decades of experience with sea shanties under their belt. Maria Fairchild started off playing the piano as a child before moving on to the guitar and eventually the banjo. She also has performed in multiple bands for more than 30 years. Adam Becherer, with whom Fairchild performed, grew up with the bluegrass scene in South Street Seaport in Manhattan thanks to his father being in a bluegrass band. 

Performers Adam Becherer and Maria Fairchild

Both Fairchild and Becherer feel an attraction toward folk music. “I like the history of it,” Fairchild said. “I also like that the melodies are … different from modern music, and there’s something really ancient that I’m attracted to.” Becherer added, “I love the collaborative nature of it. I love getting together with people who you don’t necessarily know, but there’s like a common language of tunes that people can get together and play.”

Despite the weather, the music festival went off without a hitch. Tuttle, along with GPJAC, is planning on having a tavern setting next year, in which people can learn how to sing and play the songs. 

Currently, the arts council is presenting its Port Jefferson Documentary Series, with screenings taking place throughout the fall. For more information, visit www.gpjac.org.

— Photos by Aidan Johnson

The annual Charles Dickens Festival in Port Jefferson was canceled in 2020 out of an abundance of caution. Photo by Glenn Tinnie

By Allan Varela

We are living in strange times with the political upheaval and the terrible, deadly pandemic hanging over our lives. Every day we are literally battered with controversy and bad news. 

There is one place of comfort, however. We find it in the arts. We listen to music and watch music videos. We turn on movies old and new and stream over the top shows that offer constant variation. We might even look at a book of visual art or search for fine art online. The arts are present when we sing a song together, when a family member plays the piano or guitar or draws a picture. Yes indeed. The arts are alive in our lives. But there is so much more to this cultural picture than the obvious I just stated.

Every day, in every way we live, our lives are surrounded by the work of artists. Look down at the chair you are sitting in while reading this story. That’s right, it was designed in part by an artist and created by artisans. Look around the room you are in. If you see wallpaper, it was designed by an artist. The color palette of the paint scheme in your home was created by an artist. The ring on your finger and the jewelry you wear were all designed by artists. 

Your clothes — designed by an artist; your home — designed by an artist; the car you drive — designed by an artist. You see, everything you live with and in was designed to some degree by an artist. Everything you use to express yourself to the world was designed… well, you get it!

I am writing this as a reminder that the arts and artists of all types are hurting right now. It is easy to say “So what?” but remembering the impact the arts have on our lives should lead to “How can I help?” There are numerous not-for-profit organizations that need our help. Those of us fortunate enough to financially weather our current storm need to reach out to support these groups as they support artists, the arts and the cultural life of our communities.

These organizations have found ways to present engaging concerts online, to show documentary films that include a Q&A with the director online or make reservations to see an exhibit whilst keeping to community health standards. But the revenue stream for ticket sales has dried up and I fear that some of the groups will begin to fall apart. 

The arts organizations have wonderful financial impact on our communities. Property values remain stable or increase in communities that offer arts programming. Every dollar invested in an Arts Council program brings back some four dollars in revenue from simple things like an audience buying gas to get to a show, to visiting a local restaurant for a meal before or after a show.

Cultural engagement is needed to keep our communities enriched and interesting. Financial engagement is what is needed to keep our cultural organizations alive. Please make a difference and donate, as you are able, to a local not-for-profit arts organization or museum. Even a small amount can make a big difference.

Allan Varela serves as chair for the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council which hosts the Port Jefferson Documentary Series, Charles Dickens Festival, WinterTide Concert Series, Sunset Concert Series and Fiddle & Folk Festival. To support or sponsor the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council,  please visit www.gpjac.org/sponsor.

Sloan Wainwright. Photo courtesy of LIM

Save the date! On Sunday, Jan. 21 at 3 p.m. the Long Island Museum, 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook will welcome Sloan Wainwright, performing live in the Carriage Museum’s Gillespie Room as part of the Sunday Street Music Series presented by WUSB-FM radio and the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council.

The singer/songwriter is at ease in a variety of American musical styles — pop, folk, jazz and blues — all held together by the melodious tone of her rich contralto. Her family tree (brother and folk music luminary Loudon Wainwright, nephew Rufus Wainwright, nieces Martha Wainwright and Lucy Wainwright Roche) reads like a who’s who of contemporary folk music.

Wainwright’s incredible gift is not only her unique songwriting ability but also her dramatically voiced rendition of original songs. Wainwright brings original songs from a new album, “Bright Side of a Rainy Day,” to this performance, along with her interpretations of songs by Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and others. She will be accompanied by her longtime guitarist and collaborator Stephen Murphy for this performance.

Advance sale tickets are $25 online through Friday, Jan. 19 with tickets at the door for $30 (cash only). Please call the museum at 631-751-0066 the day of the show to confirm ticket availability.