"THE 2023 FUNDY SEA SHANTY FESTIVAL"
Last summer, my social media feed alerted me of a new sea shanty festival that was happening in the quaint fishing village of St Martins on the Fundy coast of my home province of New Brunswick. I was happy to learn that such a festival existed back home and I immediately knew that I wanted to be involved. I contacted the festival via its Facebook page and the person who responded directed me to Gary Caines, the festival's creative director. After some discussion, and confirmation that funding would permit another festival, Gary agreed to bring me aboard. To read my thoughts about the experience, please read on.
Photo Credit: facebook.com/fundyseashantyfest
After a very long, rainy drive through Quebec and northern New Brunswick, made much more bearable in a very new car, Melanie and I arrived at our accommodations in Saint John on Friday night. We quickly checked-in, unloaded our kit, and were off to St Martins for the kitchen party at Royal Canadian Legion - St Martins - Branch 63. It was a nice social event where we were able to meet and mingle with some of the other performers and festival staff.
The next day, we grabbed an eclectic mix of some of our favourite seafood dishes for brunch at Billy's Seafood Company before returning to St Martins. We listened to some fantastic shanty singing and perused the many shops and local businesses in the area while enjoying some of the best lobster rolls we've ever had courtesy of Spinney's Seafood Market. An amazingly professional performance by Lennie Gallant ended the day. If you've never seen Lennie live, do yourself a favour and check him out. He was great!
Unfortunately, Sunday was plagued by more rain, which resulted in lower attendance, but did not deter the die hard shanty fans. The headliner that day was Sean McCann of Great Big Sea fame. For me, the evening's volunteers' and performers' after party was the day's highlight. After a proper feed organized by the fantastic staff at the Legion, where we got to know some of the lads in Before The Mast much better, something interesting happened. The shanty bands started performing as if they were battling in musical combat for (surf and) turf! Before The Mast led the charge and other bands like The Taproom Growlers, The Yarmouth Shantymen, The Johnson Girls, The Wellington Sea Shanty Society, Croche Dedans, and Chris Ricketts answered the call and responded in kind. I'd never seen a shanty-off before and it was awesome! An evening of choral singing eventually morphed into more of a traditional kitchen party where many of the singers and volunteers pulled out guitars, mandolins, whistles, fiddles, bodhrans, etc, and sat in a circle performing a litany of Celtic, East Coast, and old country songs until the place closed.
The next morning, we went for tea and scones at the local café and ran into some of our new friends for more community and conversation. We left St Martins and drove The Fundy Trail, which, at times, reminded me a lot of The Cabot Trail on Cape Breton in Nova Scotia. We met up with some cousins in Salisbury (I forgot how much I loved Irving Big Stops) and were then off to Fredericton for a day of showing Melanie where I grew up. We left Freddy around 7 PM and spent the night at a most unforgettable location in Florenceville. We slept in a Shamrock Suites converted train car and it was awesome! Unfortunately, repairs thwarted my attempt to show Mel the world's longest covered bridge in Hartland the next day. Another lunch at a Big Stop in Quebec and we drove home listening to sea shanty podcasts and discussing a newly-inspired Mel's idea of a sea shanty bowling league for East Coasters in Ontario in an attempt to replicate the feeling of community we felt at the festival. We're still sorting out the deets on that one.
In sum, if you love fresh seafood, stunning scenery, good music, and even better people, then please consider supporting this festival any way you can. Its collection of dedicated volunteers and staff work hard to make it better and better each year. Based on their passion and professionalism, I'm confident that they will no doubt succeed.