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Songs sung by sailors come to N.B. seaside town this summer

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The tiny seaside village of St. Martins, N.B., will serve as the backdrop to the first-ever Fundy Sea Shanty Festival this summer, an event that will pay tribute to the time-honored east coast tradition of sailing songs and the region’s rich maritime history.

“[St. Martins] was a big shipbuilding port, major shipbuilding port, and Yarmouth was a major ship-owning port,” says Eric Ruff, skipper for the group the Yarmouth Shantymen. “[The festival] will give us a chance to talk about the history of where we come from.”

Sea shanties are traditional tunes that were sung by sailors during work aboard ships and, as Ruff explains, each song has a particular rhythm to match the task at hand.

“For example, if you’re hauling in the anchor you’ll use the capstan shanty as the men walk around pushing the capstan,” says Ruff. “They’ll walk around and around the capstan, and that’s a slow and steady beat.”

The sea shanty itself has seen something of a resurgence and revival in recent years thanks to social media, and particularly TikTok.

Artistic director for the festival, Gary Caines, says many songs that are pub favourites actually have their roots on the high seas.

“Our songs like ‘Billy Boy,’ and ‘Michael Row The Boat Ashore,’ ‘My Bonny Lies Over The Ocean,’ a lot of the young people would call them drinking songs,” says Caines.” But what they are, are shanties that groups have added bass to, added drums and brought them up-tempo.”

The Fundy Sea Shanty Festival is taking place from Aug. 12-14 this year with a line-up of performers that include Jimmy Flynn, Melanie Ross, Yarmouth Shantymen, Before the Mast, Fundy Ceilidh, Frantically Atlantic, Craic at the Cask, Chris Ricketts, Sonia Painchaud, Brise-Glace-Chants de Marin and Pressgang Mutiny.

There will also be rum tasting and decorative knot tying workshops, lectures on nautical history and folklore, and more.

“You can’t say enough about that human connection,” says emcee and performer Melanie Ross Breen.

“Especially with the sea shanties with the fact that they were done as a human piece, as basically just human power — that when you have people together, it just moves it to the next level."

Tickets for the event will be going on sale through the Fundy Sea Shanty Festival website on April 30.

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