I love sea shanties.

It’s not like I have an iPod full of them, but really, I do. I love sea shanties. They’re great music for doing housework or keeping your kid entertained on a long-ish car trip. They have very old roots but are still around today, and Chicago has some of its very own.

What is a sea shanty, or sea chanty? Basically, it is a song that is a type of folk music–a nautical type. The name comes from the French verb for “to sing,” chanter. Back when Chicago was the busiest port in the world, men working on Lake Michigan’s many boats and ships sang these songs to help pass the time and economize labor. Unlike many other types of work song, sea shanties draw from a rich mosaic of cultural influences, including American marches, European folk dance, and the music of African-American slaves.

Chicago’s lakefront is now home to more parks than shipping vessels, so who is keeping this musical tradition alive, and how? For starters, you can take the Sea Music And Shanty class at the Old Town School of Folk Music. You can also check out the guy who teaches the class, Tom Kastle, in concert sometimes, or buy one of his CDs.


Ahoy! It’s Tom Kastle in a photo from his web site.

You can also hear them performed, sometimes by musicians in period costume, at the Chicago Maritime Festival. If you still haven’t had enough Great Lakes nautical jams, join the yahoo group for Chicago sea shanties to find out whenever there are performances or sing-alongs in the Chicago area.

Please enjoy this video of The Hard Tackers Shanty Team, a fine group of singers from another Great Lakes state, singing at the 2012 Chicago Maritime Festival.