Article Date: August 31st, 2010
Category: Sound Off
Alice Winship, second from right, participates in maritime music events
… how many words is a song worth? A song doesn’t have the reasoned facts of a historical essay, or the technical detail revealed by a historic photograph. A song paints a quick, vivid image with a few details, but the rhythm and melody make a powerful emotional connection with the listener. It’s the emotional sweep of the music that fires our imagination and makes us almost feel we had been there ourselves.
Many of us feel a vital connection with the age of sail because of the powerful work songs left by the sailing crews. There are fewer songs about vessels with engines, although their stories are no less dramatic. Some of us felt this situation should be rectified.
There were a few good existing songs about Northwest tugboats. We got permission to use those songs, and challenged musicians to write more. The result is a new CD, â€˜Northwest Tugboat Tales’, recorded by a fledgling non-profit organization called Maritime Folknet. Of the seventeen tracks on the CD, only five were pulled from previous CDs. Many of the songs are newly written and have never appeared before.
The songs cover a broad range of time and topics, from the 19th century to news stories from recent decades. “When Carissa Came Ashore” gives a calypso beat to the efforts of tugboats to tow away the wreck of the New Carissa, grounded and leaking fuel on the Oregon coast. “Tugboats Pullin’ On the Bridge Lines” looks at the part tugboats played in keeping the I-90 bridge from sinking in the windstorms of November 1990. The rise of women in a male-dominated industry is seen in “Thea Foss” and “Piper Cameron,” and the changing role of minorities in “The Tugboat Langston Hughes.” Some songs cover the history of a real tugboat, or recount a dramatic incident, while others simply give a vivid picture of everyday life on a tug.
Maritime Folknet has received some helpful collaboration from Northwest Seaport, which itself produces a successful monthly program of live maritime music. Northwest Seaport allowed the use of a photo of their historic tugboat the Arthur Foss on the cover of the CD, and the final track on the CD is a new recording of Arthur’s horn and vintage diesel engine. One of the songs, “A Hundred Years Ago,” outlines the history of Arthur’s participation in significant events in Northwest history.
For more information about the CD, or to purchase a copy, visit www.maritimefolknet.org.
Alice Winship is president of the nonprofit organization Maritime Folknet.