Arts and Entertainment

Shifties sing out for the release of fifth CD

The Shifty Sailors of Whidbey perform in France aboard the Russian Tall Ship
The Shifty Sailors of Whidbey perform in France aboard the Russian Tall Ship 'Mir' much to the joy of several dancing children.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Vern Olsen

Here’s a whale of a tale for you ladies and gents.

It’s about the Shifty Sailors and their upcoming events.

It’s a new CD, the fifth for the group, called “Hail to the Whale,” and here’s the scoop:

The Shifty Sailors will give a CD release concert at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 20 at Coupeville Recreation Hall.

You’ve probably seen this band of stripe-shirted troubadours performing for the past 15 years around the island, singing songs about sailing ships, folklore and the mysteries of the sea surrounding the heritage of Puget Sound.

The Shifties would like to invite all their fans to hear this latest collection of new and historical songs that reflect the time of the whaling industry with a mind to bring awareness about the present-day threats to whales and their environment.

“Hail to the Whale” runs the gamut of whale songs from the lively and fun opener, “A Whale of a Tale” familiar to those who remember the soundtrack to the movie “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” to “The Bonny Ship the Diamond,” a departure song about Scottish whalers heading out into the waters off Greenland.

Other songs about the dangers and injustices of the whaling industry include “The Greenland Fishery,” “Blow Ye Winds,” and “Rollin’ Down to Old Maui,” a chanty about the homeward-bound journey from the freezing Bering Straits to the Hawaiian island of Maui.

Vern Olsen, accordion player and director of the band, said that early history notes that whales were thought of as monster fish and were blamed for ships not returning from sea.

“The first whales to be used for food and oil washed up on the beaches,” Olsen said.

“Communities of people working together would cut off the blubber and meat and leave the remains to decompose. Later, when the demand for whale meat and blubber increased, men rowed out to catch the whales offshore. They hunted a small baleen whale called the Right Whale because it floated after being killed.”

Not all the songs focus on the perils of the whaling industry.

“Blow High, Blow Low,” was a song written for the Rogers and Hammerstein musical “Carousel,” and glorifies the whaling industry, making it appear much more romantic than it really was.

Blow high, blow low,

Away then we will go

We’ll go away in the sailin’ away

Away we’ll go

Blow me high an’ low,

For many an’ many a long long day.

For many an’ many a long long day!

The people who live on land

Are hard to understand

When you’re lookin’ for fun

They clap you into jail!

So I’m shipping off to sea

Where life is gay an’ free.

An’ a fella can flip a hook

In the hip of a whale.

But many inhabitants of Whidbey Island know the uglier side of the hunt for whales.

For as long as the Shifty Sailors have been singing, groups from around Washington have tried to have Lolita, “Tokitae” as she is known by local tribe members, returned to her pod in the waters of Puget Sound. Lolita was captured off Whidbey in 1970, and has been performing in the Miami Sea Aquarium for nearly 40 years.

“We urge everybody not to see her perform when visiting Miami,” Olsen said.

“Come Home, Lolita,” is Olsen’s torch song to her, and is a favorite among Shifty Sailor fans.

Other songs on the album that focus on the exquisite treasure the Puget Sound has in whales is “The Orca Song,” by Peg van Dorn, which tells the story of these smallest of whales and members of the dolphin family, also known as killer whales.

Also included is the great songwriter Pete Seeger’s “Song of the World’s Last Whale,” which warns that if the whales of the world can’t be saved, humans will not be able to save themselves.

I heard the song

Of the world’s last whale

As I rocked in the moonlight

And reefed the sail,

It’ll happen to you

Also without fail,

If it happens to me

Sang the world’s last whale

Not strictly a chanty group, the Shifties sing all varieties of songs having to do with seafaring and navigation.

The group includes musicians Olsen, Denny Armstrong, Clarke Harvey, Mike Thelen, Jim Lightner, Roger Erickson, Gordy Adams, Jim Amis, Karl Olsen, Ken Bishop, Ted Ravetz, Kermit Chamberlin, Kent Vandervelde, Richard Davis, Wylie Vracin, Paul Louden, Bob Wagner, Jack Moeller and Ed Walker.

After three European tours entertaining at tall ships festivals, a tour of New England seaports in 2007 and Maui, Hawaii in 2009, the Shifty Sailors are honored to have been invited to sing at an International Festival of Shanty Choirs in Prague, Czech Republic in June.

“Hail to the Whale” was recorded, edited and mastered by Gregory G. Garbarino, produced by Olsen with graphic art by Vince Wray and cover art by Matt Harvey.

To listen to samples of songs from four of their CDs, go to www.shiftysailors.net.

Tickets for the CD release concert cost $15, or $25 with the CD in advance; and $20 or $30 with the CD at the door.

Tickets are available at ClickMusic.Biz, Wind & Tide Bookshop, or BayLeaf in Oak Harbor; BookBay in Freeland; Bayleaf or Local Grown in Coupeville; and Moonraker Bookstore in Langley.

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