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Celebrating Chesapeake Traditions
From pirates to Point Lookout, the music of Janie Meneely celebrates the maritime history, characters, and traditions of the Chesapeake Bay. Veteran performer Janie Meneely's music rambles from the raucous ruminations of ne’er-do-well sea captains to more thoughtful ballads about the people who make a living “working” the water. “I don’t do a lot of sea chanteys,” Meneely says, although she admits to having more than a few up her sleeve. “There’s so much traditional music out there about the maritime trades and life afloat, but not nearly enough about the Chesapeake region. We tend to concentrate on songs about the Chesapeake watermen or the oyster wars or contemporary boating, wherever it may be.”
Songwriter Meneely began her musical career in the group Crab Alley, which showcased original songs about the Bay and recreational boating. Since then she has produced three albums of Bay-inspired tunes. The first, a solo CD called “Give Me a River” released in 2001, comprises a dozen original songs that range from the haunting “Red Sky,” to the ever-popular “Twiddles.” Her second Chesapeake-centric CD, “The Oyster Wife,” includes instrumentation and back-up vocals from her Calico Jack cohorts, principally the late Paul DiBlasi (guitar and vocals, but also including tracks from Geoff Kaufman (concertina), Chelle Fulk (fiddle) and the Seattle-based duo of William Pint and Felicia Dale. From a ballad about a waterman’s untimely end in a winter storm (“Old Bill”) to the upbeat humor of “Toadfish” (Meneely’s paeon to tournament fishing), the songs on the album sparkle with Chesapeake Bay wit and wonder. A more far-reaching collection of general maritime material is included on a third album, “You Don’t Know Jack,” released in 2008. A fourth album is in production.
”There’s so much to sing about the Chesapeake Bay,” says Meneely. “We’re trying to preserve the traditions and stories of the watermen and their communities. So many people have moved to the Chesapeake region from far away places, and they have no idea what a skipjack is. They don’t know any Bay history. They haven’t heard the stories told around the liar’s bench in an Eastern Shore country store.” Meneely tries to capture the essence of those moments in her songs, whether she’s retelling ghost stories or describing a workday aboard an oyster dredger, “freezin’ our butts off on Chesapeake Bay.” Ultimately, she says, she wants her music, in some small part, to kindle an appreciation of the Bay and its traditions. “I use my art to preserve the resource,” Meneely says, “the same way a painter might capture a lighthouse on canvas. It’s just that you can whistle my art on the way to work or sing it in the car with your kids.”
It’s the blend of old and new in her performances that makes Janie's music so interesting. “Pirates are big right now,” she says, “and Anne Bonny and Mary Reid are among the most celebrated of the lady pirates." It’s no accident that one of Meneely’s newest songs speculates on what ultimately became of the flamboyant Ms. Bonny: “They say she stole Black Caesar’s rig. . . .”
Sometimes serious, sometimes saucy,Janie presents eelgrass music at its best.
I have to tell you that my whole family loves the Oyster Wife CD! We have a house on Deal Island and just love everyone and the whole Chesapeake Bay culture! Please put me on your mailing list! Thanks!
Janie Meneely and her late partner, Paul DiBlasi, have played in countless yacht clubs, museums, festivals, theaters, cockpits, power squadrons and Coast Guard auxiliaries throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Read more.