Music Scene

 Vol. 10, No. 15

April 11 - 17, 2002

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photo by Dave Harp
Tom Wisner, the Bard of the Chesapeake.
Singing for Chesapeake Bay
by Brent Seabrook

Most days, the Chesapeake lies mute. It yields to prows of wood and fiberglass. It sucks up tons of toxins without complaint. Even when the water darkens and the waves grow high, the Bay’s hiss is lost beneath the wind’s cry and the thunder’s bellow. But the Chesapeake found a voice last week, and an audience eager to listen.

The voice was supplied by the folks who took the stage at Rams Head Tavern to support Voices of the Chesapeake Bay on radio and to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the skipjack Stanley Norman. Every seat was full when Michael Buckley took the stage. Buckley is host of WRNR’s Sunday morning program and pioneer of Voices of the Chesapeake Bay, an archival project that has recorded 50 interviews with Chesapeake lovers, from scientists and watermen to school kids and senior citizens.

Buckley introduced the Royal Oak Musicians, who normally sit around a cafe in St. Michael’s and play “whenever they feel like it.” Sounding like seasoned professionals, they sat in front of a backdrop of sailcloth and crooned about the agony of marrying a waterman.

Ed Klein followed with a song about the friends he’d made in Annapolis. Retired Stanley Norman mate Earl White, honored by Gov. Parris Glendening as an Admiral of the Chesapeake, sang about the felling of an old pine tree to build the skipjack. His voice warbled and his guitar wailed as they did those evenings when White still worked the old skipjack.

Dan Haas and Robin Jung sang another ode to the Stanley Norman, Haas’s sunny guitar and Jung’s breezy violin floated on the muddy water White had stirred up, while they boasted in the skipjack’s stead: “I can outsail all you Hobie Cats — I’m a 100-year-old bivalve-lovin’ jack.”

A birthday cake appeared, and it took every member of the Stanley Norman’s crew — past and present — to blow out the 100 candles.

From Rock Hall, Chesapeake Scenes blended serenades, sing-alongs and poetry. Fulbright scholar Tom McHugh cracked jokes and led the sing-alongs. Andrew McCown read poems out of the side of his mouth, his voice as crisp as line-dried sheets. Sue Matthews sang the serenades with the warm tones of an old vinyl record.

Annapolis Mayor Ellen Moyer lent her support, and environmental activist John Flood said he’d dipped up a blue crab from Harness Creek for the first time in 30 years.

Tom Wisner, from Mechanicsville, lived up to his honorific, Bard of the Chesapeake. He played an instrument made from a piece of black cherry and a B-string and crooned about the Bay. He huffed and puffed, arms waving, an ecstatic conductor. His voice rose and fell like the wind across the water, and the crowd sang along.

Them Eastport Oyster Boys closed the show, playing boisterous tunes about hats and dogs and boats with skill and humor.

Thanks to Rams Head, the entertainers and a full house of Bay friends — who together contributed their money to fund the cause — the Chesapeake is likely to find voice again. Listen in next fall when the radio show is expected to return to WRNR.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly