Sea Shanty Festivals in Florida

by Lisabeth Hughes

Sea shanties are maritime songs traditionally sung on large, square-sailed ships to coordinate the motions of the many crew members needed to operate the sails. Three different types of shanties were designated for different tasks according to rhythm and length. Short haul shanties were sung for the simplest and shortest of hauls. Halyard shanties were longer to accommodate work that required more set-up time between hauling. Capstan shanties were used for the longest, most repetitive tasks that didn't involve working with the lines. Shanties aren't used much as work songs today, but instead garner appreciation from folk musicians and modern seamen for their catchy tunes and ocean-faring themes.

Punta Gorda

Punta Gorda holds its annual Fishermen's Village "Pirate Day" Festival in August. The festival boasts several popular sea shanty competitions in addition to pirate battles, plank walking and pub crawling. Attendees are encouraged to dress as a buccaneer, swashbuckler or tavern wench and enter one of the costume contests, whose entrants include children, adults and even pets. Food and drink vendors, artists, craftsmen and local merchants will be on site with plenty of something for everyone.


The Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage (F.I.S.H.) plays host to the Cortez Folk Arts Festival in mid-November, offering music, food, crafts and fun in the village of Cortez. Among the musicians headlining the 2011 festival are sea shanty singers the Soupy Davis Band and the Main Hatch Motley Sea Shanty Singers. More than 20 local artists and craftsmen were scheduled to showcase their wares along with several food vendors. An ice cream eating contest is open to children and adults. Boat building demonstrations, storytelling and net making recreate old town Cortez near the Boatworks, while a photographer offers free photos in the town museum's secret garden.

Fort Meyers

The Fort Meyers Beach Pirate Fest draws festival-goers over Columbus Day weekend in early October. The festival sparks interest with black powder demonstrations, historical re-enactments, old-time encampments and sea shanties throughout the weekend. Extensive choreographed performances, contests, roaming musicians, street performers and a weekend-long tavern crawl will entertain adventurers from far and wide.

White Springs

The Florida Folk Art Festival is the longest-running and most prestigious festival to present songs of the sea. Held on the banks of the beautiful Suwannee River, the festival was recognized as a southeastern United States "Top 20 Event" in 2011 by the Southeast Tourism Society. You won't find any pirate battles, pub crawls or good-natured contests here, but you will enjoy three full days of the best folk music in Florida, including modern day sea shanties and traditional Floridian tunes.

About the Author

Lisabeth Hughes holds an Associate of Fine Arts from Minnesota State Community and Technical College with a Bachelor of Arts in progress at Prescott College. Hughes began writing professionally as an assistant at First Rate Freelance in 1995. In 2009 she began to submit her own work and has now published numerous articles on various websites and in "Kush" magazine and two poetry anthologies.

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