Calico Jack Sings the Bay Fantastic
About 25 years ago Janie Meneely began writing songs about the Bay, and she hasn't stopped yet. "There's still so much sing about," she says. She and her partner Paul DiBlasi perform together as the duo Calico Jack, bringing their songs and stories about Bay people, places and traditions to stages throughout the Bay watershed.
"I grew up on the Annapolis waterfront," Meneely says. "I can remember when the City Dock was jammed with workboats." Nowadays recreational boaters have replaced the sleek working vessels that hauled crabs, fish and oysters to markets around the Bay. "So many people come here now, to revel in what the Bay has to offer, but they have little knowledge of what used to happen here," Meneely continues. "They never got to sit around the liar's bench in a country store. They never got to watch a fleet of skipjacks dredge for oysters." Her remedy for that is to write songs chronicling her own Bay experiences and capturing the stories she's heard over the years—either as a little girl hanging around her father’s boatyard, or during her professional stint as a journalist for Chesapeake Bay Magazine. From local ghosts to tragic shipwrecks, her songs bring to life some of the characters who add spice and color to Bay history.
Among her ditties is a song that recounts the tragic loss of life when the skipjack Claud W. Somers sank over thirty years ago in Tangier Sound. Beautifully restored, today the Claud W. Somers resides at the Reedville Fishermen's Museum dock and takes passengers for day sails into the river and back. But once the proud vessel was owned by Thompson Wallace, who dredged her out of Deal Island. "The Somers was steady at pulling a dredge," DiBlasi sings, recounting the story of how she sailed into the teeth of a March gale, "and Thompson was tough as a bone. Those gale winds be damned, if the Somers went out, Thompson would bring 'er on home."
Meneely describes DiBlasi as her "waterman's voice." His mellow baritone adds just the right character to her songs. "I just don't sound like a crusty old waterman when I sing," she says, though not all her songs are about the men who worked the water. "The Oyster Wife" tells the story of oyster poachers on the Potomac River through the eyes of a mother and wife waiting on shore. "You can hear the guns go off," she sings in her clear soprano, "not so very far away. Patrol boats are running with the tide. Just pray to God that your daddy's safe away--we don't have cash to pay another fine."
Sometimes saucy, sometimes serious Calico Jack offers audiences a glimpse of a rapidly disappearing way of life and invites them to join in on the chorus.