Celebrating Chesapeake Traditions

From pirates to Point Lookout, the music of Janie Meneely celebrates the maritime history, characters, and traditions of the Chesapeake Bay. Her songs and stories ramble 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 any sea chanteys,” Meneely says, although she admits to 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. I concentrate on songs about the Chesapeake watermen or the oyster wars or contemporary boating on the Bay.

“There’s so much to sing about,” she continues. “I want 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.”

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 husband and musical partner, Paul DiBlasi. From a ballad about a shanghaied sailor (“Billy Taylor”) to the upbeat humor of “Toadfish” (Meneely’s nod to tournament fishing), the songs on the album revel in Chesapeake Bay heritage and traditions. A more far-reaching collection of general maritime material is included on a third album, “You Don’t Know Jack,” released in 2008, produced by Seattle duo William Pint & Felicia Dale (and also featuring Paul DiBlasi). On their fourth album, “Living by the River,” Meneely and DiBlasi return squarely to the Chesapeake with songs about skipjacks, dredging for oysters—even a song written by area school children (“Chesapeake Café”).

Not long after the release of their last album, Paul DiBlasi passed away from cancer (2013). A few years later, Meneely was able to partner with Rob van Sante, a Dutch-born traditional singer and guitarist living in England. Their first album, “Partners II”, blends songs about the Bay and the world beyond, some of them co-written by Meneely (lyrics) and van Sante (music). Even so, the songs of the Chesapeake Bay remain close to her heart. Janie Meneely presents eelgrass music at its best.


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