Should you ever find yourself in Connecticut on a Monday night, it is in your best interest to stop whatever you are doing and head to the small town of Essex.   There, in a centuries-old establishment, you will find one of best traditions in New England alive and well: the sea chantey.

As heralded by the giant flag over their porch, Monday night at the Griswold Inn in Essex is Sea Chantey Night.  Last week OHNY intern Ted headed out to the Gris to celebrate his father’s 60th birthday with some beer and some old sailors’ songs.

If you arrive at 8:30pm on a Monday, the Jovial Crew should be just getting started on their first set in the Tap Room.  Flanked by dozens upon dozens of nautical paintings and led by Cliff Haslam, the Crew usually delivers three sets of chanteys, each more irreverent than the last.

The songs are exactly what you might expect to find in the repertoire of an 19th century mariner.  There are songs to be sung while rigging a ship, boozing on shore, pining for women, and remembering legendary ships of old.

The first set is largely kid-friendly, but after a short intermission the second set starts up and the songs are a bit saltier.  Also, it should be noted, audience participation is not so much encouraged as demanded, and the crowd is always more than willing to join in.

If the infamous Birthday Song at the end of the second set doesn’t offend your delicate sensibilities, you’ll love the third and final set.  Here you’ll be regaled with songs that don’t hesitate to make joyful use of innuendo, euphemism, and puns, and yet others that skip the pageantry altogether and cut right to the chase.

Fun Tip:  Bring an unsuspecting friend on their birthday and don’t warn them about the vulgarity of the Birthday Song.

When you visit, don’t be afraid to take some time between sets to explore the rest of the Gris.  While the upstairs is, in fact, an inn and bed & breakfast, the first floor boasts a vast assemblage of maritime art and historical artifacts.

Amongst the dozens of paintings of ships you’ll find banners and posters from the Prohibition Era warning of the dangers of alcohol, as well as an impressive collection of firearms.

If you’re feeling particularly bold, you might ask one of the waitresses to show you the wine bar room with its moving mural.

The Jovial Crew tries to wrap things up around 11pm, usually closing with a classic like “Rolling Home” or “The Parting Glass.”   Afterwards, as the tabs are settled and the band breaks down their equipment, the lingering crowd often continues the festivities on their own.

Somehow the Jovial Crew manages to be historically authentic without coming off as kitschy.  This weekly event is less a performance or an act than it is a continuation of a proud and storied maritime tradition.  As has always been the case, songs are being constantly tweaked and new verses written, and the fluid art of the sea chantey is kept alive and well.

The Griswold Inn

36 Main Street

Essex, CT 06426

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