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Valparaiso Men's Chorus / Chaz Fest

PoppaGator 30 Apr 12 - 02:59 PM
GUEST,leeneia 30 Apr 12 - 07:55 PM
PoppaGator 01 May 12 - 05:59 PM
GUEST,leeneia 02 May 12 - 10:06 AM
KathyW 02 May 12 - 10:42 PM
PoppaGator 03 May 12 - 04:04 PM
KathyW 03 May 12 - 10:51 PM
PoppaGator 08 May 12 - 03:04 PM
KathyW 11 May 12 - 08:57 PM
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Subject: Valparaiso Men's Chorus / Chaz Fest
From: PoppaGator
Date: 30 Apr 12 - 02:59 PM

I amy very proud and happy to have joined this unique sea-shanty ensemble recently, just in time for a video shoot last month (for the 3d season of HBO's "Treme" series), also in time for Chaz Fest on Wednesday (day after tomorrow), and for the upcoming CD-release party at the Saturn Bar in 5/19, marking the release of the group's second album "From the Straits of St. Claude."

Chaz Fest started a few years ago as a mid-week all-day alternative to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, showcasing local bands NOT invited to the big-time festival held every year on the last weekend of April and the first weekend of May. By now, several ChazFest artists HAVE made it to the big JazzFest stage, but they still contribute their talents to their own little homegrown festival.

Shantyman Alex McMurray was first exposed to the sea-shanty tradition ~ and, indeed, had to learn an extensive repertoire of maritime music ~ while working at Japan Disneyland, portraying the shanty-singing character "Captain Sandy."

The chorus was assembled several years ago for a one-time only recording opportunity, but the participants had so much fun that the group just HAD to reassemble periodically for another show. (Most group members, especially those who play instruments, have other committments on a regular basis. Several, in fact, are members of two or more other bands in addition to the VMC.)

I also belong to a more traditionally-oriented shanty group, the N.O. Quarter Shanty Krewe, founded and led by KC King, a former member of Folk Legacy recording artists The Boarding Party. I generally try to explain the different approaches of the two groups by analogy: The Valparaisos are to the NOQSK as the Pogues are to the Chieftains (i.e., "punk"-ish as comparted to traditionalist).

Here's a video from the 2007 Chaz Fest, which was either the first or second time the event was held:

VMC at ChazFest '07

Shanty enthusiasts, in my experience, tend to value rowdiness, informality, and a "ragged-but-right" sensibility. The Valparaiso Men's Chorus takes these values to new heights ~ perhaps beyond the limits of some folks' tastes. Whatca think?

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Subject: RE: Valparaiso Men's Chorus / Chaz Fest
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 30 Apr 12 - 07:55 PM

I enjoyed the 2007 video. When will I get to see one with you in it?

I'm curious about the name Valparaiso. (V) I know there's a V in Indiana and another in South America. Is there a V near NOLA?

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Subject: RE: Valparaiso Men's Chorus / Chaz Fest
From: PoppaGator
Date: 01 May 12 - 05:59 PM

Valparaiso, Chile, was the first major port reached after rounding the Horn from east to west, and thus is featured in a number of sea shanties (none of which, ironically enough, are included in the VMC repertoire).

I videoed an evening of maritime music last week, celebrating the arrival of an international contingent of Tall Ships at the Port of New Orleans. Featured performers were the Valparaiso Chorus, the N.O. Quarter Shanty Krewe, and superstar shantyman Geoff Kaufman, who traveled all the way from Mystic/New London CT on the Coast Guard tall ship US Eagle. I am currently editing the footage down to individual songs and will be posting them on YouTube within a couple of days.

Better video of the group will be seen on HBO in a month or two, in the episode of "Treme" depicting Mardi Gras 2008. More on that later. The director of the episode, shot about 6 weeks ago, was acgtor/director Tim Robbins, who is now the VMC's biggest fan...

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Subject: RE: Valparaiso Men's Chorus / Chaz Fest
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 02 May 12 - 10:06 AM

Sounds good, Poppagator.

I've heard Valparaiso in more than one shanty. Now I know why.

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Subject: RE: Valparaiso Men's Chorus / Chaz Fest
From: KathyW
Date: 02 May 12 - 10:42 PM

I own the Valparaiso Men's Chorus' first album, "Guano and Nitrates" and am overjoyed to hear that there will be a second one! There are times when it's exactly what I'm in the mood for.

While I don't love every track on "Guano and Nitrates," I believe that the version of "New York Girls" is wonderful in ways that will possibly never be equaled. (And that's probably a good thing.) "All for Me Grog," with it's surprising sousaphone solo, "Drunken Sailor" and "Blow the Man Down" also have a particular charm. It's so hard to pick favorites! There are some tracks that I don't care for at all and almost never listen to, but the good ones make the whole thing worthwhile.

For those who haven't heard the album, it's basically sea chanteys sung in a relaxed style, laced with casual profanity, and accompanied by jug band instruments and a chorus of rowdy men. You can listen here:

I think I remember reading once a while back that Alex McMurray formed the Valparaiso Men's Chorus after a lengthy stint singing sea chanties at the Tokyo Disneyland. If that's true, it explains a lot.

Where can I get the new album? I ordered the one I have from Alex McMurray's website a number of years ago (, are you guys taking pre-orders?

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Subject: RE: Valparaiso Men's Chorus / Chaz Fest
From: PoppaGator
Date: 03 May 12 - 04:04 PM

How great to hear from an out-of-town fan! (I had no idea such a thing existed...)

ChazFest yesterday was a resounding success. There were scattered showers until about 2:30-3 pm, not enough to turn the grounds to mud, just enough to keep things cool. The "Truck Farm" venue is a large and rather pastoral spread in the middle of a very urban city block, completely invisible from the street, which once functioned as a working vegetable farm.

Veteran observers agreed that this year's event drew the largest crowd yet ~ but it was still comfortable, not oppressively overcrowded. It will probaly continue to grow in popularity, and eventually become unmanageably overpopulated. Maybe we'll look back at 2012 as the last nice homey ChazFest...

I did not see anyone shooting video, but who knows? There may be some footage available in the near future. Tiny little digital cameras, and even some cellphones, can record video these days...

The second VMC CD, "From the Straits of St. Claude," has been produced and a few free copies distributed to band members. The "CD Release" event is still two weeks off, however, on Saturday May 19 at the Saturn Bar. All of which means that Alex may or may not wait a couple of weeks before shipping the new CDs. His website does NOT offer the new album just yet, so perhaps there'll be a brief wait. Shoot him a message via "contact us" on his website to ask you can pre-order; I'm sure he's interested in all prospective paying customers.

The stories about Alex's tenure as "Captain Sandy" at Tokyo Disneyland about ten years ago are indeed true ~ most of 'em, anyway, I suppose.

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Subject: RE: Valparaiso Men's Chorus / Chaz Fest
From: KathyW
Date: 03 May 12 - 10:51 PM

I've emailed Alex & my order is in.

I'm not the only non-local fan, I first heard about the Valparaiso Men's Chorus from a review by "Bilgemunky," a pirate music and rum enthusiast in Milwaukee who has a regular music podcast. Here's the review:

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Subject: RE: Valparaiso Men's Chorus / Chaz Fest
From: PoppaGator
Date: 08 May 12 - 03:04 PM

YouTube videos from last week's ChazFest have begun to appear. There's just ONE of the VMC (so far, anyway):

Looks like fun, huh?

Leeneia, per your request, this clip includes a glimpse of ME. I'm visible near center-stage, between and slightly behind Chaz (washboard) and Greg Schatz (squeezebox). And, of course, whether you can see me clearly or not, I can certainly be heard (along with 30+ other characters)...

We weren't scheduled for a full set; rather, we shared a timeslot with the Tin Men (Alex on resonator guitar, Chaz on washboard, Matt Perrine on sousaphone) and joined them after their final "heavy metal" selection:

You can see me quite clearly towards the end of "Immigrant Song," hustling out of the audience to get up on stage on time. (Gray hair, glasses, oyster-motif shirt).

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Subject: RE: Valparaiso Men's Chorus / Chaz Fest
From: KathyW
Date: 11 May 12 - 08:57 PM

The CD is now available on CD Baby:

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