Public radio from Western Michigan University 102.1 NPR News | 89.9 Classical WMUK
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
0000017c-60f7-de77-ad7e-f3f739cf0000Arts & More airs Fridays at 7:50 a.m. and 4:20 p.m.Theme music: "Like A Beginner Again" by Dan Barry of Seas of Jupiter

Maritime musician Tom Kastle takes fans out to sea

Photo courtesy of Eartha Zoe Wieman


Maritime Musician Tom Kastle will perform at Foundry Hall in South Haven at 5:30 p.m.

In retrospect, the progression from a rock and roll dabbler in high school to a Celtic performer and later a maritime musician seems natural for Tom Kastle.

He’s spent the better part of three decades in the water and on the stage. The Chicago native was working as a deck hand in the mid 80's alongside his former partner Chris Kastle, with whom he formed the group Privateer. They had also just joined the Chicago Maritime Society, and had just been introduced to the work of former Michigan professor Ivan Henry Walton.


"Walton went around the Great Lakes in the 1930's and the 1940's and recorded the old sailors. If you look back at it, you're talking about guys who in the 1930's and 40's were very old - like in their eighties - these were the guys who were on those sailing ships back in the heyday of sail, in the 1880's," Kastle says. "That opened up a whole big venue of music, and (I) did a lot of research and a lot of writing and sort of made a nice little niche for ourselves in Great Lakes maritime music."

Over those two decades, he honed his craft and passion for waxing poetic about the sea, including becoming a tall ship captain in 1996. The type of music that Kastle is known for is melancholy with homey notes of longing - for love, for time lost, for what's ahead. Every good sea shanty has a concertina--it’s a handheld bellowing accordion-like instrument, which Kastle has become a bit of an expert in playing.

"It's got a definite nautical kind of sound to it," he says. "It's an instrument that's been pretty much glued to the idea of being a sailor's instrument for a long, long, time and in popular culture. If you're going to show a sailor playing an instrument it's going to be a fiddle or a concertina, without exception."

Kastle uses his captain platform and nautical education to further maritime knowledge to elementary school kids in the classroom, in workshops, and helped found the Chicago Maritime Festival, now in its 11th year.

"We have about 30 workshops and anything you can think of that's nautical - and then we have musicians from literally all over the world over the years coming to play because that's something that we share not only with everybody on the Great Lakes - but a lot of the sea songs that you sing are basically the same kind of songs that we sang in Chicago in the 1880's."

Kastle now performs solo. He goes back and forth between folk and maritime music, as heard in his contemporary album "Across The Centerline" and the maritime-focused album "Tommy's Gone To Hilo," released in 2008 and 2011, respectively. When on-stage, Kastle, who now lives in Madison, Wisconsin, likes to give his guests a strong dose of what he calls 'maritime storytelling' as well as a collection of his past hits.

"My themes are more roots music, and a lot of Celtic. There's a lot of Celtic influence in all my songs, whether it's an original or a traditional tune," he says. "One thing sort of flows into another - or at least I hope that's what happens."

Kastle is scheduled to perform Saturday at 5:30 p.m. at Foundry Hall in South Haven.

Erin Williams was a reporter for WMUK and a producer with Arts & More. She worked for WMUK in 2014.
Related Content