Swashbuckling Band of Musical Pirates Invade the Pump House

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Monday, July 15, 2019, 7:24 am
Christopher A. Wardell

Sage O’Silver on fiddle (from left), Tom Mason and Seasick Sam O’Steen (right) make up three-quarters of the Blue Buccaneers. Quartermaster Josh McEwen—the drummer—is behind Mason.

If you see a Jolly Roger flying high over the Orchard Street Pump House this week, try not to be too alarmed.

A band of merry pirates are setting sail for East Lansing, and they’re bringing a treasure trove of musical treats with them. These pirates mostly come in peace, but if you take issue with their music or theatrics, they just might make you walk the plank.

Nashville-based Tom Mason and the Blue Buccaneers will perform Wednesday as part of the Pump House Concert Series. Doors to the Pump House (368 Orchard Street, at the corner of Chittenden Drive) open at 6:30 p.m., with show time at 7 p.m.

While at first glance the band may look like a gimmick—or a shtick straight out of a Long John Silver’s or Chucky Cheese restaurant—their music is all business. The Blue Buccaneers’ sound swings from bluesy Irish jigs, Cajun, Afro-Cuban, straight-up blues, and, yes, yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum singalongs. Or, classic sea shanties, if you will.

A love of Pirate history and Pete Seeger folk music

Mason, whose favorite pirate is Blackbeard, didn’t set his original course toward being a pirate. In fact, his beginnings as a budding musician seem rather tame and humble.

“I am the youngest of five, and for entertainment we’d sit around the fireplace on summer evenings and sing lots of Pete Seeger, folk, and blues songs,” Mason said. “I started making up songs as soon as I could talk, although I’ll be avoiding those songs at the Pump House Concert. My two brothers played guitar, and I begged them to teach me until my hands finally got big enough.”

Soon after, Mason was off on a wild ride with music that often included stops in theater, which naturally plays into the Buccaneers. Pirate music and theater just seemed to go hand in hand, so he went for it. It also helped that he has a real love of pirate history.

“I love playing pirate music because we can really define the genre,” Mason said. “I figure pirates travelled the seven seas so they would gather musical treasures from around the world. A lot of sea shanties came from the United Kingdom, but pirates would have heard music of the Caribbean, Africa, Persia, and East Asia. Filter that through a guy who grew up playing the blues and you get our sound.”

Mason went on to add, “Besides being surrounded by great musicians in Nashville, the song is king, and very few other pirate bands (there are others!) write their own songs. I will be playing some songs I wrote before ‘going on the account.’ ”

The band includes Sage O’Silver on fiddle, Seasick Sam O’Steen plays bass, while Quartermaster Josh McEwen rounds out the rest of the group on drums. Mason, for his part, plays everything from the guitar to “a bad trombone.” The group’s raucous stage antics include costume changes, a few growls, and more “arrrghs” than you can shake a sword at.

The Blue Buccaneers’ latest CD, “If You Want to Be a Pirate: Songs for Young Buccaneers,” is aimed at kids. Previous Blue Buccaneer albums include “Pirate Party,” “The World Is Ablaze,” and their first, “The Blue Buccaneer.”

According to Mason, the most recent album is, “a kids’ CD that adults would appreciate, so it's full of humor, harmonies, stories, and solos, with all the mayhem and none of rum, murder, and sorrow that sometimes shows up in our songs. There are singalongs and dance moves, songs about a kraken, parrot, and an invisible crew (everyone needs one!), and a song or two about keeping the ocean and land clean.”

Mason said putting the album together was nothing but pure fun while teaching a valuable lesson about caring for the environment.

“The history of the band is getting adults to act like kids and lose their inhibitions, and now we’re doing it for kids, and helping them overcome shyness,” Mason said. “Plus, we can have a positive influence, teaching kids to take care of the environment in a fun way. It was also important for us to make a kids’ record adults would like to listen to.”

Nothing quite like a live Buccaneers’ performance

The Blue Buccaneers have performed at various festivals, including the Tall Ships Festival, which takes place in Bay City every summer.

Although he can’t pick out any favorite one show or festival, for Mason, every show is a fun new experience. A swashbuckling good time to be sure.

“It’s always fun!” Mason said. “We’ve played in a cave in Tennessee, a folk festival in Australia, a Tall Ship in Norway, and, soon, a Pump House in East Lansing, Michigan.”

The Pump House Concert booker, Dudley “Smitty” Smith, said witnessing the Blue Buccaneers live is a must.

“When I think of Tom Mason, I think of one of the most dynamic performers we've ever had at Pump House Concerts,” Smith said. “I remember him standing on the piano's bench, pounding away at the keys and singing. I remember a scary ghost story, told from the stage, that included a spooky violin. It was chilling.”

Smith went on to add, “I hope a few people bring their children to this show. Everyone loves a pirate, and Tom and his crew will cater to wannabe seafarers of all ages!”

For more information, visit the Pump House Concerts on Facebook.

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