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Krakow may be 600km from the nearest sea or ocean, but that doesn’t stop more than 200 sailors from swarming the Polish city every February for the International Sailing Songs Festival.
Known as the "Shanties”, the festival celebrates classic sailing songs (also known as sea shanties) during four days of concerts performed by 40 singing groups from Poland and around the world. The songs, which often borrow melodies and rhythms from local folk music traditions, owe their history to when sailors had to chant in unison to pull up anchor or change the direction of a sail.
While sea shanties started primarily as an English tradition thanks the dominance of British merchant fleets in the 19th Century, the genre has remained popular in Poland with nearly 100 such festivals held in the country every year. Started in 1981, Krakow’s International Sailing Songs Festival remains one of the largest, attracting more than 11,000 people annually.
Over time, Polish sailors and citizens have put their own spin on the events, which have broadened to include women’s shanties, where women sing about a beloved out at sea, and children’s shanties, written for young children to perform. The festival, which runs this year from 21 to 24 February, incorporates these traditions with a children’s concert at noon on Friday and Saturday, and female-fronted groups such as Flash Creep playing throughout the weekend.
Tickets can be purchased for individual performances and concerts, but an all-access pass costs 260 Polish zloty and will also get visitors into the Stary Port Tavern, the local pub where after-hours concerts and drinking continue in true salty sailor style.