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The New York Folklore Society offers a diverse collection of CDs and cassette tapes of regional folk music and folk tales.


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Back cover of Sweetwater Passage

Sweetwater Passage
The Barefoot Boys

  1. The Raftmen’s Song: (Shove Around the Grog)
    And so we begin our journey, not on a boat, but on a giant log raft. Along the Delaware and the upper Hudson, lumberjacks would make large rafts of their timber, some of them 50 feet x 150 feet, and “drive” them to the sawmills and lumberyards. This song, about the perils of one such trip, is credited to Boney Quillen (1845-1918), who was a notorious raftsman, and is based on a true story.

  2. Billy in the Lowground/Over the Waterfall:
    At the end of a long and tiring day, or when one’s “shift” was finished on deck, the inland sailors, “canawlers,” and family members who often traveled and worked along with them, would break out their fiddles, banjos, and concertinas and relax to the melodious strains of various reels, jigs, and hornpipes. This is the first of few instrumental “sets” scattered among the songs.

  3. Erie Canal (Low Bridge, Everybody Down):
    The Erie Canal (1825-1898) established New York as “The Empire State.” All commerce between the bountiful “heartland” of the midwest and the rest of the world traveled through New York City by way of the Hudson River, which met the canal just north of Albany. This song, sung here in its unabridged form, was written in 1905 by a professional songwriter for a musical revue about the canal, and first performed in Buffalo by The Christy Minstrels.

  4. Simon Slick (Whoa Mule, Whoa):
    A traditional song known by “canawlers” on the Delaware & Hudson Canal, as well as miners in Appalachia, about the ornery nature of mules. It seems to have been popular among many people who worked with these animals, and probably for a good (and obvious) reason!

  5. Mary Powell Waltz:
    Steamboats began replacing sailing vessels as the preferred mode of transportation, beginning in 1807 with Robert Fulton’s historic trip up the Hudson. The “Mary Powell” was considered the “Queen of the Riverboats.” Sleek, fast, and luxurious, she was in service from 1861-1917 as a dayliner, transporting folks from New York City and points in between on a leisurely cruise to Kingston Point Park, where they’d spend the day picnicking at an amusement park. At the end of the day, she would take them back home. This song captured what that trip might have been like.

  6. Staten Island Hornpipe/Cuckoo’s Nest:
    An instrumental medley of hornpipes.

  7. Lifeline to the Heartland:
    This beautiful song, sung here by Rick Hill, tells of the crucial role of steamboats played in the life of river communities. They were depended upon, not only for transportation, but as a very real connection to the other river towns and also with the world in general. Note how folks counted on them for their mail, as well as news from places far away.

  8. Rio Grande:
    Normally used as a capstan chantey to haul up the anchor on whaleboats and large ships, this song was also most likely sung in the homes, taverns, and anywhere else sailors gathered for socializing. And yes, many towns along the Hudson, like New York City, Newburgh, Poughkeepsie, and the city of Hudson especially, had whaling fleets! The title (pronounced “rye-o”) refers to a port in Peru, where whaleboats would stop to replenish their supplies after sailing “round Cape Horn.”

  9. Tailor’s Hornpipe/Kitty’s Wedding:
    Another medley of hornpipes.

  10. New York Gals (Can’t You Dance the Polka?):
    Very often sailors brought their work songs ashore with them, as these were usually among the only ones they knew. This chantey has many versions, and tells the common tale of a sailor’s unfortunate fate ashore. It is sung here as a “fo’c’sle” song; referring to the “forecastle”, an area below deck and near the bow where the sailors slept and socialized.

  11. With a Big Bow Wow:
    Sailors used many of their songs to complain about life aboard ship;, like their harsh treatment by the captain and/or others, the terrible food, the lousy pay, the squalid living conditions, etc. Obviously, there was much about which to gripe! This one tells about their wish for a particularly (though not uncommon) unsympathetic, surly captain.

  12. Midnight on the Water:
    A lovely instrumental waltz.

  13. Fifty Sail on Newburgh Bay:
    The sloop was the principal mode of transportation on the Hudson from the early 1600s to the mid 1800s, when they were replaced by the steamboat. Often times they could be seen dropping anchor in the wide bays above and below the scenic but treacherous Hudson Highlands, where the currents ran swift around the bend at West Point, called “World’s End.” The word worragut is Dutch for “wind gate,” and used to describe the northern entrance to the Highlands between Storm King Mountain and Breakneck Ridge.

  14. Storm King:
    Named after the imposing mountain on the west side of the Hudson between Newburgh and West Point, this wooden, steam-powered freighter worked on the river between 1911 and 1932. She was scuttled at Coxsackie, where the remains of her hull can still be seen at low tide. She serves as a symbol of the river, in how both were used up and then discarded when no longer needed by industry.

  15. Fisher’s Hornpipe:
    A “tour-de-force,” all-Tom, instrumental.

  16. Rolling Home:
    A sailor, especially one on a whaleboat, could sometimes be away from home for years at a time. Even those who worked on canalboats, who also considered themselves to be sailors, surely must have become homesick at times. At the end of the journey, whether it was a week or a year, they would rejoice with their friends, families, and loved ones until they were called away once more. This is just one of countless songs expressing their longing for home, and with it, we end our musical journey along the “sweetwater passage.”


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