Chesapeake Bay natives Jeff Holland and Kevin Brooks have been making music together for 15 years
Swing, jazz, tango — even some Celtic flair — Them Eastport Oyster Boys can play just about any tune you throw at them. Be it the Cuban beat of “My Old Volvo” or their soulful rendition of “The Water is Wide” that could bring a tear to any old salt’s eye, Chesapeake Bay natives Jeff Holland, 58 and Kevin Brooks, 54, know how to show everyone a good time.
“We’re not your typical folk singers,” says Brooks. “But we carry a fun bunch of musicians that give us a full sound. We throw in everything — lots of trombone, some hammer dulcimer…”
“…We just play the kind of music we like,” Holland finishes.
Brooks plays a six-string banjo, guitar and bass, and provides vocals, and Holland plays the baritone ukulele and provides vocals. Many of their songs are inspired by their own avid boating backgrounds. Holland owns a canoe and a couple of kayaks, and Brooks has The Pearl of Eastport, a 30-foot cutter.
Listen to a sampling of Them Eastport Oyster Boys' music below. Click here to purchase a CD.
Good Hat, Good Dog, Good Boat
Sub-aquatic Vegetation Tango
“My father was a canvas maker in Baltimore Harbor, so I started sailing when I was 14,” says Brooks. “I’ve been doing it for about 28 years. Like we say in our song, all you need is a ‘Good Hat, Good Dog, Good Boat.’ ”
Holland and Brooks have been playing together for 15 years, inspired by Tom Wisner, well-known in the area as the Bard of the Bay, who is the holder of the first Lifetime Achievement Award from the Chesapeake Music Institute.
“He’s really what you would call the Woody Guthrie of the Bay,” says Brooks. “He began writing folk music in the ’60s and ’70s and has been recorded on the Smithsonian Folkways collection. He’s a real inspiration for us.”
Brooks says though Wisner is now in his 80s, he is still a strong influence on their music and performances. The duo became Them Eastport Oyster Boys when they first started playing together on a 74-foot staysail schooner Woodwind that did two-hour sunset cruises every Thursday night out of Eastport. Holland had been with a local group called Crab Alley in the late 1980s that disbanded right around the time he met Brooks. The musical chemistry was undeniable, and they’ve been playing and writing their own material ever since.
But their songs aren’t all about boats. Both have an avid passion for the Bay and its ecological importance, as reflected in the whimsical “Sub-Aquatic Vegetation Tango,” featured on their first album “Miss Lonesome” that debuted in 1998.
“Five or six years ago we started a summertime concert series and we’ve had people come from all around the watershed area,” says Holland. “We had about 1,000 people come last year. We just want to entertain people and spread the message about the importance of the Bay.”
Good dogs as well as good boats and good music abound. The covers for “Miss Lonesome” and “Full Moon Cruisin’” include Brooks’ black and yellow labs, Hannah and Joe. Hannah has since passed on, but they maintain a tribute to her on the band’s Web site (www.oysterboys.com).
“One of our most popular music downloads off our site is ‘The 12 Dog Days of Christmas’ off of our holiday album,” says Brooks.
In addition to being local sensations in Eastport, the Oyster Boys did a 2006 tour of Ireland and were recently picked up by radio stations in Germany and The Netherlands. They’ve appeared in a documentary of the area by National Geographic, on CBS, and on A&E.
“We come from a varied musical background and we like to play the music we’d want to hear,” says Holland. “We don’t want to be tied down to any particular style or genre. Plus, it’s fun to surprise the audience.”
For information, visit www.oysterboys.com.
This story appeared in the April 2009 edition.