A few years ago Brett and Danielle Tolley learned about a group called the FisherPoets Gathering in Astoria, Ore.
“Gosh, there’s nothing like that on the Cape,” Danielle Tolley of Chatham remembers saying to her husband. “Why is the public so disconnected from the fishing community?”
And so in 2014 the Tolleys and their close friends Shannon Eldredge and Russell Kingman, also of Chatham, founded the Cape Cod Fisher Poets, a group that celebrates the Cape’s vibrant fishing community in music, poetry, storytelling and art. The group’s third annual gathering will be held on Wednesday, Aug. 31 at 7 p.m. in Pilgrim’s Landing in Chatham.
The Tolleys, Eldredge and Kingman all have knowledge about various aspects of fishing. Kingman and Eldredge work with Eldredge’s father Ernie for part of the year on the last family fishing weir in Stage Harbor. Right now they are shellfishing commercially. Brett Tolley grew up in a fishing family—his father Stu Tolley retired after 42 years of fishing off Chatham about two years ago. The younger Tolley now works for the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance (NAMA) which is based in Gloucester. The mission of the group, founded in 1995, is to build healthy fisheries and fishing communities by working with fishermen, their crews and others to create effective policy and market strategies, according to NAMA’s website.
Danielle Tolley, who hails from Ohio, has come more recently to fishing. Since marrying into a Chatham fishing family, she has learned a lot about fishing, and she thinks “others would want to know more.” With her background in theater and performance, Fisher Poets, which she describes as a “homespun event,” seemed like a natural way for Tolley to help educate others about fishing. “I’m committed to it being authentic and fisherman-led,” she says.
The Tolleys, Eldredge and Kingman are also the four members of “Cape Cod’s only fisherfolk rock band,” the SeaFire Kids. The group performs original compositions loosely inspired by the 1960s-era songs of Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. The songs, Tolley says, “give a portal into the working fishing class” by evoking life at sea and in a coastal community.
“We all do a little singing and a little songwriting,” Kingman says. In addition, Kingman plays percussion and guitar; Brett Tolley plays guitar and Eldredge plays accordion. The group recorded an album last fall which it released on New Year’s Eve and plans to record its second album next winter.
“As a band, we have a real passion for life on the water,” Kingman says. “It gives us a way to explain a lot of things about fisheries and fishing.” One of Brett Tolley’s songs revolves around a fisherman whose boat sank in Provincetown, leaving a fatherless son. The community rallies around the son. “There’s a lot of heart in it, and a lot of spirit,” Kingman adds.
As well as music, the Fisher Poets Gathering will present a “smorgasbord of creative offerings” including original shell artwork under glass by Stu Tolley. And a fishing heritage gallery shows the fishing life “through the lens of one family—” the Tolleys. Many of the photographs on display were taken from Stu Tolley’s boat.
Chatham fisherman Andy Neil will perform, as will the SeaFire Kids, and Carol Laduke of Provincetown, who grew up in a fishing family, will recite her poetry.
The entire event will be “really intimate and kind of down home,” Tolley says. Time will be allowed for audience questions and conversation. Members of the fishing community may share memories.
“There’s a huge history and huge legacy of the fisheries on the Cape coming through time,” Kingman says. “It’s fun to celebrate some of the things going on locally that make the Cape the way it is.”
The third annual Cape Cod Fisher Poets Gathering will be held on Aug. 31 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 at the door which opens at 6:30 p.m. The event will be held at Pilgrim’s Landing, 880 Main St., Chatham. For more information call 508-945-1304 or visit www.pilgrimslandingcapecod.com.