Union Street Preservation Society performs in the TankerTunes concert series on the deck of the 1938 tanker, Mary K. Whalen, in the Atlantic Basin of Red Hook, Brooklyn © 2010 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.
New York City has a myriad of unusual venues for performances – from free Friday evening concerts at the American Folk Museum in Manhattan to concerts under the Westside Highway at the Boat Basin – but one of the most unusual has just opened: a 1938 oil tanker, the Mary K. Whalen, “parked” at least for now, at PortSide New York, a newly created “bluespace” at Pier 11, Atlantic Basin in Red Hook, Brooklyn.
The tanker is the setting for a summer series of TankerTunes, concerts with a water theme. The first of these, on Friday, July 30, titled “The Songs of Lewis & Clark, and Other American Roots” featured Sara Bouchard who has set portions of the journals of Lewis & Clark to folk music, and the Union Street Preservation Society blue grass string band, featuring David Leiberman (guitar/vocals), Sara Bouchard (mandolin/vocals), Alex Borsody (dobro/banjo) and Jason Bertone (bass) (www.unionstreetpreservationsociety.com).
The atmosphere is special: you walk the gangplank onto the tanker’s top deck where folding chairs are set up. You are immediately struck by a view of the Statue of Liberty, standing out from the dark of New York harbor, and every now and then, the lighted form of a Staten Island ferry gliding by. To one side are the docks where container ships are loaded, and beyond where we are tied up, is where the Queen Mary, one of the largest ships in the world, takes on passengers.
During the day, this is a bustling container port. But here, on a summer night, it is mostly quiet and peaceful – except for an occasional horn – and the music of the guitar, mandolin, dobro and bass and vocals heralding the water-borne explorations of early adventurers.
The TankerTunes concerts are just one of the many different kinds of programs that are being offered day and night at PortSide. There are also TankerTalks – readings and talks on the deck, TankerTime, which is a place to hang out on the deck; TankerTours of the historic vessel which is also a ThinkTank venue to contemplate waterfront policy and planning.
PortSide’s founder and director Carolina Salguero has a vision: “The seam between water and land should be a porous membrane with people and things coming and going across it. Not only would that make the most useful waterfront, it would also make the most interesting and fun one.”
Salguero comes to this project having been a photojournalist specializing in the waterfront, and a lifelong sailor and boatsman.
She envisions PortSide New York as a maritime hub and cultural space, providing “out-of-the-box” educational, community-based and cultural programs in various locations, including educational programs to teach marine trades.
With 600 feet of pier plus 6500 indoor space, Portside New York will host visiting historic vessels, charter and excursion boats and provide a rest area for local workboats.
The centerpiece ” is the tanker Mary A. Whalen – 172 ft. long, it was involved in a historic lawsuit which went to the Supreme Court in 1975. The ruling in “United States v. Reliable Transfer Co” established that, in marine accidents, damages should be apportioned according to blame. Before this, damages were split 50/50 regardless, and those at fault could shirk the financial consequences of their actions (something to think about after the BP/Transocean/Halliburton calamity in the Gulf of Mexico). Now, the tanker serves as an “ambassador” for BlueSpace
Salguero envisions future programs: including PortSide BlueSpace Tours, where you take a ferry form Atlantic Basin and hear professional planners and port people describe what’s doing on the BlueSpace.
PortSide New York was launched to engage with and help shape a major movement for the re-planning of New York city’s waterfront (the city’s first-ever City of Water Day was held July 24).
“Our mission is to create better use of the BlueSpace, the water, NYC’s overlooked ‘sixth’ borough. All our programs relate to water in some way.” She adds, “We were designed to be a place, not a ship.”
For more information and schedules, contact PortSide New York, PO Box 19S, Red Hook Station, Brooklyn, NY 11231, 917-414-0565, www.portsidenewyork.org, email email@example.com.
–Karen Rubin/Travel Features Syndicate
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