Portsmouth Maritime Folk Festival

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A Brief History

Danny Spooner Final Shanty Blast singers Peter Contrastano

The inspiration for the Portsmouth Maritime Folk Festival comes from festivals that co-founders Peter Contrastano and Jeff Warner had enjoyed in the British Isles. In the British style, festivals aren’t confined to a park or fairground at the edge of a community, rather, performances and events are sprinkled throughout the downtown area, bringing the entertainment to where the people are. With Portsmouth’s lovely, historic town center, it seemed an ideal place for such an event.

Startup was modest, with a 1999 outdoors concert of sea music on the grounds of Strawbery Banke Museum. Response to the small afternoon event was enthusiastic and Contrastano felt encouraged to expand the event.

Warner wasn’t available that first weekend but the two had talked, and they began to collaborate towards a full weekend-long festival the following year. In 2000, the Festival spread throughout the town, bringing music to the people in the restaurants and in the pubs. The “quarterdeck” was in the center of town near Market Square, catching people walking by. An area was set aside on the brick sidewalk for street performances and merchandise sales, and local bakeries, cafés and pubs offered up indoor space for performances.

In the years since those early days, the Festival objectives and format have remained consistent – to reach out to the public, to provide access to folk music, to use community public and private spaces to host music, performance, storytelling and historic interpretation, and to present a variety of maritime folk music, song, and story with an emphasis on the maritime history of Portsmouth.

For seven years, the event was a production of Folk Horizons, a non-profit organization formed by Contrastano and Warner to promote folk arts through presentation, education, and participation. By 2005, the folk music community of the town was ready to adopt the Festival as its own. Under the leadership of local musician Tom Hall, and with transition assistance from Folk Horizons, the Portsmouth Maritime Folk Festival became an independent production.

In the spring of 2008, PMFF registered with the State of New Hampshire as a not-for-profit organization, and in summer of 2011, became a 501(c)(3) under the umbrella of The Country Dance and Song Society, Inc. We are funded by the generous donations of local friends, businesses and companies and by fans of maritime music from all over. We warmly thank you all for your support!

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Enjoy some photos of previous years’ festivities here.
To see who has performed at previous years’ festivals, click here.


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last updated 22 August 2015
© 2007-2017 Portsmouth Maritime Folk Festival

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