On the Rocks
'Arrr! How be ye?' growls one pirate to another. 'Good - I mean, I be good!' replies the second pirate. He has just arrived at the Festival de Piratas, and he hasn't quite gotten into character yet, although he is dressed in full high-seas regalia.
Not sure what to expect, I've dressed cautiously, in a striped T-shirt and rolled-up jeans, with an eye patch in reserve. I was worried that if I dressed up too much, I'd look like a dork. That, it turns out, would not be a problem.
In the warm twilight last Saturday night, grown men are standing outside Sabala's at Mount Tabor Theater in admirals' hats trimmed with feathers, in long coats and high boots, their weapons at their sides. Daggers, truncheons and old-fashioned pistols are all in fashion tonight. 'I like that weapons are accepted and encouraged at our shows,' says Loren Hoskins, known in these parts as Captain Bogg.
These are strange words, perhaps, from a man who's best known as a children's entertainer. Hoskins' band, Captain Bogg and Salty, plays schools and libraries, and a recent show filled the Aladdin Theater with fans of all ages.
I think part of their success is due to the fact that when kids ask to be taken to a Captain Bogg and Salty show, their parents are more than happy to oblige. Taking the pirate theme way over the top, the band is hilarious, and the music is catchy - imagine what would happen if the Partridge Family were shanghaied.
Tonight is, among other things, the launch party for Captain Bogg and Salty's third album, 'Prelude to Mutiny.' It's also the bands' seventh annual pirate festival, a chance to unwind in a 21-and-over setting and, in Hoskins' words, 'drink some grog.'
The Mount Tabor Theater's big auditorium is filling up, and Captain Bogg gives me a partial rundown on the various pirate looks. There's pirate punk, which favors the skull-and-crossbones motif. There are gentlemanly pirates, ragged pirates and even a dead pirate, wrapped in fishnet.
There are women in laced-up bodices and striped socks, and one woman dressed as a Viking. There are people in elaborate, custom-made ensembles, and others in foam-rubber pirate hats they must have bought at the party store on their way over. 'Somewhere around the third festival,' Hoskins says, 'it started to become obvious that you felt dumb if you weren't dressed up, instead of the other way around.'
Broadside Johnny takes the stage, with a concertina and chest-full of singalong sea chanteys. He's followed by the Ben Gunn Society, a Los Angeles band that is named for a character in the Robert Louis Stevenson classic 'Treasure Island' and features a female pirate belly dancer.
This pirate thing is big, and it's still picking up steam. Captain Bogg and Salty predate the 2003 movie 'Pirates of the Caribbean,' but the film certainly put wind in its sails. Now there's a 'Pirates of the Caribbean' sequel opening July 7, and coming this fall, Portland's first full-tilt outdoor pirate festival, Sept. 23 at Cathedral Park.
I can only wonder what our seafaring ancestors would think of this trend. Imagine traveling into the future to find children dressed up as gangsters, dancing to songs about carjacking.
Not that anyone here is actually planning to commandeer a frigate anytime soon - as far as I know. A swarthy rapscallion named Shuhe, aka Luc the Lucky, belongs to a society called the Brotherhood of Oceanic Mercenaries, which owns a set of custom-made cannons. They'll be staging a sea-to-shore battle at Cathedral Park, and if you heard their guns during the Rose Festival, you know the true meaning of 'shiver me timbers.'
Broadside Johnny also admits to having a bit of mischief up his ragged sleeve. 'It's not about the clothes,' he says. 'It's about what's in me mind - I see a lot of possibilities here,' he adds, looking around the room.
'What are you going to do?' I ask. 'Rob people?'
'Not of their money, no,' he answers. 'Maybe of their dignity and self-respect, if they've been foolish enough to bring any with them tonight.'
Clearly, this adult pirate party isn't meant to be more dignified than a children's pirate party, just later at night and with more Pabst Blue Ribbon. 'We don't care about trying to be cool,' Hoskins explains. 'I mean, if you're dressed like a pirate and you come up and go, 'Yar!' cool is out the window anyway. We're real silly, and I think that transfers.'
Later, up on stage, Hoskins shows us how to make the sign of the pirate: raise your forefinger, then bend it down into a hook shape. The band launches into a power ballad about a sea monster, and the whole crowd - down to the last rogue, scalawag and blackguard among them - sways back and forth, hook-fingers raised in pirate salute.