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Ballad recounts tale of Sea Wing's fateful voyage

Composer/performer Lauren Pelon will play a variety of instruments when she and three other local musicians reprise her “Ballad of the Sea Wing” on July 12.

By Ruth Nerhaugen, contributor

“The Ballad of the Sea Wing,” an original work by Red Wing musician Lauren Pelon, will be performed July 12 as part of a weekend commemorating the 124th anniversary of the Sea Wing Disaster.

A sternwheel steamboat, the Sea Wing capsized when a storm struck while it was bringing a full load of people back from an excursion to Lake City on July 13, 1890. Pelon’s ballad tells the story of that outing and how it claimed the lives of 98 people.

She received a Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council grant to write the work, which had its debut performance in 2003 at the Goodhue County History Center. The July 12 performance, sponsored by the Goodhue County Historical Society, will be at 7 p.m. at the history center.

Pelon said two of the three other musicians who joined her when the ballad first was performed will participate again — Kiki Gheen and John Reed of Red Wing. The fourth musician will be Tom Erickson of Cannon Falls.

All four sing, plus Reed will play violin and guitar; Erickson will play double bass; and Pelon will play a variety of instruments including the recorder, lute, pennywhistle, cornamuse, concertina, eagle bone flute, guitar, pedalboard and psalmodikon.

The double bass is especially prominent, Pelon noted, because that instrument is part of Sea Wing lore. The Henry Rehder Quartet provided music aboard the Sea Wing that day, and legend has it that bass player Ed Schenach survived by staying afloat on the bass. That original instrument is part of a Sea Wing display at the history center, and that original character is represented in the ballad as “Big Ed.”

The one-hour concert also will include other music of the era, the river and the region, Pelon said.

“We will have songs and instruments that come from the historical traditions of the Upper Midwest,” she said, including some other songs she wrote. The program also will feature some “up-tempo fiddle tunes” with her and Reed on various instruments.

Finally, Pelon said, there will be some Norwegian waltzes that were created, performed and passed down through the generations by the Blom and Tomten families that lived in Wisconsin not far from the river.

Pelon has received a number of grants and awards in support of her compositions. She has performed around the world, and has most recently been developing new compositions for instruments and vocal ensembles.

Tickets to the concert are $10. For reservations, call the history center at 651-388-6024.

If you go…

What: “Ballad of the Sea Wing” concert

When: 7 p.m. July 12

Where: Goodhue County History Center, 1166 Oak St.

How much: $10

More info: 651-388-6024 or www.goodhistory.org

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