Canal Music Cruises Create Camaraderie in Relaxing Setting
If you take a ride on one of the Augusta Canal music cruises — a 65-foot-long Petersburg boat to be exact — on a mild night this spring, you have a range of musical styles by which you might be serenaded.
It could be Augusta area folk band The Henrys, who happen to share a name with the man who first envisioned the Augusta Canal, Henry Cumming.
It could be Asheville, N.C.-based The Clydes, whose “Old Soul Americana” will grace the canal’s open air for the second consecutive year.
It might be Aiken’s own Matthew Dickerson playing the dulcimer, in which case you might have to make the trip just to find out exactly what a dulcimer is.
“You can’t help but get swept up,” Roy Lewis, a tour guide for the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area’s historical boat tours, said of the music cruises. “It’s a strong sense of camaraderie and community.”
Lewis doesn’t often tire of guiding tours. The canal’s open air, peaceful atmosphere and wildlife are good for the soul, and he never knows who he’s going to meet. One time, it was a family from Poland who wanted to learn the history of the Augusta Canal.
“You never know who’s going to be on your boat,” he said.
That’s just the fun of a 90-minute music cruise. When around 35 people hop aboard one of the 12 tours from April through June or September through October, many of them won’t know each other. Few things create friendship quite like music, a natural landscape and the good food and drink the guests bring on board.
“When you get back to the dock, you have new friends,” said Julie Boone, the Heritage Area’s education and program coordinator.
Before they carried dozens of tourists on a daily basis, the 10-ton Petersburg boats — still considered to be the largest electric boats in the world — carried produce and livestock from farms into the city. That began in the mid-19th century, just after the 7-mile-long canal was constructed in 1847. The boats were named after the town of Petersburg, Ga., an old center for trade that was later abandoned and is now submerged in Thurmond Lake.
“Sometimes you can still see a chimney or remnant of the old town,” said Rebecca Rogers, marketing director of the Heritage Area.
As Petersburg faded into the past, Augusta gained prominence as a dynamic industrial hub with a canal system optimized for easy transportation of cotton and other goods. From 1870 to 1890, Augusta’s population doubled.
The canal was enlarged in 1875, but it lost relevance over the course of the next century as local industry shifted south. It took a U.S. Congress designation as a National Heritage Area for the canal system — one of the only canals left in the country that still serves its original purposes of providing power and municipal drinking water — to become revitalized as a tourist destination and recreational playground.
Starting April 13, musicians will breathe a little life into that playground as locals and tourists alike break bread together.
“All of a sudden it becomes a buffet,” Lewis said. “Everybody’s sharing, everybody’s talking.”
Historical tours are offered daily year-round (with some special hours in summer and winter). The Music Cruises take place on Friday evenings April through June and September through October.
Moonlight Music Cruises Spring 2018
April 13: The Henrys (folk/bluegrass), 6:30 p.m.
April 20: Carey Murdock (American folk), 6:30 p.m.
April 27: Gwen Hughes (jazz), 6:30 p.m.
May 4: Christian Ndeti (rock/soul), 7 p.m.
May 11: Chris Hardy (acoustic), 7 p.m.
May 18: Mike Frost and Lauren Meccia (jazz), 7 p.m.
May 25: The Clydes (old-soul Americana), 7 p.m.
June 1: Tara Scheyer (singer/songwriter), 7 p.m.
June 8: Matthew Dickerson (dulcimer/guitar), 7 p.m.
June 15: Garden City Jazz, 7 p.m.
June 22: Art of Expression, Jonay Bailey (R&B, jazz), 7 p.m.
June 29: Keith Gregory (classic rock, pop, R&B), 7 p.m.