Viral sea shanty boost as US band returns to Oz

Katelyn Catanzariti |

US country group Home Free play CMC Rocks, boosted by a sea shanty medley that went viral on TikTok.
US country group Home Free play CMC Rocks, boosted by a sea shanty medley that went viral on TikTok.

US country a cappella group Home Free went viral during lockdown with a sea shanty medley that begins with a song about a worker at a Sydney shipping company in the 1800s.

But the group, who are making their first trip back to Australia since COVID for CMC Rocks this weekend, had no idea of the song The Wellerman’s Antipodean roots.

“I didn’t know that, I love that,” says one fifth of Home Free, tenor Rob Lundquist.

The band were not the first to record The Wellerman – it had been released by The Longest Johns in 2018 and a Scottish singer began a viral trend of layering voices over his TikTok recording during lockdown.

But Home Free’s version – which was recorded and filmed during lockdown in each of the members’ homes – has amassed some 40 million streams, and 27 million views on YouTube. 

It is also the recording used for a TikTok dance that went viral around the world.

“It blew up in a way that we’d never seen any of our stuff go viral,” Lundquist tells AAP.

“We were very, very happy that it did because it brought our music out to so many more people that normally wouldn’t check out country a cappella, but they’d check out the sea shanty that we did.”

The group recorded the song and video as part of a greater commitment they made to keep making music when lockdown hit.

“We couldn’t tour anymore and we were like, what are we going to do?” he says.

“We all got home recording equipment so we didn’t have to go find a studio and we committed to putting out two music videos a month that we shot on our iPhones.

“It took a lot of time, a lot of problem solving, and, man, we have so much more respect for the people who do our music videos – because we had to do all of our own lighting and things like that and it was really tedious. It would take up to three hours just getting everybody’s lighting looking the same.

“I’m just excited to be back not doing that anymore,” Lundquist says.

But putting in the hard yards paid dividends for the band, who now have a new, younger demographic in their crowds.

“It gives us a lot more energy on stage,” he says. “They’re all clamouring for that song.”

The last time Home Free played CMC Rocks, one of the band did a “shoey” on stage “trying to fit in”, Lundquist remembers.

On their first trip back since “the world stopped” Lundquist says the band is looking forward to seeing how the crowds react to their change in direction.

“The most avid country fans are in both America and Australia,” he says.

“But it hits a little different down in Australia – they are singing along to every song, whether it’s popular ones that we’ve covered or our originals, and we’re not super used to that in the states.

“They’re honestly some of the best fans we’ve ever performed in front of – we’re looking forward to doing it again.”