Steamboat Comin’

Alice Winship high school graduation photo
Alice Winship, high school graduation photo

By Alice Winship

Chorus: Steamboat comin’ on the Illinois River
            My dad plays in the band
            Hot dark nights make the tall corn quiver
            Calliope calling cross the bottom land

That calliope I hear
You know the boat is near
You can hear it two towns away
One night up in Hennepin
You can hear it down in Henry on the very next day


When the weather is right
The corn will grow all night
You can hear it rustle down the row
But when you hear that calliope call again
Leave the corn and cows and go dancing with your beau


Near the river there’s our farm
With cornfields and a barn
Since eighteen sixty-eight
But when the band gets word to play again
My dad will pack his drums, make the music resonate


The band knows all the songs
Keeps the dancing going on
With popular tunes of the day
When the steamboat sails the dance begins
He strums his mandolin and the music starts to play


He will take me down to see
I’ll listen happily
Till I begin to yawn
He’ll find me a soft spot to sleep and then
I’ll be safe on the steamboat while the band plays on


The corn will grow a lot
When Illinois is hot
All night and through the day
Out on the river it’s cool and then
On a “Moonlight Excursion” you dance the night away


This song is based on stories my father told me about his early childhood growing up on a farm next to the Illinois River. His father played in a band on the river’s excursion vessels leaving out of Henry. These boats would leave for excursions on the Illinois River in the afternoon or evening where people could dance and cool off from the hot summer temperatures. When my dad became too tired, his father found a place for him to lie down so he could sleep with the music echoing in his ears. The instrument was known as a “cal-ee-ope” on the Illinois River. Later when he moved away, my dad heard someone say “cal-eye-o-pea”, he thought they were ignorant and did not know the word. The excursion boats were brought to an end by the wreck of the Steamer Columbia which ran aground and split down the middle in 1918 near Peoria.


  • Written by: Alice Winship
  • Arranged by: Alex Sturbaum
    • Laura Bassett: lead vocal
    • Helen Gilbert: harmony vocal
    • Alex Sturbaum: guitar, mandolin, harmony vocal

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