Nectar’s Martha’s Vineyard readies for season opener

Island Thunder, from left: Spencer Binney, Oberon Redmuviner, and Pinto Abrams, will perform Friday night at Nectar's.
Photo by Ashley Tilton

Island Thunder, from left: Spencer Binney, Oberon Redmuviner, and Pinto Abrams, will perform Friday night at Nectar's.

Nectar’s opens this Friday night, starting a holiday weekend-long cluster of musical acts including Island DJs Island Thunder, Grammy nominee Dawn Penn; Saturday night’s third annual Local Bash; and local group Entrain on Sunday.

The opening weekend begins Friday, with Dawn Penn, a reggae singer from Jamaica, promoting her new album, Never Hustle The Music. She’ll be on stage with Island Thunder, and the show will be filmed for the upcoming documentary, “Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae.” Tickets are $20 presale, available at nectarsmv.com, ticketsmv.com, or at aboveground records, The Green Room, and The Paper Store. Tickets are $25 at the door.

Saturday

Local singer/songwriter Erich Luening and his band are the featured act for Nectar’s Locals Bash this Saturday night. The show will celebrate the singer/songwriter’s first solo recording, a 10-song CD of mainly original tunes that run through a variety of styles from soulful to folk-influenced to a driven alternative-rock sound.

Mr. Luening is a masterful songwriter. Every composition is catchy and memorable. His vocals are strong and clear. The material reflects the artist’s very emotional, often difficult journey through life, but his optimism is clear even in the saddest songs

The first track on Mr. Luening’s new CD, Red Flags, is called “Uncle’s Sweater.” It is about the search for security and love and is one of the songs Mr. Luening and his band will play Saturday night.

The song was inspired by an oversized Irish wool sweater that was handed down to Mr. Luening from his uncle Jeff Dando, who was a childhood influence. Mr. Luening wrote the song as a duet for himself and his sister, singer Sabrina Brooke (formerly Sabrina Luening).

Brother and sister were raised by a single mom. “It’s a metaphor for him being a surrogate dad for me,” Mr. Luening says. The refrain reflects the artist’s feelings towards his uncle and the place that he held in his life.

“I hope it keeps me warm and protected just like he did when my father wasn’t around for me.”

Mr. Luening will dedicate his upcoming CD release party to another father figure, his uncle Larry Luening, who passed away last year.

The young songwriter-to-be felt obliged to leave the family temporarily at 17 to join the Army. The Luenings, who had moved to the Vineyard from Boston when Erich was three years old, were struggling financially so the only son realized that, despite his mother’s protests, his departure would offer “one less mouth to feed.”

“That’s the kind of stuff that helps me keep turning out songs,” he says. Another of the CD’s tracks, “Hard Fall Down,” is “about friends and family who have hit rock bottom — usually from alchohol or drugs — but they’re not alone.”

After serving in the army Mr. Luening moved back to Boston to attend college. He started writing music but was too shy to perform. It wasn’t until he moved back to the Vineyard that he started appearing on stage, singing backup with sister Sabrina for the band Second Power. The siblings eventually formed their own band, Drawn Butter. “That was great,” says Mr. Luening. “There’s nothing like singing and harmonizing with your own blood.” Ms. Brooke is a very popular local singer who performs under her own name now.

Mr. Luening and his college roommate, Alan Cole, had written a few songs while living in Cambridge. “He’s kind of like my soul brother and we write really well together.” A couple of those early tunes are included on the CD, which is produced by Matthew Cullen, of Pit Stop Studio in Oak Bluffs.

Mr. Luening got down to the business of writing and recording but within a year he was seriously injured in a car accident in which one of his best friends, Keith Korn, the car’s driver, was killed. An extended stay in the hospital gave Mr. Luening time to reflect on his life and provided inspiration for a number of songs. “It was pivotal in writing a lot of the songs,” he says. “When you go through such a trauma, you wonder if you brought it on yourself. I was going through that existential crisis — is this a message in some way?”

Family is very important to Mr. Luening and much of his work includes references to family members. Mr. Luening’s sisters Ms. Brooke and Talia Luening will take turns singing backing vocals this Saturday.

Mr. Luening credits his cousin Evan Dando of the Lemonheads with getting him into music — encouraging him and giving him his first guitar. The well known singer, who plays guitar on one of the CD’s tracks, may make an appearance at the release party.

Mr. Luening’s mother, Louisa Luening, makes an effort to get to as many of her children’s performances as possible. She is the subject of another of the CD’s songs, “Never Run.” The song relates a lifetime of people leaving him, including Mr. Luening’s father. The only consoling constant in his life has been his mother. “I try to stand still and never run away, because my mother never ran away,” says Mr. Luening.

Mr. Luening has undergone nine surgeries since the accident, including one just last week. However, he’s stayed working. The singer/songwriter, who studied journalism in college, started penning articles for various publications. He is currently contributing to two aquaculture journals. “I get as much gratifications really nailing a story or scooping somebody as I do singing on stage,” he says.

Along with a band made up of locals, Mr. Luening has been performing his original material regularly on-Island, though he took last year off to focus on the much-delayed project of completing his inaugural CD. He has gathered together a band made up of local musicians for the upcoming show — Buck Shank on guitar, Rob Myers on bass, and George Berz, who has played variously with the Lemonheads and Dinosaur Jr., on drums. Since these musicians all have commitments with other bands, Mr. Luening notes that he will only be doing a handful of gigs this summer.

His future plans include touring with Mr. Dando on the East Coast and possibly joining his writing partner, Mr. Cole, in Berlin. Mr. Cole is the founder of Junko Records, the label that released Red Flags. “I might do some stuff in Europe,” says Mr. Luening. However, his roots are firmly planted on the Vineyard, where a number of his relatives have settled.

Also on Saturday’s bill are members of Mr. Luening’s close-knit musician family. Nina Violet and Marciana Jones, who sing backup on Red Flags, will perform their unique brand of neo-folk. Sabrina will show off her vocal talent doing rock and R&B hits, and Mr. Luening’s close friend and former bandmate, Island musician Philly D., will perform his catchy original tunes. The night will close out with hip hop band DCLA.