The pastoral sprawl of Featherstone Center for the Arts off of Barnes Road in Oak Bluffs is arguably one of the most scenic public spaces on the Vineyard.
Transformed from a working horse farm in the ’90s, the 24-acre campus features a handful of converted farm buildings with a pasture on which a couple of grazing cows can still be found fronting the property, and an inviting undulating field spotted with the occasional tree stretching out beyond the gallery and work spaces. In the middle of this green expanse, encircled by woods, stands a simple raised wooden platform that is the focal point on Monday evenings in the summer.
Musical Mondays at Featherstone have become a tradition that unites two of the things that the Island is celebrated for, the arts and nature. Says former Featherstone executive director and current coordinator of the 15th anniversary events, Francine Kelly, “Musical Mondays here are very popular, particularly with year-rounders. This is an opportunity for them to close their shops and enjoy the music that we offer. There are always lots of families. It’s a secure environment. Kids play with Frisbees and run around the field. People bring picnics and sit on the grass or on lawn chairs. Most people just come to enjoy the setting. It’s a natural amphitheater.”
Appropriately, the person responsible for turning the rolling green meadow into an al fresco performance space will be leading off the summer lineup.
In 1996, before most of the campus’ buildings were even ready for occupancy, musician Kevin Keady, who taught guitar lessons at Featherstone, built a simple raised platform stage along with Greg and Gary Harcourt, and gave a benefit performance. The stage was expanded shortly afterward by Mr. Keady and Featherstone pottery teacher Frank Creney. The outdoor stage has allowed Featherstone to include theater performances and poetry readings, as well as music, in their programming.
On June 20, Mr. Keady will launch the summer season, performing original tunes along with Don Groover on bass and Matty Ro (Rosenthal) on drums.
Mr. Keady’s Vineyard story exemplifies many of the reasons that people often turn a weekend stay into a lifetime move. Twenty years ago, the musician/carpenter came out to visit his friend, fellow musician John Cruz, and found that the rural life appealed to him. After working in construction with Gary Harcourt for a while, he settled in to his current situation, working and living at Pimpneymouse Farm on Chappaquiddick.
Mr. Keady’s burgeoning songwriting career also blossomed in the creative atmosphere of the Island. In his early years here, he found a welcoming stage at the former Wintertide Coffeehouse. “I wasn’t good enough at first to justify doing strictly the original songwriting thing,” he says. He honed his performing talents at the Wintertide while continuing to write folk songs, armed with some newfound inspiration: life on the Vineyard.
Mr. Keady relies more on storytelling than his vocal range. His singing/intonation style is somewhat similar to influence Leonard Cohen. In his slightly gruff low register bass, the folk/Americana singer spins tales on Island relevant topics. “Midwinter Waltz,” “Hay Day,” and “Cabin Fever” capture the Island rhythm wonderfully well. Mr. Keady’s mastery of rhyme helps add a good dose of humor to songs that focus on some of the more negative aspects of Island life. Most Vineyarders can relate to fun tunes like “Road Rage,” and even “Instant Winner,” a song about a scratch-ticket addict, with very clever couplets, attests to Mr. Keady’s talent for turning observations of his Island home into humorous material.
With Musical Mondays, of which he has been a part since inception, Mr. Keady has found a venue for his style and material. “I love the Featherstone gigs,” he says. “I love the opportunity to experience the communication that happens when you put a song out there well. It’s something that’s utterly unavailable in the bar scene.” He adds, “I love folk music. I love the utility of song. I love when people sing songs.” He also appreciates the range in the audience. “Being outdoors allows for such a wide mixture of people that come and sit. It’s not just one demographic.”
Musical Mondays, weekly from June 20 to August 15, 6 to 8 pm. $7; $5 for Island Club Card holders; free for children under 14. For more information: 508-693-1850; featherstoneart.org.
Gwyn McAllister, of Oak Bluffs, is a regular contributor to The Times.