Vineyard Musicians Against the Shark Tournament host concert

Vineyard Musicians Against the Shark Tournament host concert

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A handful of local musicians have pooled their considerable talent to stage a passive protest against what project organizer Steve Maxner calls, “A tragic community blunder,” — the annual Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament.

Songwriter Mr. Maxner has recruited eight of his singer/songwriter friends and a handful of other musicians to contribute to a 13-track CD called “Hold On …We’re Comin,'” a compilation of original songs condemning the shark tournament, and the killing of sharks in general, and honoring the often villainized apex predator of the sea, which is often portrayed as vicious and aggressive.

This Sunday, June 3, Vineyarders Against Shark Tournaments (VAST) will host a CD release party at the Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven. All of the musicians appearing on the CD will be on hand to perform the recording’s songs in entirety. CDs will be available for $15, and the money raised by the event and CD sales (minus expenses) will go toward future actions and awareness-raising initiatives.

Mr. Maxner is very passionate in his opposition to the tournament, and he has been for years. Last fall he became frustrated after attempts to voice his opinion to the Oak Bluffs selectmen through an extensively researched position paper proved unsatisfactory. “They didn’t acknowledge it,” he said. “They were disinterested in my opinion and any contradictory data that would suggest that they shouldn’t sponsor a shark tournament.

“I learned that I cannot beat my head against the wall. It led me to think that a musical approach might be more effective than trying to persuade or argue my point of view.”

Mr. Maxner put a call out to friends and associates to contribute creatively to a musical project. “There were no guidelines,” he said. “They were given freedom to write and sing whatever they wanted.” The end result is a mix of styles from a spoken word piece to an all instrumental, from bluesy rock from Rico Holly to a country-tinged tune by Michael West.

“I look at it as going to an art show,” Mr. Maxner said. “Here are 10 different artists with 10 different ways of looking at something.”

Most of the tunes are in the folk vein. Mr. Maxner wrote three of the CDs songs – two sung by his wife and musical partner, Joyce Maxner, and one by 13-year-old Darby Patterson.

The CD opens up with a poem by William Waterway called “Save the Sharks,” accompanied by Mr. Waterway on Native American flute and percussion. Against the plaintive strains of the flute he verbalizes the group’s mission, “You cannot speak, so we speak for you. You cannot sing so we sing for you.”

Dan Waters, who contributed two songs to the CD, is up next with his cleverly rhymed “For the Stray and Estranged.” The dark tone of the song is offset by the next track, “Hang ‘Um High,” written by Mr. Maxner. Despite the sad theme, the song is a pretty folk number featuring sweet vocals by Ms. Maxner and some lovely guitar passages by Al Shackman.

Mr. Shackman contributed the fourth track, a lively sea shanty with harmonica accompaniment called “Shanty for Sharky.” Veteran folk artists Kenny Lockwood and Nancy Jephcote each recorded an original song. Kenny Lockwood’s “Day of Days” has an Irish lullabye feel to it and Ms. Jephcote’s “Truth” is perhaps the most plaintively beautiful of all the offerings. Mr. Maxner on banjo, guitar, and mandolin, along with Mr. Shackman, lend their expert playing to a number of the tracks.

The CD concludes with the title track, “Hold On, We’re Comin'” written by Mr. Maxner and Jen Powers. He recruited the very talented Ms. Patterson and a group of ten-year-old girls to record the song. The CD ends with Ms. Patterson singing the chorus in a clear, strong, mature voice followed by the engagingly childish voices of the chorus members singing the refrain a cappella: “There is hope over the horizon, hold on, hold on, we’re comin’.”

“They are the generation that I believe is going to impact the situation,” Mr. Maxner said. “With Darby singing the song there will be a message that will go out to the younger people and hopefully they will be the ones who will be spreading the message.”

Mr. Maxner notes that there is no formal, organized group involved in the tournament protests. “It’s really leaderless and demand-less and somewhat mysterious,” he said. His hope is that like-minded people will conceive of and execute other projects. “Whether it’s writing a letter to the editor or doing a video documentary, we’re trying to reach as many people as possible. We rely on individual people to do what they can do with their skill set and knowledge to try to bring this thing to an end.”

The soft-spoken Mr. Maxner, who chooses his words very carefully and has a thoughtful way about him, concluded, “It really is all about saving sharks’ lives. We want to work cooperatively with the power structure in Oak Bluffs and make it happen. We don’t want to come at it in a holier-than-thou way. I look at it as a community problem and find a way to resolve it that is best for the environment, best for the sharks, and best for all of us.”

Vineyard Musicians Against the Shark Tournament CD Release, Concert, and Fundraiser, 7 pm, Sunday, June 3, Katharine Cornell Theatre, Vineyard Haven. $10. CDs for sale, $15.