Alternatives to the bar scene offer something for many musical tastes this summer at venues that truly cater to musicians and their fans.
In most bars — and we certainly have our fair share on the Vineyard — live music is incidental, another element to create a festive atmosphere, but rarely the main attraction. True “listening rooms” are a little harder to come by.
But, luckily for music fans, there are a handful of organizations that, this summer, are hosting live music events in comfortable venues. Both The Vineyard Playhouse and the Featherstone Center for the Arts feature weekly concerts where families are welcome and those over 40 aren’t in the minority. Also, during August and September, the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society has a lineup of musical evenings scheduled, offering a true concert experience with stadium seating and a raised stage.
Earlier this summer, The Vineyard Playhouse unveiled its newly renovated lobby space. In order to open its doors to the public while the rest of the theater renovation project was underway, artistic director M.J. Bruder Munafo decided to utilize the well-appointed lobby for a variety of events. Every Tuesday evening this summer The Playhouse offers cabaret evenings featuring a variety of performers.
“The Lobby Live events have been evolving as the summer has gone on,” Ms. Munafo said. “It’s been very casual this year and very fun.” The lineup has been an eclectic mix so far, including show tunes, folk, jazz, an a cappella group, and ballads from the colonial days. The next two Lobby Live events will, appropriately, feature women who have been involved in Playhouse productions in previous years. On August 27 playwright, songwriter, and vocalist Rhonda Coulet will perform her unique country rock originals. In 2010 the former Broadway star presented her musical “Runaway Beauty Queen” at The Playhouse. This year she’s back performing songs from her CD, including some from that entertaining show.
A special fundraising event on Tuesday, August 13, will feature film, TV, and stage actress Suzzanne Douglas singing jazz standards. Ms. Douglas has appeared in such films as “Tap,” “How Stella Got Her Groove Back,” “Jason’s Lyric,” and “The Inkwell” and has starred on TV in “The Parent ‘Hood.” She has won numerous awards for her acting and is also an accomplished singer.
The Playhouse lobby is the perfect setting for cabaret-style acts with cocktail tables, a small stage, low lighting, a rotating art show, and a refreshments bar. “The lobby is a great place to perform,” Ms. Munafo said. “We’ve installed a sound and lighting system. Acoustically it’s better than ever.” The lobby is also the scene this summer for weekly talks with theater professionals as well as art shows. For more information, visit vineyardplayhouse.org.
On Monday evenings the sprawling Featherstone campus hosts the popular Musical Mondays series. People spread out on the lush lawn with blankets, folding chairs, and picnic dinners and enjoy family-friendly bands performing on an outdoor stage. The scene is casual, with kids racing around, dancing, and lots of socializing. The last outdoor concert for the summer, on August 12, features upbeat danceable reggae with The Grateful Dread.
The M.V. Film Center has three evenings of music planned. On August 18, R&B and smooth jazz artist Vivian Male from Boston performs with her ensemble. Last summer, Ms. Male, a “Steppin’ Out” Hall of Fame inductee, headlined a sold-out show during the Martha’s Vineyard Jazz Festival.
A singer/songwriter program on August 19 features popular Boston-based singer Ryan Montbleu, local legend Willy Mason, who has just returned from national and international tours, and local songwriter Alex Karalekas. Mr. Montbleu, who has performed on Island both solo and with his band for the past few years, was named Best Local Male Vocalist in the 2007 Boston Music Awards and was nominated last year for an MTV Music Award for best concert experience.
Mr. Mason recently completed a world tour as opening act for English folk rock band Mumford & Sons and, on his own, played a sold-out tour of the U.K. and performed all over the U.S., supporting his third CD “Carry On” (Fiction Records).
An MVYRadio benefit on September 1 features award-winning U.K. folksinger Laura Marling. For more information, visit mvfilmsociety.com.
Another great venue for live music is Alex’s Place at the YMCA of M.V. in Oak Bluffs. The teen center, which is open to all on event nights, has, for the past two years, featured local musicians and touring acts in an intimate, sophisticated cocktail lounge (minus the cocktails) atmosphere. For more information and a full event schedule, visit ymcamv.org.