A new Martha’s Vineyard music festival will launch this week, and judging by the star studded lineup and the buzz that’s been surrounding the event since the beginning of the summer, the On The Vine three-day music series should be a winner.
Legendary artists Natalie Cole and Smokey Robinson will be joined by a handful of other chart-topping artists for two shows at the Tabernacle — Thursday and Saturday. On Friday, The Island Bar & Grill hosts a music jam featuring a world-renowned jazz percussionist and other professional musicians.
The On the Vine organization was founded in 2012 to raise money for the American Friends of Rambam, a group dedicated to help fund groundbreaking research into the causes of kidney disease, which is particularly prevalent within the African-American community. Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Israel, is the site for ongoing research conducted by Dr. Karl Skorecki. He and his team have identified the gene responsible for many kinds of kidney disease, and their research is projected to help find ways of reducing kidney disease by up to 70 percent.
Headlining the On the Vine opening event at the Tabernacle will be R&B great Smokey Robinson. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s name is synonymous with the early Motown sound due to his string of hit singles both with the group Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and as a solo artist.
Miracles hits written by Robinson include “Shop Around,”"You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,” “I Second That Emotion,” “The Tracks of My Tears,” “Going to a Go-Go,” and “Tears of a Clown,” among many others. Robinson was instrumental in founding the Motown label and served as Motown Vice President for many years.
Joining Robinson for the Friday night event will be R&B/soul artist Angie Stone, a three-time Grammy nominee, who has been turning out hit tunes since the 1990s. She has had four Top 10 albums including a number one, and 10 singles, on the R&B charts.
“Angie Stone is one of the hottest talents coming up,” said On the Vine executive producer Dennis Shortt. “She’s a heck of a vocalist. She brings that soulful sound that will blend well with that Motown era of Smokey. It should be a good blend of the old school and newer R&B. She’s definitely going to hold her own.”
Saturday’s “Linen and Love” concert features Natalie Cole. A nine-time Grammy award winner, Ms. Cole has spoken out very publicly about her battle with kidney disease. She will be honored at an awards ceremony during the concert along with Dr. Skorecki and a few other people who have been influential in the cause.
Also on Saturday’s bill will be 10-time Grammy award winner Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds. Not only does Babyface have a very impressive list of hit singles and albums of his own, he has also produced, written, or co-written songs for many of the biggest names in music including Aretha Franklin, Madonna, Janet Jackson, Beyoncé, Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Eric Clapton, Mariah Carey, and Phil Collins. He received three consecutive Grammy Awards for Producer of the Year in 1995 through 1997.
Israeli-born violinist Miri Ben-Ari will fill out Saturday’s bill. Ms. Ben-Ari is a Grammy award winner who has performed with such artists as Jay-Z, Wyclef Jean, Alicia Keys, and Kanye West. She has recorded five CDs featuring many styles of music including hip-hop, and she has played for President Obama at the White House where she was honored by Michelle Obama as a “Remarkable Woman,” was appointed by the U.N. as a “Goodwill Ambassador of Music,” and performed at the Martin Luther King Jr. Presidential memorial dedication in Washington, D.C.
The emcee for both Tabernacle concerts is comedian Tony Roberts. Charlayne Hunter-Gault will conduct short interviews at each of the Tabernacle concerts — one with Dr. Skorecki and one with Anthony Brown, a young man who donated a kidney to his mother.
On Friday night, an open jam session will take place at the Island Bar & Grill on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs. Project Jam will feature live jazz and R&B, featuring jazz great, percussionist Kahil El’Zabar with an accomplished band featuring New York trumpeter Maurice Brown. Local musicians as well as visitors from the Berklee School of Music and elsewhere will take part in an evening-long jam. All are welcome to participate.
Kicking off the On the Vine weekend last night Wednesday, August 22, was a private reception with VIP guests at the Oak Bluffs home of investment banker Valerie Moseley.
On the Vine executive director Dennis Shortt has enjoyed a long and highly successful career working in the event planning, fundraising, and promotion fields. When he was approached by the American Friends of Rambam about launching a fundraising campaign, he was eager to get involved.
“We kind of chose each other,” Mr. Shortt said. “A Friend of mine who had kidney disease introduced me to the Rambam people. We got to talking and realized we were really compatible. I had no clue as to the extent that African-Americans suffer from this disease.”
A disproportionate number of both African-Americans and Latino-Americans fall victim to kidney disease. According to press materials from On the Vine, “Because of the efforts of the American Friends for Rambam, the world is approximately five years and $5 million dollars away from the prevention of kidney disease among African-Americans.
“I met with Dr. Skorecki and was in awe at the brilliance of the man. He is very humble and just a genuine person.”
Mr. Shortt added that he was also very impressed with the sincerity of the American Friends of Rambam organization. “They’re like a family now. We really get along and trust each other.”
Mr. Shortt hopes to make the event an annual one. His organization will host a second On the Vine event on the Vineyard next August and launch a similar series of concerts in Santa Barbara starting next October. On the Vine is also hosting a golf tournament in Los Angeles later this year.
As for the choice of locales, Mr. Shortt said, “The client loved the idea of Martha’s Vineyard. With this campaign we’re trying to start from the top down. We feel Martha’s Vineyard and Santa Barbara are two great locations to reach the audience we need to reach to raise the funds to eradicate kidney disease.”
Mr. Shortt will remain on the Vineyard for a week after the concerts to start the planning for next summer’s event. “One thing we do know,” he said, “the client is committed. Regardless of the turnout, we’ll be back next year.”
On the Vine also recently launched a text message fundraising campaign. You can make a donation of $10 by texting KDR (for kidney disease research) to the number 20222. Up to three $10 text donations are allowed per phone.
On the Vine Benefitting Kidney Disease Research, The Showcase with Smokey Robinson and Angie Stone, 6:30 pm, Aug. 22, Tabernacle, Oak Bluffs; Project Jam, 9 pm, Aug. 23, Island Bar and Grill, Oak Bluffs; Linen and Love Concert with Natalie Cole, Babyface, and Miri Ben Ari, 6:30 pm, Aug. 24, Tabernacle, Oak Bluffs. For more information, visit onthevineevents.com.