Before the Fair moved from the Grange Hall to its current home in 1995, live music meant fiddles, lots of fiddles — from a fiddlers’ contest to live bands featuring fiddle music. You get the idea: music fit for a county fair.
Now, however, the soundtrack to the Fair includes a little bit of everything, from blues to country to doo-wop to jazz. If you want the more traditional fiddle, folk, and bluegrass, visit the Acoustic Corner. For something a little bit different, check out these bands on the main stage.
Blue Ribbons – Best in show
Blue Ribbons have been bringing their catchy piano-driven original rock to clubs in Cambridge, Boston, and beyond for years. Classic rock with a jazzy feel. The soulful singing, smokin’ guitar, and traditional rock sound will remind you of a host of rock legends — Eric Clapton, the Band etc.
Jon Zeeman – Jazz my day
Jon Zeeman started out his career playing in New York City and Scandinavia. Since the 1990s, Zeeman has established himself as one of the most popular local musicians — playing everywhere from dive bars to private parties and fundraisers. A mix of jazz, jazz-funk, blues and rock, the band is a tight unit of consummate musicians led by master guitarist Zeeman whose influences include Jeff Beck and Jimi Hendrix.
The Stragglers – Country for the country fan in us all
Since the mid-1980s, The Stragglers have been bringing good old-time country music to Martha’s Vineyard. In their heyday, The Stragglers played venues around the Island such as The Hot Tin Roof and bars and parties.
Named for the fact that “people straggle in and out of the band,” according to founder Merrily Fenner, the group has changed its lineup over the years, but the music remains a tribute to the greats of country. Some sample songs include “Hey, Good Lookin’” and “Mama, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.”
Serendipity – Girls just wanna have fun, 1950s style
Serendipity started out as an all girls’ band (girls of a certain age, that is) but they have since added one guy on guitar. Still, a lot of their music hearkens back to the 50s and 60s — the days of doo-wop and girl groups. Fun, feel-good music that will take you back in time. Sample songs include “One Fine Day” (the Chiffons), “Fever” (Peggy Lee), and “Shop Around” (the Miracles).
Island Country – Walk the country line
Old-time country is, not surprisingly, what you can expect from the band Island Country. Think Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Merle Haggard. Founder Rick O’Gorman has been playing country music for 30-plus years. “I’ve played at every bar that was ever on the Island and some that are still on the Island,” he says.
He’s gathered together a group of similar minded musicians for a band that will include Anthony Benton Gude on pedal steel guitar, and they will be recruiting surprise guests. “We love country music and we’re thrilled to play the Fair,” says Mr. O’Gorman.
Bored of Health – Alt rock meets country
You may have seen them playing clubs around Boston — places like Johnny D’s in Cambridge have been hosting Bored of Health for more than 10 years now. Anything but boring, their original pop/rock/country tunes will get you up and dancing — maybe even two-stepping. A new, countrified sound for alternative rock fans. Members include Islander Tauras Biskis on drums, along with keyboards, guitar, and standup bass.
The Roundabouts – Full circle of musical genres
The Roundabouts have been around a little longer than their namesake — the mid-Island intersection — and they’re similarly winning Islanders over. The band, founded by husband and wife Erik and Cheryl Lowe, plays country, blues, and rock with a rockabilly sensibility and a nod to the classics. This is their third year at the Fair. They also play at bars around Oak Bluffs and will appear at the P-A Club on Saturday night. Sample songs include a range of country and blues: “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Route 66,” “Kansas City,” and, for a slight psychedelic departure, “Magic Carpet Ride”
The Ben Higgins Band – Hooks galore
The Ben Higgins Band plays all original tunes with a mix of country and progressive folk featuring catchy tunes. The three-piece unit includes piano, guitar, banjo, and resonator for a rich, full sound.
“I like to think that we create some sort of positive atmosphere,” Ben Higgins says. “The songs get stuck in your head. That’s what people say.”
Judge for yourself. This fall Vineyard native Higgins is headed for country music hub Nashville, so check out his band at the Fair while you can or catch him playing piano at the Lambert’s Cove Inn in West Tisbury every Thursday through Sunday.