Dennis Montgomery and the Berklee College of Music Reverence Gospel Ensemble performed at last year's Vineyard Vibes. Photo courtesy of Vineyard Vibes
Dennis Montgomery and the Berklee College of Music Reverence Gospel Ensemble performed at last year's Vineyard Vibes. Photo courtesy of Vineyard Vibes

Vineyard Vibes: salsa, mambo and a whole lotta soul

By Karla Araujo - July 27, 2006

If it's the last weekend in July it must be time for Vineyard Vibes, a three-day world-class music festival presented each summer by Boston's Berklee College of Music and Island advertising agency B/R Creative. Now in its sixth year, Vineyard Vibes showcases the musical talents of Berklee's legendary alumni, students, and faculty.

This year's event, scheduled for Friday, July 28 through Sunday, July 30, will feature three nights of extraordinary musical performances: New York-based Latin jazz percussionist Bobby Sanabria and his Latin Dance Orchestra, Jennifer Holliday, Grammy and Tony award-winning vocalist and star of the original Broadway production of "Dreamgirls," and Gospel Explosion with special guest Jennifer Holliday.

Steven Lipman, Berklee Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and Executive Producer of the event, said, "Our students, faculty, and alumni have performed in festivals all over the world but Martha's Vineyard is the first and only place Berklee has organized and managed its own festival. The Island's audience is highly cultured and appreciative of the arts. We try to bring every genre of contemporary music to the festival and present it in a setting so relaxing that it fits right into a typical Vineyard day."

Co-producer Barry Rosenthal, president of B/R Creative, added, "Vineyard Vibes started out as a one-night experiment. In recent years many of the shows have been either sold out or standing room only. My advice: Get tickets early!"

Mr. Rosenthal, owner of Outerland (formerly The Hot Tin Roof), has hosted other Latin dance bands this summer to sold-out crowds. He expects the opening night act of Bobby Sanabria to be one of the most popular shows of the season. Doors open at Outerland, located near the Martha's Vineyard Airport, at 7 pm on Friday, July 28. Salsa dance lessons will be offered at 8 pm and Bobby Sanabria and Ascension will take the stage at 9:15 pm. If last year's Vineyard Vibes Latin jazz event was any indication, the dance floor should be packed with enthusiastic revelers.

On Saturday evening Outerland will be the place to be once again, this time for Jennifer Holliday's tribute to Motown. She'll be accompanied by some of Berklee's most talented vocalists and instrumentalists, filling the club with the sound of Detroit's music superstars. Last summer's sold-out appearance of The Temptations at Outerland left no question that Motown is alive and well on Martha's Vineyard. Berklee Jazz Café begins that night at 8:30 pm; Jennifer Holliday will perform at 9:30 pm.

Vineyard Vibes will close on Sunday with the inspirational Gospel Explosion, a 24-person choir with special guest Jennifer Holliday. The gospel choir also features Dennis Montgomery III and is directed by Renese King. Now a festival tradition, the evening of inspirational gospel has proved to be a Vineyard favorite, bringing the audience to its feet with hands clapping and voices raised. The Whaling Church in Edgartown provides a simple yet regal setting for the 8 pm event.

"Ticket prices are either $24 or $28, depending on the performance," Mr. Lipman pointed out. "We are delighted that we can bring this caliber of music to the Island for such a reasonable price. In New York tickets would cost double what they do here."

He also mentioned that Berklee hopes that the caliber of music at Vineyard Vibes will encourage Island residents and visitors to show their support for the college in the form of donations. "Many people who attend the concerts are enthusiastic patrons of the arts and of education," he said. "We would love the event to become a fund-raiser for Berklee's scholarships and other types of programs."

Every year Vineyard Vibes raises money to create a community outreach program on the Vineyard involving music education. This year, Martha's Vineyard Co-operative Bank's sponsorship of the event will provide funding to demonstrate a music therapy program on the Island, to benefit the community. The program will be implemented by Berklee's Music Therapy Department, one of the largest such undergraduate programs in the U.S., with nearly 100 students enrolled.

Both Berklee and B/R Creative appear to be very committed to keeping the Vineyard Vibes tradition alive. In past summers they have brought such diverse talent as jazz fusionist John Scofield, Grammy award-winning jazz saxophonist Joe Lovano, and pop/folk singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn to the Island.

Lipman and Rosenthal pledge to continue to bring in the best contemporary music performers. "We'll keep the Latin jazz tradition going," Mr. Lipman promised. "But we're looking at a new mix for next year. We're hoping to present a country/bluegrass performer. That genre is really taking off at Berklee and across the country."

Barry Rosenthal summed up his take on Vineyard Vibes this way: "If you play it, they will come."

For Vineyard Vibes information or tickets, call 508-693-0305 or visit

Karla Araujo is a tennis instructor and freelance writer who lives in Key West, Fla., and Martha's Vineyard.