Music

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Pianist Jeremy Berlin and guitarist Eric T. Johnson pack the community program room at the West Tisbury library.

Eric Johnson on guitar and Jeremy Berlin on piano perform to a captive audience at the West Tisbury library. – Photo by Larisa Stinga

Last Sunday at the West Tisbury library, pianist Jeremy Berlin and guitarist Eric T. Johnson performed a selection of jazz standards, originals, and lesser-known numbers to a packed crowd in the library’s community program room. The duo, who play weekly on Tuesday evenings at Offshore Ale Co., formed 15 years ago, and have developed a highly interactive style inspired by, among others, the 1960s duo recordings of Bill Evans and Jim Hall.

Pianist Jeremy Berlin plays a set of jazz standards, originals and lesser known numbers at the West Tisbury library. – Photo by Larisa Stinga
Pianist Jeremy Berlin plays a set of jazz standards, originals and lesser known numbers at the West Tisbury library. – Photo by Larisa Stinga

Mr. Berlin explained that the combination of their instruments, piano and guitar, is not common, because they produce a similar midrange tone that takes up the same (musical) space. Given their closeness, they can be hard to distinguish, and musicians have to be conscious of staying out of each other’s way. But when done right, as in the case of Mr. Berlin and Mr. Johnson’s set, the combination can produce really beautiful music.

The captive audience sat with smiling eyes and swayed to the rhythms of the duo’s renditions of “Falling Angel” from Bill Evans and Jim Hall’s Intermodulation album, Steve Swallow’s “Falling Grace,” the popular country song “The Tennessee Waltz,” “Love, Gloom, Cash, Love” by jazz pianist Herbie Nichols, and Charlie Parker’s “Barbados,” among others. One attendee, Katrina Nevin, listened while drawing a sketch of flowers inspired by the music, with the title “Free jazz in winter.”

Guitarist Eric Johnson has been playing with pianist Jeremy Berlin for fifteen years. – Photos by Larisa Stinga
Guitarist Eric Johnson has been playing with pianist Jeremy Berlin for fifteen years. – Photos by Larisa Stinga

Jeremy Berlin and Eric T. Johnson perform every Tuesday night at 6:30 pm at Offshore Ale Co. in Oak Bluffs. The West Tisbury library offers ongoing events for the community, including music, art, crafts, and and workshops. Visit westtisburylibrary.org for more information.

Mike Benjamin will play at the Chilmark Community Center to benefit the Chilmark School PTO. – File photo by Susan Safford

Join the Chilmark School PTO and Outing Program at their annual school fundraiser, the Red Hot Blues Bash, featuring the Mike Benjamin Band this Saturday from 7 pm to 11 pm at the Chilmark Community Center. It’s sure to be a fun night on the town, with live music, silent/live auction, desserts, and more. The silent auction includes more than 50 truly unique items, and desserts and beverages are included with admission. This is a 21-plus event. Tickets can be purchased for $20 online at ticketsmv.com/chilmark or at the door. For more information, call 508-645-2562.

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Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish get the crowd moving in support of children’s dance education.

Felicity Russell capturing people's attention with her original moves at The Yard’s “Public Dancing Allowed!!!” event. – Photo by Larisa Stinga

Up-Island last Friday night was cold, clear, and quiet. Unless, of course, you were at the Chilmark Community Center, where Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish brought rhythm and heat to every able body inside those polished wood walls. “Just try to sit still,” said octogenarian Leigh Smith of Vineyard Haven, as she swayed to the bluesy grooves of the beloved Vineyard band.

The Yard, known as the progressive dance collective of choreographers, artists, and educators, which hosts world-class dance performances all summer, is equally invested in bringing dance education to Island children and youth year-round. Director of Island Programs and Education Jesse Keller explained that all proceeds of Friday night’s lively event would go towards “Making It: Kids Make Dance” –– a visionary, mobile, and diverse dance-education program that collaborates with local institutions to bring music and movement to kids from kindergarten to high school.

Standing to greet members of the community who had come to shake off the week with joyful abandon, the artistic and executive director of The Yard, David White, articulated the exciting interdisciplinary curriculum designed by “Making It” for Vineyard kids. Mr. White, passionate about what his community-based organization can accomplish, explained that when people think about art education, they typically think of the visual arts, yet there’s a real need to expose youth to the range of what dance and performance art encompass. By bringing guest musicians and dance educators to the Island, Mr. White and Ms. Keller intend to interweave cultural anthropology and mathematics with music and dance traditions to form a dynamic and unique program.

Johnny Hoy and The Bluefish warm up the crowd at the beginning of the night. – Photo by Larisa Stinga
Johnny Hoy and The Bluefish warm up the crowd at the beginning of the night. – Photo by Larisa Stinga

Glancing across the lively crowd Friday night, one thing was certain: Dance makes people happy. It was a family-oriented event that brought out Islanders as young as 5 years old, that moved the feet of twisters, hipsters, and gen-Xers, creating a truly unique sight. Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish have to be credited for drawing out the rhythm in everyone, but The Yard’s “Public Dancing Allowed!!!” event helped closet any fear of dancing for all to see.

Managing Director of The Yard Alison Manning beautifully expressed what the ultimate value of dancing as a community embodies: “This is the most basic and communally accessible art form. Everyone comes out of the womb moving. Having a shared language of movement is something a community can do together easily… giving children, adults, and seniors the language of movement to share with one another is opening a little piece of joy. Why would we not want to dance together?”

Michael Briggs and his dance partner Holiday Janet dance to the music of Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish. – Photo by Larisa Stinga
Michael Briggs and his dance partner Holiday Janet dance to the music of Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish. – Photo by Larisa Stinga

If you were one of the unfortunate ones who missed Friday’s event, Ms. Keller assured the glowing audience, saying, “There will be plenty more to come. This is the first of what we hope can be a monthly night, because it really benefits our program, not only in terms of fundraising, but in letting the community know what the program is all about. So, thank you for coming, have fun, and dance!”

For more information about The Yard and their educational programming, visit dancetheyard.org.

The All-Island Elementary String Concert takes the stage.

From left: Victoria Scott, Molly Pogue, Jack Holmes and Matthew Fish played in the advanced orchestra violins section. – Photo by Maria Thibobeau

Last Thursday, students from all of the Island’s elementary schools, as well as one homeschooler, showed off their musical talents in the All-Island Elementary String Concert at the Performing Arts Center at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.

Jonathan Norton on the viola and Finn Lewis on the cello. – Photo by Maria Thibobeau
Jonathan Norton on the viola and Finn Lewis on the cello. – Photo by Maria Thibobeau

The more skilled students in the advanced orchestra played an arrangement of “The Bird” (Finale from String Quartet Op. 33, No. 3) by Franz Joseph Haydn, “Ironclad” by Sean O’Laughlin, and “Rock Bottom Boogie” by Robert Longfield. The intermediate orchestra played the “Batman Theme” by Neal Hefti, arranged by Bob Cerulli.

The Martha’s Vineyard Elementary String Program sponsored the concert which showcased a wide range of student skills and provided a delightful evening of music for family, friends and the Island community.

Katherine Chvatal and Rodeo Purves-Langer play violins at The All-Island Elementary String Concert last Thursday.– Photo by Maria Thibobeau
Katherine Chvatal and Rodeo Purves-Langer play violins at The All-Island Elementary String Concert last Thursday.– Photo by Maria Thibobeau

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Mother and son Jemima James and Willy Mason treat the audience to a duet. -Photographs by Larisa Stinga

Among the many new off-season initiatives recently launched by the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, the latest — Island Moon Coffeehouse — got off to a great start last Thursday. Folk veteran Jemima James recruited her son, acclaimed singer/songwriter and recording artist Willy Mason, for a mother/son lineup that heated up a cold winter night.

Ms. James will be organizing and hosting the monthly Island Moon Coffeehouse at the Playhouse throughout the rest of the winter and spring months. She will reach out to talent from among her friends and associates, and be on the search for young, local, up-and-coming musicians to introduce to Island audiences.

All the performers together, from left, Georgie Gude, Willy Mason, Jemima James, Shawn Barber, Marciana Jones, Nina Violet, Josh Campbell and Stu Gardener.
All the performers together, from left, Georgie Gude, Willy Mason, Jemima James, Shawn Barber, Marciana Jones, Nina Violet, Josh Campbell and Stu Gardener.

“There’s a whole lot of talent around,” said Ms. James in a post-show interview; “I’m just gonna funnel it in there.”

A good representation of that talent was on display at the inaugural event. No fewer than eight artists showed off their varied talents to an enchanted crowd. Ms. James opened the evening performing some of her standard songs, along with a few covers and some new material that will be included on a soon-to-be-released recording titled When We Get Old. The Playhouse show featured the lineup from her record.

Last October, Ms. James spent two weeks recording songs for her upcoming release at a studio in the Catskills. She brought along members of local band Good Night Louise as her accompanists. The popular band, who play often around the Island, boasts a cast of very skilled musicians. It was a real treat to get a chance to witness such a tight unit backing up Ms. James’ talent.

Harmonicist Georgie Gude warmed up the crowd with a solo, before the other Good Night Louise members took to the stage. The lineup also included  Shawn “Bones” Barber and Stu Gardener on guitar, Josh Campbell on standup bass, and Nina Violet, who played clarinet and violin and provided background vocals along with her sister Marciana Jones.

Ms. James offered her unique blend of folk, country, and blues, delivered in a laid-back style. Though many of her songs are quite countrified, the tunes are original, catchy, and never formulaic. The show set a mood perfect for a cold winter evening. The audience comfortably filled the spacious lobby area, settling in to a cluster of cocktail tables facing the stage. The Playhouse acoustics are fabulous. The full sound of the large ensemble filled the room. It was a wonderful, communal, and comfortable experience, much like listening to the rumble of distant thunder while sitting in front of a warm crackling fire with friends.

Jemima James sings a Bill Haley (famous for  "See you later alligator" ) song.
Jemima James sings a Bill Haley (famous for “See you later alligator” ) song.

As always, it’s a pleasure to hear local hero Willy Mason, and he certainly didn’t disappoint. He played a mix of his classics, along with treating the audience to a few older songs that he plays less frequently. Mr. Mason somehow combines a genuine warmth and a little shyness with the professionalism of a seasoned live performer. His songs are as affecting and emotionally stirring as they are highly personal.

Willy Mason and Marciana Jones perform together.
Willy Mason and Marciana Jones perform together.

Recently Mr. Mason has been performing with his wife Marciana Jones on backing vocals. Her voice is a nice counterpoint to Mr. Mason’s rough-edged sound, adding a touch of brightness to songs that are often a little melancholic, without competing with her husband’s strong and unique sound. Mr. Mason has a genius for pulling a lot of nuance from his voice while staying in a somewhat confined, confessional range. It’s precision that comes off as effortless, charming, and above all, sincere.

“He gets stronger and stronger every time he goes out on the road,” said Ms. James,  who notes that her son has been doing short tours with Ms. Jones in preparation for an upcoming two-month tour with Ben Howard; “it’s given me a lot of inspiration to see how strongly he’s developed by just going out on the road and doing the music all the time.”

Sisters Nina Violet and Marciana Jones grew up with Mr. Mason, and the three have been supporting one another’s musical efforts since high school. “It’s really wonderful to have these two families joined in this way,” said Ms. James.

Future Island Moon events will most likely include Ms. Violet and Ms. Jones — both strong songwriters and performers in their own right. Good Night Louise will also be making future appearances performing their own original music. “Shawn Barber is a terrific writer,” said Ms. James. “Good Night Louise has a very strong following of their own.”

There’s plenty more local talent to be tapped for upcoming shows. Ms. James is reaching out to other singer/songwriters, but also plans to mix in a few other musical genres.

Playhouse artistic and managing director M.J. Bruder Munafo is enthusiastic about the collaboration with Ms. James. She’s hoping to build an audience for the handful of new events she’s introduced this winter. Among those are cabaret evenings hosted by Molly Conole, poetry readings hosted by Arnie Reisman, and weekly screenings of classic movies selected by Jamie Alley (visit mvplayhouse.org for the full schedule).

“I have a new formula,” said Ms. Bruder Munafo; “find somebody enormously talented and put them in charge. I love having this programming in what I like to call ‘the Islander’s season.’”

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Music returns to the venue that was once Che’s Lounge

Charlotte Benjamin, left, and Elijah Berlow perform together as the Fruit Flies at Nat's Nook in Vineyard Haven. – Photo by Maria Thibodeau

Good news for those fondly reminiscing about evenings spent at the former Che’s Lounge in Vineyard Haven: Live music has returned to the space that now houses coffee shop and creperie Nat’s Nook. Last Friday at the cozy spot just off Main Street, Vineyard Haven, a full house enjoyed mini performances by a variety of singers and songwriters. The event served as the kickoff for a venture organized by musician Alex Karalekas that will present a concert every Friday evening, hopefully continuing into the summer months with some off-Island imports participating.

The evening’s performers ranged from up-and-coming amateurs to fixtures on the Vineyard music scene to successful recording and performing artists. Everyone played two or three songs in what proved to be a very democratic, ego-free showcase of Vineyard talent.

Ben Taylor and Kate Taylor performing a cover of James Taylor's "You Can Close Your Eyes." – Photo by Maria Thibodeau
Ben Taylor and Kate Taylor performing a cover of James Taylor’s “You Can Close Your Eyes.” – Photo by Maria Thibodeau

The highlight of the evening came when three members of the illustrious Taylor family entertained the crowd in back-to-back performances. Isaac Taylor lent his soulful voice to a handful of original tunes, including a haunting antiwar song called “When Will We Rise?” Then Ben Taylor took the mic for a short set prefaced by a very funny story about his recent appearance at a jazz festival.

Ben finished his set by inviting his aunt Kate Taylor to join him for his final song, one which was written by James Taylor and recorded by Kate.

It was a real treat to hear a lineup of the musical Taylors in an intimate setting. It was equally a pleasure to get a glimpse of some of the emerging talent, including 18-year-old Charlotte Benjamin, who harmonized with singer and guitarist Elijah Berlowe. The two perform together as the Fruit Flies. Ms. Benjamin, daughter of musician Mike Benjamin, has a remarkable voice — sweet and emotive.

“It’s rare that you have a packed place and have people being quiet and listening,” said Ms. Benjamin after her Friday-night set.

That sort of atmosphere is exactly what Mr. Karalekas had in mind. “There’s really nothing on the Vineyard for musicians except pub gigs and the [Chilmark] potlucks, which don’t happen often enough,” said the “Songs at the Nook” organizer. “The potlucks don’t give musicians the opportunity to showcase a full set. They can only play two songs.” Future Nat’s Nook events will feature two or three acts.

For years Mr. Karalekas has been organizing the occasional potluck musical evenings at the Chilmark Community Center. This past weekend he was particularly busy. On Saturday he gathered a variety of musicians for one of the popular potluck evenings, which included many of the Friday-night performers as well as dozens of others.

Since the closing of Che’s Lounge many years ago, a couple of other venues have experimented with live music. The most successful venture was the Pit Stop on Dukes County Avenue in Oak Bluffs, which hosted music and other events during 2011 and 2012. Since then, fans and performers of original music haven’t had much of a space to call their own.

“For me it’s so exciting to have someone open their doors to us and provide a place for the more serious artists to be showcased,” said Mr. Karalekas. “Playing the pubs means doing covers, and people are noisy and drunk.”

Nat’s Nook will be a true listening room, where audiences can gather primarily for the music. Of course, socializing is a big part of the experience too. On Friday a very diverse crowd had the chance to catch up with friends and feast on sweet and savory crepes, pastries, and coffee and tea.

Another big advantage over the bar scene is that all ages are welcome. “Kids here have nothing going on,” said Mr. Karalekas (he did mention the weekly open-mic nights at the Teen Center as another alternative). “It’s always been a problem here. When kids get to be 19 years old, they still can’t participate in adult activities. It’s an extra source of anxiety.”

Songwriter Anthony Esposito strums on the guitar and sings at Nat's Nook. – Photo by Maria Thibodeau
Songwriter Anthony Esposito strums on the guitar and sings at Nat’s Nook. – Photo by Maria Thibodeau

Plenty of younger people were in attendance at the inaugural event, but the crowd was truly a mix of all ages. The atmosphere was cozy, with a cluster of small tables facing the performance area in front of picture windows looking out onto the courtyard. Candlelight provided a soft glow. A piano on loan from David Stanwood, guitars, and other instruments were available for participating musicians. Musician Anthony Esposito served as soundman. Many in attendance remarked that the scene was very reminiscent of the old Che’s Lounge.

Mr. Karalekas is grateful to Nat’s Nook owner Natalie Grewar for providing the space and also to the owner of the former Che’s, P.J. Woodford, who created and maintained a great spot for local and visiting talent for many years. “I want to give P.J. credit for getting us going. As much of a renegade, rebel soul that he is, he deserves a lot of credit.”

Judging by the size of the crowd on Friday and the enthusiastic response, Nat’s Nook will likely establish itself as a go-to hot spot for music fans on the Vineyard. Get there early to secure a table, and enjoy a coffee and one of their delicious crepes featuring interesting fillings.

On Friday, Jan. 9, the lineup will include sets by Nina Violet, Rose Guerin, and the Fruit Flies (Charlotte Benjamin and Elijah Berlow). Showtime is 7 pm to 10 pm. Nat’s Nook is open for breakfast and lunch every day from 7 am to 4 pm.  

Good Night Louise will play alongside Jemima James on Saturday night. —Photo courtesy Jemima James

Local singer-songwriter Jemima James will headline a concert at the Katharine Cornell Theatre on Saturday, Nov. 29, at 8 pm. She will be joined by Island folk-rock group Good Night Louise. Ms. James’s latest album, “Nothing New,” was released in February. Good Night Louise is a staple at Island venues, and frequently backs Ms. James during live shows. Admission to the concert is $10. For more information, call 774-521-6182 or visit jemimajames.bandcamp.com.

Musical director Molly Conole will lead Saturday's cabaret. —Photo courtesy of M.V. Playhouse

On Saturday, November 15, the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse will resound with music, laughter, and a bit of nostalgia for the season’s first Wicked Good Winter Cabaret. From the Wilkommen greeting to the Jacques Brel finale, the cabaret — entitled Beginnings — is a romp. Singers Molly Conole, Kenny Romero, and Paul Munafo will perform with the accompaniment of pianist Phil Dietterich.

Under the direction of Ms. Conole, the program features works from 14 Broadway musicals, some familiar and some less so. The performers are highly experienced theater people, so expect action, amusement, and a whole evening of lively entertainment with a large helping of humor.

Kenny Romero has been acting since he was a kid with Island Theatre Workshop. He returned to the Island after working in New York, on Broadway, off Broadway, with Broadway tours, and as an entertainer on cruise ships.

Phil Dietterich retired to the Island more than 20 years ago after a career as minister of music at First Methodist Church in Westfield, New Jersey. Not one to take retirement seriously, Phil is in charge of the piano at many Island venues.

Molly Conole has also come home to the Island, after many years in New York and Florida, singing with the Light Opera of Manhattan and at Walt Disney World.

Paul Munafo, well-known to Playhouse audiences as an actor, shared another of his talents in the rebuilding of the the Playhouse. Saturday’s show will be performed in the Marilyn Meyerhoff Lobby, where Mr. Munafo’s artistry in wood is on display.

As for the tunes, they are guaranteed to draw you in, and you may very well hum them on the way home.

“Beginnings,” Wicked Good Winter Cabaret, Saturday, November 15, 7:30 pm, Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, Church Street, Vineyard Haven. Tickets $20 in advance or at the box office. For more information, call 508-696-6300 or visit vineyardplayhouse.org.

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New York musician Garrett Manley performed at Salt this past Sunday. — Photo by Gwyn McAllister

In a cozy barn-like building lit by candles, a small crowd gathered on overstuffed couches, chairs, and rustic wooden benches to hear a lone musician play guitar, improvising a jazzy set, accompanied by the sound of chirping insects and a soft breeze from across the Lagoon.

It’s a scene reminiscent of a group of friends enjoying a casual get together, except that the backdrop is shelves of jeans and a few old rock posters — The Velvet Underground, John and Yoko — and the makeshift stage area is surrounded by racks of flannel shirts, vintage dresses, and shelves of boots and shoes.

The boutique Salt MV on Lagoon Pond Road in Vineyard Haven has hosted musical evenings since the beginning of August. Last Sunday’s entertainment was provided by jazz guitarist Garrett Manley of Brooklyn, N.Y.

This Thursday, Sept. 4, Lexie Roth is the featured entertainer. Ms. Roth has released three CDs of her own and has been featured on albums with Keith Richards, Slash, Steve Miller, Levon Helm, and her father, Arlen Roth, a famed guitarist, guitar teacher, and writer. Ms. Roth has performed in venues throughout the country including the Montauk Music Festival on Long Island. She will be joined at Salt by Maesa Pullman of California.

The funky shop, located by the entrance to Veterans Field, carries clothing, shoes, jewelry, and home décor items. It has been open, somewhat under the radar, for the past 15 years. This summer, owner John Zannini decided to increase hours and visibility to some extent. The store has been open since August and on occasional evenings the rustic space features live music.

Manager Sabra Saperstein, who took over the day-to-day operations earlier this summer, has been responsible for recruiting musicians. So far the lineup has been a mix of locals and friends of Ms. Saperstein from her off-season home of Brooklyn. “It’s been a great opportunity to have friends come and visit and get some beach time and play music,” she said.

It’s also provided a new spot for music lovers to check out performances in a quiet space that’s a far cry from the bar scene. The music tends towards neo folk — solo acts or duos – and the lofty space makes a great listening room, similar to that of The Pit Stop in Oak Bluffs, which closed a year and a half ago.

The season’s entertainment schedule kicked off with a guest DJ from New York on August 1. The first live performance was by local songstress Nina Violet, who brought on board a musician friend who was visiting from Australia. So far there have been about half a dozen shows featuring to mostly solo acts and groups who play around the New York area.

Last weekend’s musical evening featured jazz guitarist Garrett Manley, who plays regularly with New York groups and occasionally as a solo act in bars and clubs around Brooklyn. He played a number of impromptu arrangements of old jazz standards on a 1965 Gibson guitar with an amazing sound. The tall vaulted roof of the old wooden building with rough plank flooring provided excellent acoustics. People wandered in and out enjoying the cozy ambience and watermelon juice refreshments provided by the store, as well as the balmy evening breeze.

For those inclined to shop, there is plenty to browse through. The store carries a selection of reasonably priced vintage, including lots of old Levis, flannel shirts, and leather goods. Mr. Zannini, a designer who has worked variously for Ralph Lauren,Filson, and Vineyard Vines, has gathered a wide range of jeans, from the American made brand Wild Ass, which sell for $35, to some of the the higher end brands such as the hip Brooklyn Denim.

There are racks and a selection of shoes and boots including some used as well as some new boots from Filson. A counter display case holds a good selection of jewelry, a mix of old and new items from independent designers. There are beaded bracelets, interesting leather cuffs, and some wampum. The large center space is surrounded by unpainted indoor/outdoor statuary. Buddhas and other Eastern figures in a range of sizes are found resting on the floors and shelves and spilling out down the outside steps.

It’s an eclectic mix and a fun space to wander around. Browsers are always welcome. Check out the store during the daylight hours before the racks get pushed aside for evening performances. Or just drop in for a relaxed evening of music and socializing.

Salt MV is open daily from 10 am to 7 pm. Music with Lexie Roth and Maesa Pullman on Thursday, Sept. 4, at 8 pm. Free. BYO refreshments. For future music events, visit Salt MV’s Facebook page.

From left: Wendy Reynoso, Michael Urso, and Kelly Griffith at last year's Best Fest. — Angelina Godbout

This weekend, The Extraordinary Rendition Band is back for the fifth annual Best Fest, a benefit for WVVY LP Community Radio, 93.7 FM. Best Fest is a musical parade that will march up Circuit Avenue on Saturday, Sept. 6, from 8 to 9 pm, and then again perform in Ocean Park at the bandstand on Sunday, Sept. 7, from 6 to 8:30 pm.

“We’re always thinking outside the box about ways to make things more interesting for our annual celebration of music, art, craft, sustainability, and home,” organizer Rob Myers wrote in a press release. “This year we’ve upped the ante by hiring a bus for the 20-piece marching band and we’ll be spending the weekend touring Martha’s Vineyard, performing in many places.” The aforementioned events are the only scheduled performances, but be on the lookout for impromptu events over the weekend.