Music : Chilmark jams
Musicians can be hard to track down in the summer, running wildly from bars to weddings to concerts. Music can be found every weekend, and there is always some kind of music during the week. After the summer the crowds depart Martha's Vineyard, but many of the musicians stay put for the winter. Alex Karalekas wanted to make sure that the musicians didn't hibernate, and last fall he organized the first Chilmark Potluck Jam at the Chilmark Community Center.
"Island musicians can thin out and disappear into the blended oblivion of the summer because of all the activity going on and all the money to be made," said Mr. Karalekas. "There's a more focused energy between Island musicians in the winter. They have more time on their hands and they're all trying to stick it out. That's why the potluck band jam that we do at the community center is the ultimate winter thing. It's Islanders coming out for Islanders."
Photo by Susan Safford
The idea of the first potluck was to have musicians play two or three songs apiece, and instead of admission, attendees brought food. The formula proved to be a winning one. Word of mouth about the event spread quickly, and with relatively little advertising the first jam drew around 100 people. After the success of the first event, the Chilmark selectmen gave Mr. Karalekas permission to organize more of the events, and the attendance at successive jams swelled to over 250 people.
Being a potluck held up-Island, the food is characteristically good and generally plentiful. Islanders come with freshly harvested greens before winter sets in, and for the next jam, held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Alex expects a wave of Thanksgiving overflow.
Photo by Ralph Stewart
The combination of a potluck dinner and musical performances perfectly utilizes the community center. The music is separated from the food table, allowing people to socialize around dinner without disturbing the stage, and the center is large enough to have a sizable dance floor while still managing an intimate setting.
"It's rewarding to play in front of your neighbors, and it's a great place to try out new material because you feel relaxed," says Jemima James, a West Tisbury songwriter and performer. "It's like playing in a really crowded living room. It feels less like a performance and more like a group effort."
The next event will have over 20 performers, a mix of regulars such as Ballywho, Nina Violet, Adam Howell and Willy Mason with some new faces, such as the high-school-aged band, Pierre. "There's talent growing out of the woodwork around here - young and old," says Mr. Karalekas. "It's pretty impressive. I've spent a lot of time going down to other musical scenes, and you just keep seeing these Bob Dylan and David Bowie clones. Coming back to Martha's Vineyard just makes you more excited about local musicians and their will to be authentic."
Photo by Ralph Stewart
The event is nonprofit. Mr. Karalekas uses his own sound system, and the selectmen allow the Chilmark Community Center to be used free of charge. Volunteers do all of the set up and take down, and work hard to make sure they leave the center spotless. The potluck's only source of income is a tip jar, which helps to offset the cost of purchasing disposable dining ware and taking the trash to the dump.
The potluck jam's celebration of community, music, and food may not be so much in the face of the Vineyard winter as it is a result of it. "The quality of the music here springs directly from the off-season," says Sofi Thanhauser, a musician who has played at previous potluck jams. "When it's freezing and isolated and unpleasant, people find that they have to play music just to get through the winter. The nice thing about the event is its community feel. Having community is about having kids, grownups, teenagers and the elderly all together in a place where they can have fun."
Potluck Chilmark Jam, Saturday, Nov. 29, 5 pm, Chilmark Community Center.
West Tisbury resident Ben Williams is a regular contributor to The Martha's Vineyard Times.