Good Night Louise: Roots kept real on Martha’s Vineyard

From left: Stuart Gardner, Geordie Gude, Larry Laverdure, Elissa Turnbull, Rob Myers ,and Shawn "Bones" Barber at the Allen Farm in Chilmark.

Good Night Louise is known for playing mellow tunes, but at the end of their set last Sunday, Aug. 19, they were wiling out.

Lead man Shawn “Bones” Barber had broken two strings in one song, but the band was all smiles at the end of their show on Flatbread’s outdoor stage.

Flatbread brought the band a plate of Island littlenecks, beer, and pizza – some of the perks of being the Island’s equivalent of rock stars. “The difference between here and the Cape – we wouldn’t be popular on the Cape at all. Here people appreciate original music,” said Mr. Barber.

The harmony-centric soft sound of the band was with it from the beginning. Harmonica player Geordie Gude thought back to the band’s first practice, “We started playing some songs, and Shawn goes, ‘Everybody turn it down.’ You really knew that everyone was listening.”

The band has now been around for two and a half years. Somewhere between one third and one half of the songs they play are written by Mr. Barber. Larry Laverdure plays bass for the band, Elissa Turnbull plays banjo, and Stuart Gardner plays guitar.

For most of the members of the band, Good Night Louise is their main band, something that Mr. Barber, as the band leader, values highly. A noted exception to this is musical journeyman Rob Myers, who plays drums for Good Night Louise but also plays in seven other bands.

Mr. Myers is out to set his personal record for most gigs played in a summer, and has a gig on most nights. “With this band I really love that I get to play the brushes,” said Mr. Myers. “For Master Exploder [his hard rock band] I really hit the drums as hard as I can.”

“It’s chill-out music. Job number one is to serve the song. No one is playing over anyone else,” Mr. Barber said. “We work hard at making harmonies happen. We’ve been playing for two and a half years now. It keeps getting better. There’s no stepping on each other’s toes, and at the end of night, we’re just having fun. Music people like the band, and that’s what matters to me. ”

The band is in high demand. By one member’s count they had played nine shows in July and were booked to play 10 in August. This summer they’ve played at The Ritz, Flatbread, The Pit Stop, The Yard, and at the Ag Fair, amongst other locales and private gigs. At a Slow Food benefit at The Allen Farm in Chilmark on the summer solstice, they plugged their amps directly into a windmill. “It was as natural as can be. We played until we couldn’t see anymore. That was great,” recalled Mr. Barber.

Their music is a folky medley of Americana and blues. “We call it country blues,” elaborates Mr. Barber. “Doc Watson called it ‘trad plus’ – traditional and more. We play Townes van Zandt…Rebel Country stuff. At wedding gigs we lose half our set list. Have you ever heard ‘Your cheating heart’? You can’t play that at a wedding.”

Mr. Barber was an English Marjor in college. He moved to Martha’s Vineyard in 1996, but then spent 11 years teaching at the Penikese Island School – a boarding school for struggling teenage boys. In 2001 he was selected as the MAAPS (Massachusetts Association of 766 Approved Private Schools) Special Needs Teacher of the Year.

He moved back to the Vineyard and played stand-up bass for a host of different Island bands, until eventually he decided to put his stand up-bass – named Louise – to bed and start “Good Night Louise.”

This past year the band started recording a CD in Elijah Weisner’s (of Kahoots) studio in Chilmark. They hope to have the CD finished sometime around Thanksgiving and to shop it around and see where it goes from there.

Mr. Barber wrote all of the songs on the album, and he says that love and loss are common themes. “Love is a thorny thing — those who say otherwise haven’t really felt it. That’s where a lot of the songwriting comes from,” he said.

He closed with some writing words of wisdom from Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style”: “‘Omit needless words.’ If it doesn’t serve the song, get rid of it.”

Goodnight Louise plays this Thursday, Aug. 23 at The Ritz in Oak Bluffs starting at 10 pm, and Sunday, Aug. 26, at 5 pm, at Flatbread, located near the airport. For more information, search Good Night Louise on Facebook.