Nat's Nook, the Island's newest listening room

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

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

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.”

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.