Stars + Stripes draws top talent and big crowds for the YMCA

Photo courtesy of the YMCA

Updated July 7

The YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard’s annual Stars + Stripes music festival celebrated its 5th birthday on Friday at Flatbread Company in Edgartown. Over 750 people attended, indulging in pizza and libations, as four big-name bands and two young local singers filled the restaurant with dancing and music that could be heard as far as the MV Airport down the road.

Since the festival’s conception in 2010, Stars + Stripes founders Derek Davies and Lizzy Plapinger have brought nearly 20 high profile bands to the Island, given ten local students the opportunity to perform before large audiences, and raised over $400,000 in ticket sales and sponsorship donations–100% of which directly benefits the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard.

The larger community contributed to the night’s success. Offshore Ale was the official beer sponsor and Our Market was the official Liquor and Wine sponsor for the event.  Giveaways were generously donated by Norton Point, Vineyard Vines, and Lululemon for the sponsors and first 100 attendees.

As one of the Island’s only music festivals (Martha’s Vineyard Sound Fest takes place at Waban Park in Oak Bluffs next weekend), Stars + Stripes sold out all 700 tickets this year, (as with all previous years), but this marked the first time that tickets sold out in advance of the show.

The highly anticipated evening began at 7:30 pm, when director of YMCA’s teen program Alex’s Place, Tony Lombardi, took the stage.

“You can’t keep a good thing down,” Mr. Lombardi said of the festival and its commitment to the local community, before introducing two young musicians from Alex’s Place who, as tradition goes, open the show each year.

This year, Oak Bluffs School student Leah Hairston became the youngest Stars + Stripes performer at age 12, with her rendition of “House of the Rising Sun.” Upcoming Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School freshman Robert Hanjian followed with an Oasis cover.

The Times sat down with Mr. Davies and Ms. Plapinger for an interview as the first headlining group of the night, indie rock band Santah, began to play.

“Stars + Stripes is really about giving back to the community,” said Mr. Davies, as Santah singer Vivian McConnell saturated the restaurant’s dance floor and garden area with passionate vocals.

“Martha’s Vineyard is our favorite place in the world,” Ms. Plapinger agreed.

The pair met at the Chilmark Community Center as kids and bonded over their love of music and the Island. They founded record label Neon Gold Records in 2008 and began bringing members of the Neon Gold family to the Island for the first Stars + Stripes in 2011.

In honor of the festival’s fifth anniversary, Mr. Davies and Ms. Plapinger organized a “greatest hits” version of Stars + Stripes by inviting past headliners Alex Winston and Walk the Moon back to the stage. Walk the Moon is currently at the top of this summer’s music billboards with their hit “Shut Up and Dance.” Santah and NYC-based duo ASTR rounded off the bill with their Martha’s Vineyard debuts.

By Santah’s finale, the dance floor was filled with people of all ages (over 21 per the event’s policy). Alex Winston got everyone moving with her Stars + Stripes classics, followed by ASTR with an hour-long electronic/hip hop set.

According to Mr. Davies, the festival is as much about giving back to the Island as it is about giving back to their artists.

“As a touring artist, it’s so rare that you actually get to experience the places that you’re visiting. We like to be able to give that ability to the bands we work with,” Mr. Davies said.

In lieu of performance profit, Stars + Stripes artists receive a three-day, all-expenses-paid visit to the Island, donated largely by Beach Plum Inn in Chilmark.

Santah’s Stanton McConnell said of his Island experience, “As soon as we set foot on Martha’s Vineyard, I felt a strange peace within me… It’s also the only place I’ve ever sound checked in my swim trunks.”

When the highly anticipated Walk the Moon began to play just before midnight, the energy of the crowd was at its peak. Everyone sang in unison to covers of the Killers and Miley Cyrus, and the summer’s music season seemed to start with the first stanza of “Shut Up and Dance,” “Oh, don’t you dare look back/just keep your eyes on me.”

Along with it’s fundraising initiatives Stars + Stripes served as the kick off to the YMCA’s Summer Music Series and will be followed by several shows at Alex’s Place with special guests Dana Williams, We Are the New Generation, Amie Penwell, Ellis Paul, Charlie Nadler, and the series finale show with the Nashville Hitmakers on September 19 back at Flatbread. Tickets are available at