July Fourth weekend on Martha’s Vineyard arrives with one of the summer’s most anticipated musical events: the annual Stars + Stripes Festival, on Saturday, July 2, to benefit the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard.
According to Jessica Daniels, assistant director of mission advancement at the YMCA, since its conception in 2011, the Stars + Stripes Festival has raised over $300,000 benefiting the YMCA’s mission to provide financial assistance to families, seniors, and children.
This year’s concert is particularly special. It will be the last show held at Flatbread Co., the historic venue originally founded as the Hot Tin Roof, which opened to much fanfare in 1979, a victory against conservative voices that opposed the concept of a nightclub on a family-oriented island.
Three Island residents had hatched the idea and turned it into reality: pop music star Carly Simon, then married to James Taylor; George Brush, now a West Tisbury lawyer and businessman Herb Putnam, who died in 2008. They were young. They loved the Vineyard. They loved music. After months of very visible battles with Island officials and prominent citizens, a license was granted for the seasonal operation of a dine-and-dance establishment four miles from the center of Edgartown.
On Saturday, the now-closed Flatbread Co. will open its doors one last time to this exciting festival. Although Flatbread is in the process of changing ownership, the past and future owners collaborated with the Island community to give the popular YMCA fundraiser a venue.
Festival organizers Derek Davies and Lizzy Plapinger say the Flatbread venue is their dream location. “I have memories as far back as I can remember sneaking into the Hot Tin Roof, then working and seeing shows when it was Outerland,” Ms. Plapinger said. “Now, to bring all that full circle and put on our own festival at such an iconic and historical location is really a dream come true.”
This year’s lineup is packed with a variety of talented musicians, thanks to the sponsorship of Mr. Davies and Ms. Plapinger’s label, Neon Gold Records. The 2016 Stars + Stripes Festival will once again feature the electronic rock band Magic Man, led by guitarist Sam Vanderhoop Lee of Aquinnah and vocalist Alex Caplow.
The duo began writing songs together in the summer of 2009 while traveling in the south of France volunteering on organic farms. When they got back to the U.S., they were ready to launch a band.
“I’ve always felt the Vineyard is an inspiring and creative place,” Mr. Lee said. “There are so many artists and other creative people here doing amazing things, so it’s always pretty awesome to come home and channel a bit of the Island’s magic into our music.”
For Mr. Lee and Mr. Caplow, live shows are an essential part of Magic Man. “It’s a great way to win over new fans, keep older fans excited about the band, and add a new dimension to the music that you might not get from just hearing the recordings,” Mr. Lee said.
Magic Man will be joined onstage by rising Neon Gold superstars Tigertown, an Australian indie-alternative band of five musicians (including two sets of siblings) who came together as a group in 2011. Their popularity exploded after they self-recorded their single EP “Lonely Cities.”
“I have never been to Martha’s Vineyard, but I’m really excited to check it out and hear some new music,” Tigertown keyboardist Alexi Collins said. “I understand it’s a pretty amazing place with an awesome music scene.” Two of his Tigertown bandmates attended the the 2015 Stars + Stripes Festival. “They talk a lot about the barbecue,” Mr. Collins said. “Australians seem to be famous for barbecues, but we’ve learned that Americans do it way better.”
Los Angeles breakout brother-sister indie pop band XYLO will also perform. Their hit song “America,” a hazy pop ballad about love and freedom, has gained momentum on the charts.
Last but not least is Crooked Coast, formed in Woods Hole in 2012. Their music was a local hit from the beginning, and they have since toured the East Coast, the Virgin Islands, and most recently California, where they promoted their latest album, “Wildlife.”
“The future of music is live,” Luke Vose of Crooked Coast said. “I think that no matter how great your albums and videos are, there is no substitute for sharing a real moment with people. Every great live show is like a wonderful surprise.” This is Crooked Coast’s first Stars + Stripes festival, and they are honored to be on the bill. “The music scene on the Vineyard is pretty incredible. It’s really diverse and super-supportive,” Mr. Vose said.
Each year, two talented local teens from the YMCA’s Alex’s Place Teen Center are given the opportunity to open the show and perform alongside the headliners. This year’s teen performers are Nate D’Angelo, 18, and Kasey Stevenson, 17. Mr. D’Angelo began teaching himself guitar online at age 12. He made his first appearance at Stars + Stripes at age 14.
“Stars + Stripes was a really great confidence boost for a 14-year-old kid, sharing a stage with nationally touring bands,” Mr. D’Angelo said. “It will be cool to come back and see what it’s like with some more experience under my belt.”
Supporting Island youth is important to Mr. Davies and Ms. Plapinger, who became best friends on the Island as campers, then counselors at the Chilmark Community Center. “We would drive around the Island playing our favorite new music for one another, so our connection as friends and to music has always felt intrinsically tied to our experience and love for Martha’s Vineyard,” Ms. Plapinger said. By the time they were juniors in college, the friends were ready to take their passion for music one step further, and created Neon Gold Records.
The connections made through Neon Gold made the dream of an Island festival a reality. “We’ve made so many incredible personal and professional relationships with so many musicians that part of bringing them to the Island was to share what we all know and feel is so special about the Vineyard,” Ms. Plapinger said. They chose the YMCA as a beneficiary, because it reminded them of their own Vineyard camp experience. “It felt like the same kind of environment for kids on Island, but year-round,” Ms. Plapinger said. “It’s really a beautiful feeling to be able to combine our love of music and the Island and to be able to give back the best way we know how. At the end of the day, this is our version of a love letter to the place and people who helped inspire and support us on our path in music.”
Stars + Stripes Festival: Saturday, July 2, Flatbread Co., Edgartown, 7 pm. 21-plus. Tickets are $30 in advance, $35 the day of the show. For more information, visit ymcamv.org.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Carly Simon as the sole founder of the Hot Tin Roof. The storied nightclub’s founders included George Brush and Herb Putnam.