Thirty years later: Looking back on the Vineyard Peace Concert ’86

Carly Simon and Jesse Colin Young. — Peter Simon

Thirty years ago this week, on a hot and sunny summer day at the MVRHS football field, 3,500 concertgoers came to celebrate peace and enjoy live music, food, and crafts at the Vineyard Peace Concert ’86. Headliners as prominent as the Band and Jesse Colin Young came to the Island for an all-day concert that included artists such as Holly Near, Jon Pousette-Dart, Urban Blight, and Cheryl Wheeler, with a guest appearance by Carly Simon. Hugh Taylor and Judy Belushi co-hosted. Then-Senator John Kerry gave a speech. In the Cold War era, the concert helped raise understanding and awareness surrounding nuclear disarmament and activism, bringing people together to listen to good music, dance, and enjoy themselves.

The festival came about as the collective brainchild of local co-producers Jacalyn Kane and Donna Bouchard. The Times spoke with Ms. Kane about how it happened. “I had been producing large benefits with different celebrities, like Meryl Streep and Helen Caldicott, for nuclear disarmament, but they were not music events,” Ms. Kane said. “I approached Donna when I met her and said, ‘What do you think about combining our experience to create a large peace concert together? You have music experience and I have large event experience. Let’s do it for the nuclear freeze. We decided we would create this Vineyard peace concert with a focus around awareness for nuclear disarmament.”

The local radio station, WMVY, was excited about the concert and generous with support. They conducted and aired interviews with artists and helped announce the upcoming festival. William Waterway, then known as Billy Marks, a central cultural figure in Martha’s Vineyard history, produced a video for the local TV station as well. Ms. Kane spoke about the political figures who made contributions. “I knew John Kerry, and I asked him to speak. He came over by sailboat and he talked about the importance of a nuclear freeze,” she said. The event planners found themselves caught up in an event whose interest and size grew exponentially. She continued, “We did press releases every week, and it started to become larger-than-life. There were craftspeople, there were different food vendors. It caught on, and pretty soon it snowballed.”

Hugh Taylor, who now owns the Outermost Inn, remembers the day well. “I can remember being onstage, and I can still picture people’s faces,” Mr. Taylor told The Times. “It’s funny, if I saw those faces today, I could remember who they were. They were so full of excitement and sort of wrapped up in what was really a pretty impressive gathering of people, not only of artists, but the audience itself was really invested in having a good time. I sat in with Levon [Helm] and the Band, and it was great.”

Those who attended shared their memories as well. “It was a great show, fantastic,”

Edgartown resident and local musician Andy Muir said. “Everyone danced, and the Band was awesome. All of the musicians were incredible. This was big.”

Ms. Kane also remembers the day fondly: “It was amazing. The entire field was full. It looked to us like a little mini Woodstock. People were barefoot and dancing. It was very reminiscent of the ’60s and ’70s. That’s what it felt like out there.”

What is the legacy of the Vineyard Peace Concert ‘86? “I think that it took on a life of its own,” Ms. Kane said. “People I run into now have lots of memories of it. I don’t know how much it really did in terms of helping to end nuclear proliferation, which was what our goal was, but I think anything anyone was doing at the time to speak out about that issue had a ripple effect.

“I think it was also, in a way, nostalgic. Even though people have this memory of it as a cool, fun event, we were also trying to carry on this feeling that was still around on Martha’s Vineyard. The hippie peace movement was still alive and well. We were honoring that, trying to preserve it and bring it forward.”