Friends, family, colleagues, and members of the community gathered at the Portuguese-American Club in Oak Bluffs on Wednesday to honor the life and accomplishments of local musician, fisherman, and stonemason Johnny Hoy, who was given the 34th Creative Living Award by the Permanent Endowment Fund (PEF).
“I’m honored to be thought of in the same list and breath as past award winners, they’re a bunch of heavy hitters,” said Mr. Hoy. “When Emily called me to say I won the award I thought, ‘The award for the most disorganized barn? The most dead boats in the backyard?’ But really, this is a beautiful surprise.”
The Creative Living Award celebrates an individual from Martha’s Vineyard who embodies the spirit of Ruth Bogan and her love for the Island. Every year the PEF recognizes a member of the community who, through “fine craftsmanship, creativity, and ingenuity,” have enriched the quality of life on the Island.
Many of Mr. Hoy’s friends and acquaintances thought the PEF did a great job selecting this year’s winner. Long time friends Roberta Kirn, John Abrams, Whit Griswold, and Jeremy Berlin sang his praises as a unique individual who followed his heart from one creative passion to the next. Ms. Kirn invited everyone in attendance to sing a short song together, a fitting tribute for Mr. Hoy. The PEF also made oyster knives, which were given away as party favors, to mark Mr. Hoy’s accomplishments as a fisherman.
“Johnny is one of the characters who makes Vineyard life richer for all of us. Richer than it could possibly be without him,” said Mr. Abrams. “To the Permanent Endowment, I say, ‘You really picked the right guy.’”
“It was abundantly clear to the Endowment board that Johnny Hoy was just the person for this award,” said Emily Bramhall, acting executive director of the PEF.
“It’s a real honor, it feels great,” Mr. Hoy said. “I feel a little silly about it, I’m standing here looking at about 15 people who deserve it just as much as I do. I like flying below the radar so it’s a little weird for me.”
Since he washed ashore in 1978, Johnny Hoy has been living creatively — fishing where he can, sleeping where he can, building houses and constructing fireplaces where he can. Among Mr. Hoy’s many accomplishments, he has raised three children and played over 5,000 gigs, according to his friend and bandmate Jeremy Berlin. Mr. Hoy also manages herring runs in Mill Brook, the Tiasquam River, and James Pond.
“Here’s a guy who picks the stones, builds the fireplaces, picks the clams, digs the oysters, and catches the fish,” said Mr. Berlin. “His garden groans from the bounty of what he has raised. He scours yard sales, sells what he finds or gives gifts to people. He even relocates horse manure for a few bucks.”
“Quietly, steadily he’s made a difference in the population of herring in these waters,” said Mr. Griswold. “He has more power when it comes to maintaining herring runs than Barack Obama and the pope combined.”
“If anyone should get the creative living award it should be Johnny,” said Ms. Kirn. “The thing that has been so inspiring throughout the years has been to watch John following his passions and trying to do the best he could with all of them. Whether it’s music or learning how to partner dance, or his relationships with his kids, or fishing, or whatever he does, he tries to do the best he can. He’s really into growing and changing all the time and I’m really inspired by that.”
Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish have been playing at the Ritz Cafe in Oak Bluffs every Tuesday night for more than 20 years, though they have recently started playing on Wednesday nights from 8 to 11 pm. Many Islanders know Mr. Hoy best as frontman and lead singer and his bluesy folk music can quickly liven up a room and make people dance.
“His greatest fear is genericism and he will go to great lengths to tinker with a song until he and we have made it our own,” said Mr. Berlin. “I have never known anyone who works as hard and relentlessly as Johnny.
“I’m hoping I can play forever, until I drop,” Mr. Hoy said.
The formal ceremony ended with Johnny pushing back the chairs of the audience, clearing space for a dance floor, and jumping behind the mic. He took up his spot as front man as he has thousands of times and performed with his usual high energy. The performance continued afterward at the Ritz, which is exactly where Johnny Hoy, a true Island institution, wanted to be.