Though Vineyard events are more prominent in the summer, 2016 proved that the music scene on Martha’s Vineyard is strong and agile enough to support the wealth of talented musicians and performers who call it home year-round. Perennial favorites and budding talents alike offered new content across genres, and took the stage for 12 months of unforgettable live performances and stunning recording efforts. From headliners at venues like the Old Whaling Church to up-and-coming songwriters at community gatherings, this year proved conclusively that there’s music in every corner of the Island, and an audience for every song.
The summer months drew crowds and star power, with memorable performances such as Arlo Guthrie’s solo appearance at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs. He earned a standing ovation for a rare rendition of his famed 18-minute classic “Alice’s Restaurant.” Legendary hip-hop luminary Talib Kweli also gave audiences a night to remember with his midnight mic drop at the Lampost. Characterized in part by controversy, Kweli’s set was cut short, but not before he performed hits like 2003’s charted single “Get By.” The Old Whaling Church played host to annual favorite Livingston Taylor again this year, as well as the world-renowned Taj Mahal Trio, while the West Tisbury Library Association invited Amy Helm to perform at the Ag Hall. Taj Mahal, and many of the summer’s other national acts, were thanks in part to the inaugural season of the Martha’s Vineyard Summer Concert Series, which we hope to see continue next year. The popular shows proved, yet again, that Islanders and visitors will come out to hear a diverse set of genres.
2016 also saw debut albums for residents Annie Howell and David Stanwood. Ms. Howell’s March release, “Silverfrost,” is a spellbinding exploration of the interplay between voice and harp. Her songwriting transports the listener to a dream world with stirring hooks and the sophisticated backdrop of her harp as it skillfully oscillates between the foreground and background. The album is available for download and physical purchase on Howell’s Bandcamp page.
Continuing the pattern of rich musical performance and composition, Mr. Stanwood’s debut album, “Six Meditations,” is a compelling and deeply moving collection of six piano improvisations recorded over the course of just a few days at his workshop in West Tisbury. Mr. Stanwood has garnered a reputation as a piano innovator and technician on the Island for decades, but his recent release will likely see his musicianship take top billing from now on. “Six Meditations” is available online at Stanwood’s website and on-Island at the Pathways Gallery and the Peter Simon Gallery.
Will Luckey of West Tisbury and Tim Goodman of Vineyard Haven also saw success with the release of “Magic Music” a vinyl LP record which celebrated their years with the popular Colorado folk/rock/country group of the same name.
The festival scene this year was an embarrassment of riches, including the Jazz and Blues Summerfest, Stars and Stripes, and the Martha’s Vineyard Songwriting Festival. The latter festival was an extensive five-day event packed with workshops and live performances by some of Nashville’s finest songwriters. The main event took place at the Lampost in Oak Bluffs, with performances by Martin & Kelly and Native Run.
In July, the Stars + Stripes Festival opened the stage to acts like Magic Man, Tiger Town, XYLØ, and Crooked Coast, all while raising funds for the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard for the sixth consecutive year. While the spirit of the event was celebratory, the festival was the final show at Edgartown’s beloved Flatbread Co. This community staple is sure to be missed as a haven for musical acts of every stripe. As always, the Port Hunter and the Ritz provided a musical refuge for local artists and old-timey string bands just passing through, with a packed schedule of live performances throughout the summer, featuring artists such as Boston-based trio the Ballroom Thieves and the Vineyard’s own Good Night Louise. Pathways continues to serve as a enclave for collaborative musical efforts and intimate performances by artists such as Isaac Taylor and Jemima James, with a rolling lineup of events every week. While artists the world over flocked to the Vineyard to perform, local guitarist Mike Kerr embarked on an international tour of his own this fall when his power-metal band FirstBourne traveled to Asia in support of their debut album, “Riot.”
Music lovers across the Island also had the opportunity to catch free performances on a regular basis, with standing dates like the Harbor View Hotel’s collaboration with WMVY 88.7 FM on their Summer Porch Concert Series, the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association’s Sunset Concert Series at the Tabernacle, and the Edgartown Library’s concerts on the lawn.
As far as Martha’s Vineyard is concerned, the landscape of music and live performance this year has been rich with talents pushing boundaries and exploring age-old themes. From a global perspective, 2016 was unkind to the world of music, with catastrophic losses across genres. While the Grammys’ “In Memoriam” segment will likely feel longer than usual this year, audiences can take heart knowing that the show does, in fact, go on.