For music lovers, open-mic night at Island Music is a perfect time to get a glimpse of the diverse and expansive musical culture on Martha’s Vineyard.
The microcosm of local musical talent is exemplified perfectly in the small store, where a mix of pianists, guitarists, and vocalists put on a show for a miniature audience. This small-scale venue allows folks who aren’t used to playing in front of others the opportunity to dip their toes into the world of public performance.
It all started in March 2016, when Island Music employees decided to set up a microphone and amp system and invite the public in to play two songs of whatever they are in the mood for. “This night is really built by the people who show up; we are just the facilitators,” Andy Herr, an Island Music employee, said of the event. “We love to see what people bring to the stage, it’s always something different.”
Anybody who wants to come into the store and play simply needs to sign their name on a sheet of paper and pick out an instrument. Folks can choose from a vast array of instruments, including Martin and Taylor guitars, all with the tags still on them, straight off the rack. Of course, musicians have the option of bringing in their own instruments to tune up and plug in.
Becky Williams, manager of the store, said she likes giving people the opportunity to get more comfortable in front of a live audience. “Some people do duets, others play solo with an instrument, and others sing,” she said. “It’s just a fun night, and people really seem to enjoy it. It’s a very relaxed environment where people can feel comfortable.”
Williams kicked off a recent night of performances with a rendition of “Norwegian Wood” by the Beatles.
One local musician, Jim Orr, was one of the first to perform. He played two songs, both of which he wrote himself. The first tune was called “I Look for You” and the other was “21.” Orr said it was his first time playing at Island Music, but he has been a musician all his life. “I wrote both songs 25 years ago,” Orr said. “I wrote the second song after I turned 21 and felt like everything in my life was happening all at once; that’s what the song means to me.”
Barry Meekin played “Wagon Wheel,” a song co-written by Bob Dylan and Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show. “It’s a really tame environment in here,” Meekin said. “People don’t usually throw stuff at you,” he added jokingly.
Rick O’Gorman, guitarist and vocalist for the soulful country band Blue Yonder, danced up to the stage for the next performance. Before he started his rendition of “Pancho and Lefty” by Townes Van Zandt, he asked Orr to follow along and jump in if he felt like singing or playing an acoustic solo. The two sat at opposite ends of the room and echoed verses back and forth — singing of gray federales and a horse “fast as polished steel.”
O’Gorman wore a harmonica in a holder and played several accompanying solos when he wasn’t busy singing.
Another employee of Island Music, Rich Giaimo, mixed things up a bit when he hopped on the keys and played Frederic Chopin’s “Polonaise in A flat major” from beginning to end. Giaimo studied piano in college, and said he has been working for a while to perfect the technically challenging and physically demanding solo composition.
The night ended on a strong note, with a number of local performers debuting their musical talent and sharing their creativity with the Island community.
Island Music hosts Open Mic Night every other Tuesday, and will continue to host the event through the winter. The next open mic night is Tuesday, Dec. 4. For additional information, call Island Music at 508-693-8596, or visit islandmusicmv.com.