The year in music

Musicians, local and not-so-local, brought Islanders to their feet in 2018.

Kate Taylor performs at Ladyfest. —Gabrielle Mannino

Only seven miles off Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard does not lack for a variety of talent, either homegrown or touring national acts. Whether going out to one of our great local pubs like the Ritz to hear Rosie Guerin, Lola’s to dance to the Moratta Brothers, or Robert Cray Band at the Performing Arts Center (PAC), 2018 was music to our ears.

We have our own radio stations, recording studios, sound engineers, well-known musicians, and local artists and producers who call the Island home; the Vineyard’s music scene is alive and well.

The M.V. Concert Series (MVCS) that took place last summer did not disappoint, as it brought us such national acts as the Cowboy Junkies, Mavis Staples, Patty Griffin, Toots and the Maytals, and the Mavericks. Additionally, the MVCS and WMVY announced the creation of a new dual-membership program that afforded members access to the best seats first, as well as discounted tickets. The concert series donated 20 percent of all MVCS membership dues to WMVY.

On a hot summer night in July, the Robert Cray Band took the stage at the PAC. Cray sang some of his best songs, such as “Where Do I Go From Here,” “Poor Johnny,” “I Don’t Care,” and “Sadder Days.” Those of us who were there heard some of the finest R&B and blues guitar that one can hear live. After starting his band when he was in his 20s, Cray has honed the skills of a finely crafted musician and performer, with his vocals sounding smooth as silk.

Fall brought the second annual Ladyfest to Oak Bluffs. Founded in 2017 to raise awareness about domestic violence, with proceeds benefiting Community Services’ Connect to End Violence program, Ladyfest was so popular in October 2018 that it took over Circuit Avenue. Performers on the main stage included Kate Taylor, Barbara Dacey, Missis Biskis, Lucy Mayhew, Rose Guerin (one of the co-founders of Ladyfest), Nina Violet, and Jemima James. Connect to End Violence director Jennifer Nealy said, “I am impressed by the sense of community and togetherness at the event.”

In November, late photographer and Times contributor Peter Simon joined a whole lot of other Islanders at the P.A. Club for Grooverfest, a benefit for musician Don Groover, who is undergoing health problems. Some of the many musicians who played were the Space Invaders, John Alaimo, Blue Yonder, Rosie’s Ritz Review, Missis (and Mr.) Biskis, the Black Eyed Susans, and Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish. Peter wrote in his Vineyard Scene feature, “Many people remarked how amazing the Vineyard is in terms of community support and outreach. Of all the music I heard (five hours’ worth), I was most taken by Sabrina Luening’s sterling set, surrounded by her backing band, aptly named the Groovers. She really made an impact when she sang ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ by Etta James and dedicated it to Don.”

And then we profiled some of our local talent. In May, we caught up with Alex Karalekas. He’s a shingler by trade, but also a skier, surfer, and Island musician. He travels the world in the off-season, but always makes it home in time for Chilmark Potluck Jams. The jams were started by Karalekas alongside fellow local musicians Willy Mason and Brad Tucker. The potluck is an off-season open-mic-style showcase at the Chilmark Community Center, a much-needed venue for Island musicians.

Sean McMahon is another familiar face for live musicgoers. In April, The Times caught up with him on his new project, “dirty gospel.” Every Sunday, McMahon and his brother Griffin took listeners to church with a soulful performance at the Ritz. “Despite all my spiritual ideas, visions, and aspirations, for me it’s always music first,” McMahon said.

In another Times exclusive, the Taylors talked about their songwriting process, where they find their muse, and some of their earliest memories as musicians. Sally, Kate, and Isaac were featured panelists at this year’s “Islanders Write” conference, where they gave an intimate audience a moving, improvised performance alongside tips for songwriting. In a Q and A with the Times in July, the Taylors opened up and let our readers in.

It was another year of musical success, and we thank the songbirds among us for keeping this Island entertained. We can’t wait to hear what’s to come in 2019 — we’ll be sure to keep you posted.