Chadwick Stokes: ‘Let’s keep the music alive’

Beach Road Weekend performer talks about his ties to Martha’s Vineyard.

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Chadwick Stokes of the band Dispatch plays guitar on the dock at Owen Park. — Gabrielle Mannino

Chadwick Stokes, frontman for the popular American indie and roots band Dispatch, has deep Island ties that have brought him back to perform at the Beach Road Weekend festival in August. 

It all started when Stokes’ grandparents bought a house in Vineyard Haven, ensuring that the Island would always hold a place in the family’s hearts.

Stokes’ parents met in Vineyard Haven, and Stokes even met his wife on the Island. Starting out as a camp counselor at Camp Jabberwocky, Stokes said, he would play music for campers during evening cookouts and beach visits. “It was such a magical time in my life, I had so much fun,” Stokes said of his time with Camp Jabberwocky. 

Stokes even recorded his first solo studio album, called “Simmerkane II,” on Martha’s Vineyard with Jimmy Parr in his home studio in 2011 and Carly Simon singing background vocals. 

The Vineyard music scene, Stokes said, is a “perfect confluence of folk rock and hippy rock, with a little bit of a breezy reggae and ska vibe.”

When he was a teenager, Stokes wrote what would become one of Dispatch’s most popular songs, “Flying Horses.” The song is a whimsical look into Stokes’ childhood fantasy of nabbing a ring from the Flying Horses carousel in Oak Bluffs. He debuted the song at the Wintertide Coffee House at Five Corners in Vineyard Haven.

Although Stokes has played at many mini-marquee venues around the Island, such as the Hot Tin Roof, he said he is excited that a full-scale, multiday concert is “finally here” on Martha’s Vineyard. “The Island has been ripe for a big festival for a while now. It is such a perfect way to keep with the age-old musical history of the Vineyard,” Stokes said. 

When asked how it feels to be playing along with the likes of John Fogerty, Phil Lesh, Grace Potter, and many others, Stokes said he can’t wait to share the stage with some amazing musicians. “I’m a huge Dead fan, and possibly an even bigger Creedence Clearwater Revival fan, so just to be in the same vicinity as John Fogerty is amazing,” Stokes said. 

Much of Stokes’ music centers around environmental, social, and civil issues in America and the world. And his music is a reflection of his humanitarian goals, both in and out of the entertainment industry. 

In 2008, Stokes’ other band, State Radio, formed an activist group called Calling All Crows to encourage volunteers to help improve schools and support better education. The group also fights against sexual harassment and abuse of women at music shows by training volunteers and promoters to identify and address any misconduct during performances.

“We give people the necessary tools to avoid these types of situations, and hold promoters to a very high standard,” Stokes said. “The idea of going to a concert or festival to have fun and then being put in a situation where you feel unsafe is unacceptable and won’t be tolerated.”

Alongside his Dispatch band members, Pete Heimbold and Brad Corrigan, Stokes formed the nonprofit Elias Fund to sponsor community development and education in Zimbabwe.

In the future, Stokes said, he hopes the festival can keep happening on the Island in order to build onto an already expansive musical past.

“This festival really pays homage to history, of which there is so much here,” Stokes said. “We want to keep this music alive, as opposed to looking back on it and feeling nostalgic.

“This Island is mythic, and music is a big part of that myth.”