For Island music lovers who miss the great live performances almost every night of the week at the Ritz in Oak Bluffs, you’re in luck. Ritz owners Jackie and Larkin Stallings host live virtual Zoom concerts every Saturday night at 8. Last Saturday happened to be the annual Felix Neck fundraiser the Ritz has hosted the past few years to help raise money for the wildlife refuge center, so not only was the music virtual but also the bird calling competition. Abby Richter, a regular camper at Fern and Feather Day Camp at Felix Neck, won with her rendition of a barred owl call.
“This Saturday’s session was all about the birds,” Larkin said. “We’re doing all we can to raise money for Felix Neck.” The evening was a success, especially considering it was done remotely; they raised $2,000 for Felix Neck.
While everyone is getting used to working from home, staying at home, and playing at home, the musicians say they miss the audiences as much as we miss them.
Musician Jeremy Berlin said he’ll never take a gig for granted again after the coronavirus pandemic.
“What we don’t have is that unique bond and energy amongst musicians,” Berlin said in an email. “The things that seemed annoying and in-your-face we now recognize as the connection people are trying to make with the musicians that are making their night! I’ll happily get in the van with Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish and go anywhere, and I’ll go play solo piano in any corner at any event to make that connection.”
The Zoom session felt intimate, with Mike Benjamin leading off the night with a Little Feat song, and then serving as the emcee for the evening. It was clear the Island musicians were missing one another as he introduced the performers, Barbara Puciul, Josey Kirkland and Ben Hughes, Jack Sonni, Rose Guerin and Delanie Pickering, and Lydia Fischer among them.
Zoom listeners were treated to performances that took place in musicians’ homes rather than the Ritz, except Guerin and Pickering played from inside the Oak Bluffs dive bar, where they were wrapping up takeout service that night. The Ritz kitchen is now home to Dilly’s Taqueria, and takeout is available Wednesday through Sunday evenings. The bar isn’t open for gathering yet, but Larkin says he’ll keep producing the Zoom performances until the doors open to the regular crowds.
“I’m going to do this every Saturday night until they let me run live music again, or until Mike Benjamin gets tired of me calling him every day,” Larkin told The Times. Benjamin has helped him with the technical aspects, and during the week they iron out whom the next Saturday’s performers will be.
Berlin said the virtual performances are crucial under the current circumstances. “Thank God we have the capacity to do it and the enthusiasm and generosity of the Zoom hosts and administrators to make it happen,” Berlin wrote. “Everyone is grateful for the opportunity to get music from their friends and colleagues wherever and however they can, and as musicians, we feel the importance of keeping it going as best we can.”
The Stallings make the Zoom experience as easy and comfortable as possible; you just click on the link and you’re transported to your own intimate performances featuring your favorite Island musicians. The experience is available to anyone — you can invite your cousin in Peoria to watch with you, or you can grab a beverage of choice while you listen from your own living room.
Many of the performers thanked the audience for listening, and expressed gratitude to live in such a beautiful place while the pandemic is happening. Jack Sonni played a couple of songs live from Taylor, Miss., and talked about how much he loves the natural beauty of Martha’s Vineyard, especially compared with the “terror of condos” he’s seen in places like Cabo San Lucas and Miami.
Josey Kirkland, who is education coordinator and day camp director at Felix Neck, performed, and facilitated the bird calling. In the end, she announced the amount of money raised, thanked everyone, and said, “I can’t wait until we’re all back together again.”
Next Saturday night, listen in and enjoy performances from favorite Island musicians by clicking on the link us02web.zoom.us/j/87840004257. If you have questions about how to sign in, email firstname.lastname@example.org.