The Ritz on Circuit Avenue was alive with instrumental music and singing early Monday morning, as performers and audience members rejoiced at the opportunity to experience a live indoor performance once again.
As the clock ticked toward midnight, the excitement inside the Ritz grew — the Massachusetts indoor singing ban brought on by the pandemic was about to be lifted.
Indoor singing was one of the first performance types to get nixxed by statewide restrictions imposed by Gov. Charlie Baker, particularly when it became clear that COVID-19 can become airborne and infect people in confined spaces.
But the scene at the Ritz was controlled, with folks sitting at their individual tables in separate groups, and the band distanced from bar patrons and audience members.
Larkin Stallings, owner of the Ritz, told The Times the most important message he wants to get across to Islanders is that once the singing ban was lifted at midnight, it can hopefully herald a revival of live music across the Island. “And that’s why having the first indoor singing performance on-Island be the Holy Rock and Roll is so fitting,” Stallings said.
He noted the work his staff and he have done to turn the small space into one that accommodates a fair number of customers comfortably and safely, and added that everyone is still socially distancing and wearing masks.
“We went ahead and did some additional protection for the band, so they’ve got plastic in front of them. Safe and sane, that is our vibe,” Stallings said.
After being deprived of live performances for so long, he said, the Island is ready to get the groove back on, as long as it can be done safely and responsibly. “After so much struggle for so many, I think it’s time now — it’s finally time to bring the Holy Rock and Roll Revival back to the Ritz every Sunday night,” Stallings said.
Following the initial Sunday performance, the Ritz will welcome back some of the Vineyard’s most beloved live performers — for many of those artists, it’s like being welcomed back home.
The stage at the Ritz will now be rocking every Sunday at 7:30 pm, and with the musical tradition continuing at the popular Oak Bluffs establishment, Stallings hopes other Island venues will begin to blossom.
“It’s so important that the Ritz is the first place to have singing indoors on Martha’s Vineyard since everything shut down,” Stallings said. “It would be nice if we were just the start of an entire revival of live performances here on the Island.”
He said he hopes that case rates and hospitalizations due to COVID continue to drop, and the commonwealth is able to continue easing restrictions to the point where the Ritz can operate at the same level it has historically.
“The heart and soul of the Ritz has always been our live entertainment. Obviously COVID has changed things, but we are looking forward to a great season, and as the Island continues to open up, we will be here ready to go,” Stallings said. He noted that Johnny Hoy is booked for a small show this Thursday, May 13, and Rose Guerin is scheduled to perform on Saturday, May 15.
Island preacher and Holy Rock and Roll Revival performer Sean McMahon said the midnight show is meant to kickstart the season, and bring some much-needed joy to players and music lovers alike. He added that many artists who rely on live performance revenue to support themselves and their families have had a tough go during the pandemic, and now is the time to bring them back into the spotlight.
“We literally had to get the first minute of the first hour of the first day in Massachusetts that we can bring such a major part of the Island, and particularly of the Ritz, back to life,” McMahon said.
In a serendipitous turn of events, McMahon said, he was ordained on the day that the Holy Rock and Roll Revival midnight concert took place. “I was ordained today by my church. With the timing of it all, it almost seems to signal that everything is blossoming, everything is coming back online, and I want our community to be on board,” McMahon said.
For McMahon and his wife, Siren Mayhew, who perform together regularly and have been performing livestream concerts to keep folks’ spirits up during the lockdown, they have always been passionate about “transforming spaces into transcendent communal experiences,” McMahon said.
With the golden opportunity of the singing ban being lifted, McMahon said, they couldn’t resist the chance to host a midnight concert. As people drank and listened to recorded music starting at 10 pm, the countdown to midnight was underway.
“We basically wanted to take this space and turn it into Christmas Eve, with one big countdown for everyone to participate in, and the gift at the end is some really great live music,” McMahon said. “Things aren’t supposed to go full capacity for another few months, but I think for a lot of people, the revival of live music, especially on Martha’s Vineyard, feels like we have reclaimed our soul.”