Memorial Day Weekend, on Sunday afternoon, May 28, at 3 pm, Island-based band Workman Song will perform at Boston Calling. The band — with lead guitarist and vocalist Seán McMahon, front stage vocalist and wife Katie Mayhew McMahon, Ted MacInnes on drums, and Chris Knott on bass — are all accomplished musicians who represent the close-knit community of Martha’s Vineyard. Their performance will include originals like “No It’s Not,” a No. 1 hit with more than 1.3 million streams on Spotify, and a fan favorite at their live shows. As they take the stage at Boston Calling, Workman Song is sure to impress and entertain the crowd with their unique blend of genres and their passion for music.
With 40,000 attendees and 50 incredible artists performing, this year’s lineup is quite the bill to share. The 2023 headliners include the Foo Fighters, the Lumineers, and Paramore. The Island musicians say they are thrilled to share the bill with musical legends and childhood idols. Boston Calling is known for bringing together a diverse and talented lineup of artists, so it’s a great opportunity for Workman Song to showcase its music to a broader audience. Included in the 50 artists who will perform are 20 with local ties, one being Workman Song.
While McMahon emphasizes expressing gratitude for this opportunity, he says, “We are very excited to be playing for such a large audience as Workman Song. We are thrilled to be sharing a bill with musical legends like Alanis Morissette, Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, and so many more … It’s just so awesome. To be sharing a stage with some of our musical childhood heroes, in our home state, it’s humbling and an absolute honor.”
“It’s truly a miraculous opportunity,” MacInnes adds.
Their music has been described as Americana, but it truly defies any one genre. From soulful ballads to upbeat funk-infused tracks to outlaw country and psych rock, the band’s sound is constantly evolving, and never fails to impress. And now, with their upcoming performance at Boston Calling, the band is poised to take the world by storm. “We always strive to deliver our best performance and connect with the audience through our music,” says McMahon when asked about their diverse take.
I couldn’t describe such genres on my own, so I asked, “What is the genre of music you tend to stick to?” McMahon chuckled and said, “I would classify it as Americana, really encompassing folk, funk, soul, electricana.” He added, “An abstract composition of musical styles — yeah!” That’s why they are especially thrilled to be playing at the same festival as people like King Gizzard and Wizard Lizard. “I am psyched about that,” Seán says. “Speaking of a pop art collage of musical styles — they encompass every style, including metal. That’s impressive.” With their unique blend of musical styles and captivating performances, Workman Song has gained a devoted following both on Martha’s Vineyard, and soon-to-be beyond. The band’s success can be attributed to their hard work and dedication, as well as the devotion of the local community, and promoters such as Ty McDonald. It was through McDonald’s efforts that the band landed a gig at the C-note in Hull, which ultimately led to their recognition and invitation to perform at the 12th edition of Boston Calling Music Festival.
Knowing the band as a local Martha’s Vineyard band, I wondered where this really all started. MacInnes and McMahon have a longstanding history of friendship and musical collaboration. The two musicians began playing together in South Shore basements at a young age, and continued their partnership as they pursued their musical careers. In 2011, they made the move from Massachusetts to NYC, where they were joined by pianist, brother, and friend Griffin McMahon. While attending music school, playing gigs, and immersing themselves in the NYC music scene, MacInnes and McMahon teamed up to form their respective bands: Workman Song and the Highway.
During their time in NYC, they welcomed bassist Chris Knott into the fold. While Knott isn’t a full-time member of the band, he makes a considerable effort to join them by traveling back and forth from his current home in Rhode Island. MacInnes expresses his admiration for Knott, saying, “He’s an incredible musician and a wonderful person. We wish Chris could be here full-time to play with us, but we’re extremely lucky to have him as part of our crew.”
Though hailing from the South Shore, the band continues to credit much of their success to Martha’s Vineyard and the tight-knit communities of New England.
“Because it’s an Island, it’s almost like a time capsule into the past in some ways,” MacInnes says. “It’s a petri dish of things being able to happen and grow, which may not be able to happen in larger places like the city.” It’s clear that the Island has played a significant role in shaping their music and their sense of community.
After relocating to the Island in 2016, McMahon met Katie Mayhew, a missing link in Workman Song’s musical journey, and an absolute vocal sensation. The two hit it off immediately, both in their personal lives and in their artistic pursuits. McMahon and Mayhew formed a musical duo and started a family, welcoming the arrival of two beautiful girls, Isla and Fiona. Mayhew was already a well-known Island vocalist, having sung with the Boston Pops at a young age during high school, and playing as a solo artist over the years with various bands. In 2017, MVY Radio picked up the duo and aired their original song called “Mars.”
As the unknowns of the pandemic approached in 2017, the band made a commitment to sharing their music locally on the Island. McMahon and his bandmates began playing every Sunday at the Ritz Cafe in Oak Bluffs, a historic dive bar that has been around since 1944, hosting a plethora of legendary and local musicians. The Sunday residency was referred to as “Holy Rock and Roll” at the time, which made sense when I found out that McMahon was a devoted pastor.
As a regular attendee of their shows, I began to notice a cultlike following, with the same faces bringing more and more friends and family each week. Devoted attendees referred to this residency as “Sunday church.” This was not a typical church service, but for many, it served as an experience. However, since then, McMahon has put his pastoral duties aside and has gone full-time with music.
The pandemic forced the musicians to pivot to virtual performances, which in turn provided a unique opportunity for them to focus on their music and experiment with new ideas. Workman Song was able to adapt to this new environment and continue to connect with fans through virtual shows and online engagement. This helped them to reach new fans, and allowed them to stay creative and motivated during a challenging time. As true live performers, Workman Song was ready to engage in person.
Ambitious to put on shows post-pandemic, since 2021 they have played 200-plus shows with no set ever the same. It’s no wonder they have made headway to the big stage. “We’re making big moves,” says McMahon. “Following the pandemic, and having our second child, we are going full-time into music. We are going to be traveling family-band style. This is a big launch, and an enormous moment filled with incredible opportunities like Boston Calling.”
Preparing for a big stage like Boston Calling requires a lot of dedication, hard work, and practice. Seán and his band are putting in the effort to perfect their craft and connect with their audience. They are grateful for the support of their fans and the community of Martha’s Vineyard.
“The Vineyard as a whole shares a massive appreciation for art and music,” MacInnes says. “We are extremely grateful to be able to play as often as we can. The beautiful people who live on, and visit, the Island have definitely helped us expand our musical footprint.”
I asked McMahon what they were doing to prepare for the Boston concert.
“We are religiously rehearsing, and playing gigs on and off the Island, specifically around New England, and all over the Island.” By doing so, they are gaining valuable performance experience and exposure to different audiences.
“We are happy that it is going where it’s going,” McMahon adds. “We hope it resonates with various audiences, especially representing the Vineyard music scene.”
Mayhew emphasizes the excitement to hit the road as a family band alongside such fantastic musicians and friends. “This opportunity is something of a dream, and I am especially thrilled to be performing our originals alongside my partner while representing the hometown native roots of the Island. We are excited to share our music with the Island, region, and world at Boston Calling, and during our 2023 music debut.”
It will be a quick ferry ride away, and a beautiful day spent seeing your favorite Island band hit the big stage. Don’t miss it, and we’ll see you there!
Find Workman Song on Sunday, May 28, at the Tivoli Audio stage at 3 pm. To check out their music, go to linktr.ee/workmansong, or search Workman Song on Spotify, YouTube, Bandcamp, and main streaming apps.
One-day general admission tickets are available for purchase at bostoncalling.com. All ages are welcome, and children under 10 years old attend for free. To follow along for updated live gigs before and after Boston Calling, follow them on Instagram @Workmansong, @BrothersMcMahon, and @whois2boys. Keep an eye out for local gigs at the Ritz, Offshore Ale, the VFW, Porthunter, and more.