A little help from friends

Songwriters’ event at the Tabernacle will benefit Island Elderly Housing.

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Acclaimed songwriters and musicians Kate Taylor, Chadwick Stokes, Willy Mason, Ben Taylor, John Forté, Rose Guerin, Isaac Taylor, Lexie Roth, and Jemima James will perform at the historic Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs on Friday, June 30, to raise money for Island Elderly Housing (IEH), an organization that provides affordable housing to the elderly and disabled. IEH is an organization near and dear to the heart of Island musician and writer Jemima James. Special guests include author Geraldine Brooks and comedian Amy Schumer.

“I’m a private in-home caretaker for older folks on the Island. I’m also on the board of Island Elderly Housing, so I’m very familiar with the needs of the organization and the folks living there,” James shared. “I’m immersed in this community. It’s given a lot back to me.”

IEH is thankful to have received a grant from the West Chop Community Foundation for $50,000 for a portable generator. This is an important piece of equipment, and a big step forward.

“We’re so grateful for this portable generator. We’ve never had one. A few years ago we had a storm, and our power went out. It really made us think about the future,” executive director of Island Elderly Housing Dorothy Young said. “In the past, we had more emergency shelters to go to if necessary. Now the only one is Oak Bluffs School, and we have 165 residents. We’d like to be more self-sufficient.”

IEH’s long-term emergency management plans include getting permanent generators in each building, which will enable them to provide power to all their buildings automatically when needed. With portable generators, IEH residents could access power for oxygen tanks, storage for medications that need refrigeration, and safely stay in their apartments with their pets and belongings. Providing generators to all 18 buildings will cost close to a million dollars, so proceeds from this event will go directly toward building a fund to meet this future goal.

The idea for a music-based fundraiser isn’t a foreign one for James. She’s pretty familiar with performing, supporting others through her music, and even creating events over the years. In the 1970s, James was a staff songwriter for Famous Music, the music-publishing arm of Paramount. James recorded an album at Long View Farm, a residential recording studio in Western Massachusetts, and had the honor of meeting musicians like the J. Geils Band, Arlo Guthrie, John Belushi, the Rolling Stones, and others. James moved to the Island in the 1980s, and she and her late ex-husband Michael Mason had two sons — Willy and Sam — now both accomplished artists, musicians, and writers. James is a well-known and beloved musician on the Vineyard. She even started a popular variety show at Featherstone Art Center, where musicians performed on the lawn. “It was a wonderful event. Like living room music outdoors,” James said.

Not all of James’ performances are for larger audiences, though. During COVID, she and a few other Island musicians performed for some of the folks living in Elderly Housing. Walking from building to building, they played outdoors while residents listened through their open windows. Though the Songwriters for Elderly Housing fundraiser differs from creating an annual summer concert, or performing for folks in their homes, the planning of the event — the bones and structure — are similar. When asked how the idea for the event was born, James shared that it grew out of a dinner gathering at Pulitzer prizewinning novelist Geraldine Brooks’ house.

“I’m deeply concerned about housing insecurity on the Island, especially for the most vulnerable groups, such as elderly and disabled people. It’s such a vast problem, and it’s often hard to see a way, as an individual, to help. But when Jemima explained the issues and needs of Island Elderly Housing as it attempts to get some additional units built, and provide support services to existing residents, this fundraiser seemed like a piece of the problem where a few of us could make a difference,” said Brooks, who will be a special guest at the event.

Aside from Brooks and James, the fundraising team includes fellow musician and artist Kate Taylor, and environmental activist, producer, and writer Laurie David. They bounced ideas around, and suggested musicians for the event. “Laurie brought up Chadwick Stokes and John Forté, Kate Taylor graciously offered to perform, and my son Willy was an obvious choice,” James smiled.

“I’m happy to perform in this event to support Island Elder Housing. They were so helpful to my family,” Mason shared. “My dad was in Elder Housing before he passed, and they were great.”

A number of popular Island musicians are slated to perform for this cause as well: Rose Guerin, Isaac Taylor, Lexie Roth, Ben Taylor, and Kate Taylor. It’s a bit of a family affair — both figuratively and literally.

“It’s a great group of talented people,” Kate Taylor shared. “I’m excited about getting to be on stage with all of them, and I’m very pleased to be sharing the stage with two of my fabulous nephews, Ben and Isaac Taylor. As far as the Island music scene is concerned, all the musicians I know are extremely generous with their time and talents, and they all feel like family too.”

The musicians for Songwriters for Island Elderly Housing will perform in the round, similar to a guitar pull — a tradition where a group of musicians sit together and take turns playing. “This event isn’t like a big music festival. It’s more like an Island throwback. It could be 1974 — similar to when Island musicians got together to celebrate acoustic music,” Laurie David shared. “It’s going to be a special night.”

The one-night-only fundraiser will take place at the historic Tabernacle in the heart of Oak Bluffs. “Everything about the Tabernacle is great — the whole feeling of the place, its history, the openness, and for group music it’s ideal,” James said.

Songwriters for Island Elderly Housing is open to the public, and the folks who will directly benefit from the proceeds are pretty jazzed about it as well. “This fundraiser is so exciting,” Dorothy Young shared. “Fifty IEH residents are attending, and they’re so looking forward to it. We’re incredibly grateful to Jemima and the Island community for supporting us.”

Tickets for this one-night-only Songwriters for Elderly Housing are tiered and can be purchased at bit.ly/IEH_SongwritersTix. The show starts at 7:30 pm at the Tabernacle, 80 Trinity Park, Oak Bluffs.

 

1 COMMENT

  1. Island Elderly Housing is a true community based initiative. They are not in it for the money. Gentrification has been an onerous burden for Vineyarders in general and especially our vulnerable elderly population.
    What better way to help our fellow Islanders than participating in this organically Vineyard event? Let’s go have some fun and help out! Go to http://www.iehmv.org and bye a ticket today!

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