Some cold winter nights it seems that Oak Bluffs is just too far from West Tisbury to venture after dark, but other nights the incentive is powerful enough to make me bundle up and set off. (Note to off-islanders: Oak Bluffs is all of nine miles from where I live in West Tisbury. On Martha’s Vineyard the farthest you can drive in any direction without falling into the water is maybe twenty miles. “Too far” doesn’t mean the same thing here that it means other places.)
Last night was such a night. Jemima James, Dan Waters, Brad Tucker, Nina Violet, and others were playing at the Pit Stop. The lineup alone was worth driving twice nine miles for, plus I’d been hearing great things about the Pit Stop. Friendly live music venues are scarce enough to celebrate. I’m still mourning the demise of Wintertide Coffeehouse in the late 1990s. I missed the heyday of Che’s Lounge because I was deep into horses, and every horse person knows that when you’re deep into horses you don’t have the time, energy, or money to do anything else.
Since its rebirth earlier this month — at a release party for Nina Violet’s stupendous new CD, We’ll Be Alright, which I missed because Travvy and I were off-island — the Pit Stop has been hailed as a worthy successor to both Che’s and Wintertide. As soon as I walked through the door I thought, Yeah!
The Pit Stop is the most recent incarnation of a space that has been, among other things, a motor vehicle repair shop. It’s next door to Smoke ‘N Bones, a very good but unfortunately seasonal rib joint, and across Dukes County Ave. from Tony’s Market, purveyor of beer, wine, groceries, lottery tickets, and humongous sandwiches. This puts it at the edge of the self-styled Arts District, about which I am somewhat ambivalent. The upscale galleries and boutiques were closed, the Pit Stop was open — if the Arts District were like this 24/7/365, I’d like it better.
I entered through the appointed door, which is in the back. No one was at the table, so I put my $5 in a glass vase and gawked at the various cakes and goodies on the refreshments table. Through the next doorway was the performance space, where Jemima James and Dan Waters were just getting ready to perform. I loved it at first sight, probably because it reminded me of Wintertide and half a dozen folkie coffeehouses. The stage was jammed with mikes, instruments, a soundboard, and a plethora of serpentine wires. You could sit close enough to identify the guitarists’ chords, or you could sit a little ways back and indulge in sotto voce conversations that wouldn’t disturb either the musicians or the most intent listeners. Or you could raid the refreshment table, help yourself to hot chocolate, and catch up with whoever else was doing likewise.
The light was appropriately dim, but I loved the strings of pink lights along the edge of the stage and the top of the wall. Posters and original paintings graced the walls, and the overhead heating unit (tended to at one point by one of the musicians) reassured me that this wasn’t any renovated-to-the-nines boutique.
I’m not a musician, never mind I’ve been caught in various choral ensembles, but the Vineyard’s music scene is one of the things that keeps me putting one foot in front of the other. It’s inspiring, it’s been inspiring all the time I’ve lived here, and the younger musicians now taking center stage are not infrequently the offspring of musicians, thespians, and artists in other media who’ve been paying their dues for a long time. Willy Mason, who’s been making waves across the U.S. and in Europe (and played backup several times last night), is the son of Jemima James and Mike Mason.
Nina Violet, whose CD we’ve been celebrating all month, is the daughter of Michele Jones and Don Muckerheide — the owner of the Pit Stop. Nina’s sister Marciana Jones sang backup last night; sister May May Oskan couldn’t sing along because she was home in San Francisco. Pianist-composer Adam Lipsky is the son of the late Jon Lipsky, playwright, director, and associate director of the Vineyard Playhouse, and Kanta Lipsky, who’s no creative slouch either.
The audience was, shall we say, multigenerational, and no fan of good music would have felt estranged. I hadn’t heard Brad Tucker before, but I sure hope to again: he’s a wry and warm performer whose bluesy-folk style made me feel at home — and how could I not love anyone who writes songs for and about his dog?? The musicians backed each other up — I swear, Nina Violet can back anyone up, no matter what they’re playing — and seemed to be taking great pleasure in each other’s musical company. Also performing, though not pictured here, were Shawn “Bones” Barber on standup bass and percussionist Matt Rosenthal, just in from the west coast.
A huge thanks to Don Muckerheide for turning the Pit Stop into such a marvelous performance venue, and for being such a congenial host. Methinks it’s going to be a musical winter on Martha’s Vineyard.