In the heyday of Wintertide Coffeehouse, roughly the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, Martha’s Vineyard was a stop on the singer-songwriter circuit. I got to hear some wonderful folk and blues performers without leaving home, and I got to hear them free because I was a diehard Wintertide volunteer. Boy, was I spoiled.
Martha’s Vineyard has a vital home-grown music scene, so it’s not as if I never get to hear live music. Some of our home-growns are so good, like Willy Mason and Nina Violet, that we’ve sent them off into the wider world. But musicians from the wider world seldom pass this way, and when they do it’s usually in the summer.
In the wider world, people can drive an hour or two or three to hear a favorite performer. We Vineyarders can drive an hour or two or three as well, but only if we shell out $61 (off-season) or $90 (summer) for a round-trip car reservation. Add in the price of a ticket and probably an overnight stay and cost becomes a big deterrent.
Luckily for us, the Woods Hole Folk Music Society runs an excellent concert series at the Woods Hole Community Hall, and the hall is just a few minutes’ walk from the ferry dock. Last night, I settled Travvy on the deck with two peanut butter bones and a Kong Wobbler loaded with treats, lied shamelessly that I’d be “back soon,” and set off for Vineyard Haven. There I parked Malvina by the Baptist church, strolled down to the dock, bought two one-way passenger ferry tickets ($8 each), and boarded the 5 o’clock boat.
James Keelaghan, one of my favorite singer-songwriters ever, was playing in Woods Hole. I’ve heard him several times live over the years, once in Woods Hole, and twice in Cambridge. He’s always worth seeing, and this time there was an added incentive: he’s touring with the great English singer-songwriter Jez Lowe, whose work I also love and whom I’d never heard live.
The 5 o’clock from Vineyard Haven docks at 5:45, and doors don’t open at the Community Hall till 7. So I splurged on supper at Pie in the Sky, a deli beloved of all Vineyarders who have to kill time waiting for the boat. It’s a toss-up which is more beloved, Pie in the Sky or the nearby bar, the Leeside. Depends on the time of day and the company you’re keeping.
Pie in the Sky has about 10 indoor seats. It was a bit chilly to sit outside, so a nice lady invited me to share her and her husband’s table. They were Diane and Webb and they’d driven down from Halifax (Mass.) for the concert. They’d heard Jez several times but didn’t know anything about Keelo so we swapped details and talked music.
They headed over to the Community Hall. I wandered down to the dock to catch the last of sunset from the other side of Vineyard Sound.
When I caught up with my new buddies, they were near the head of the line waiting to get in. Another fellow struck up a conversation. He does maintenance for a research ship currently docked in the harbor — Woods Hole is home to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), where all sorts of interesting things take place. As he described it, the ship is like a floating laboratory. Scientists with grants in tow come aboard to conduct their marine-related research. This guy doesn’t sail with the ship; he’d just flown in from San Diego, where he’s based at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography — WHOI’s opposite number on the other coast.
After ensuring that the ship is seaworthy and can navigate, he said, his top priority is maintaining the coffee supply for the crew and the scientists. I’m not at all sure he was kidding. He didn’t know either performer but was looking for some good music. When I saw him at intermission, I asked how he was liking the show. He was loving it, he said, and from the spontaneous smile on his face I knew he meant it.
The Woods Hole Community Hall is quintessential folkie. The upstairs could double as the auditorium from a mid-twentieth-century elementary school, and the downstairs, where coffee, tea, and homemade cookies are available for a donation at intermission, is vintage church basement. I bought Keelaghan’s newest, an excellent retrospective called History: The First 25 Years. I had three Jez Lowe CDs picked out and ready to go before I realized that they weren’t set up for plastic. “There’s an ATM around the corner,” the volunteer said helpfully. Uh-oh. If I paid cash for the CDs, my checking account would bottom out with my not-quite-overdue car payment. In the interest of fiscal responsibility, I put the CDs back in their respective piles.
The concert was wonderful. No, I’m not going to review it! Since the last boat of the evening departs Woods Hole at 9:45 and if you miss it, you’re spending the night on the wrong side of the Sound, I had to slip out a little early. Jez was singing a hysterical song about evangelical Christians pursuing Charlie Darwin in an attempt to make him recant evolution, and I really wanted to hear how it came out.
As it was, I was late enough that the passenger ramp was closed and I had to walk onto the freight deck.
When I got home just before 11 p.m., Travvy didn’t seem to mind that I’d been gone for seven hours. I was way too jazzed to sleep. I downloaded from CD Baby the three Jez Lowe albums I hadn’t had cash to pay for: Heads Up, The Parish Notices, and Northern Echoes. Love ya, plastic. Immediate gratification; deferred payment.
This morning I learned via Facebook that the woman sitting across the aisle from me, and directly behind my supper companions from Halifax, is a friend of a Vineyard friend. Turns out she’s from Halifax too, and she knows Webb and Diane.
You can cross Vineyard Sound but you’re not all that far from home.