Laurel Redington, community outreach director at MVY Radio, says that a three-legged stool is the strongest kind. So when three Island nonprofits — the M.V. Film Festival, the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard, and the radio station — partnered to present live, curated music before the films playing at the new summer drive-in, it made perfect sense.
“Everyone who lives on the Island has a wide skill set,” Redington said last Thursday at the drive-in before the music got started. “We’re all taking our areas of expertise and spreading out the tasks, and it’s all about community programming. This gives our musicians the opportunity to get out there and play again. They don’t care so much about the money, they just want to play.”
Music at the movies is the brainchild of Redington and her friend, singer and songwriter Rose Guerin. They shared an outdoor visit on the deck one day last month, and came up with the idea of featuring performers at 7 pm, before the movies begin. They’d take it a step further and curate the music with the movies — Jodie Treloar Sampson would learn some Disney songs to sing before the film “Frozen,” or maybe they could get Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish to play before the “Jaws” screening. They took their idea to Thomas Bena and Brian Ditchfield at the MVFF and they both gave the idea a big thumbs-up, and the music began in early August. PJ Finn, MVY executive director, loved the idea too.
“Music has added so much to the drive-in,” Ditchfield said. “We are thrilled to be working with WMVY. Part of what has made the drive-in so rewarding is the successful collaboration of so many nonprofits. The YMCA, the Ice Arena, and WMVY have been incredible partners.”
Redington and Guerin aren’t in the music venture alone; they nabbed musician and technical wiz Andy Herr, who has been instrumental in putting the shows together. And they’ve found a willing pool of musicians, eager to perform in front of a live audience again. Many haven’t played in front of anyone since March. Guitarist Don Groover, along with Buck Shank and Mike Alberice, played with Rose Guerin last Thursday, before the movie “Groundhog Day” began. Actor Bill Murray was there to introduce the film after Guerin performed. Groover said it was a great experience, especially since he hadn’t played much live music over the past several months.
“I’ve practiced a few times, got together with one or two other people, maybe around a picnic table, outside,” Groover said. “It just felt great playing with my friends again.”
He said he’s been concentrating on his day job at Tisbury Printer, and playing guitar at home a lot during the COVID-19 pandemic. Groover said he’s spoken with a few musician friends, and said they may decide to focus on recording once winter sets in. For now, though, Groover said, he’s been playing at private gatherings, filling in where he’s needed. “Lucky for me, I’ve been getting calls from bands to come in and cover for this bass player or this guitar player.”
For musician Jodie Treloar Sampson, the inspiration at her performance at the drive-in was the faces of all the little ones who came to see “Frozen” when she performed.
“There were little people floating around, staying near their family cars,” Sampson said. “I decided to do a few of my more child-appropriate songs. There was one I’d written about my dog, a song I wrote when I was in grad school, and then I did three Disney covers — something from ‘Moana’ about her living on an Island and how she wants to explore the world. I did a song from ‘Brave,’ which is really empowering for girls. I did a song from ‘Cinderella’ called ‘A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes,’ which was a really great song to end on.”
The pandemic has been tough on Island musicians, who are used to making a sizable portion of their income from summer gigs. Guerin knows the situation well, and says part of the disappointment for the music community is not being able to be onstage.
“It feels like we’ve lost true north,” she said, “and it’s depressing to feel purposeless. This project has been a labor of love for Laurel and I, to bring together MVY and the MVFF to give the Island’s professional musicians a chance to be back onstage and make a few dollars.”
Though they won’t be in this partnership for a big paycheck, there is the opportunity for musicians to collect tips through the Venmo app. A chalkboard sign with the musician’s account names is set up in front of the bright red pickup truck where performers play.
Thomas Bena, founder and creative director of the MVFF, didn’t hesitate to support Guerin and Redington’s idea. “The addition of music has greatly enhanced the experience at our summer drive-in,” Bena says. “It never ceases to amaze me how quickly music brings people together. In our 20 years, it is a lesson we’ve learned over and over again. Whenever we’ve had events without music, they just aren’t the same …
“Laurel, Andy, and Rose are such professionals and so wonderful to work with. Every single night I take a moment to step back and just take the scene in. It is so beautiful to see people of all ages and from all walks of life, enjoying the simple act of gathering together.”
The scene is a nostalgic one, with the Ice Arena parking lot serving as the drive-in itself, and families, couples, and friends with blankets and lawn chairs and picnics lined up in rows. Now there’s live music from some of the Island’s favorite musicians playing outdoors in the fresh air added to the mix.
“I feel like this is just bringing everyone together,” Redington said. “I feel like it lets me creep back into the world, allowing myself to feel the summer again.”
Coming up at the drive-in, Thursday, August 20, music by Mike Benjamin and the movie “Silver Linings Playbook.” On Friday, August 21, music by the Jaywalkers, with the movie “The Princess Bride.” On Saturday, August 22, music by Kate Taylor, Jemima James, and Rose Guerin, and the movie “The Glorias.”
On Tuesday, August 25, music by Maryse Smith, with the movie “Onward.” On Wednesday, August 26, music by Lydia Fisher and the film “The Fight.” On Thursday, August 27, music by Nanauwe Vanderhoop with the movie “Aggie.” On Friday, August 28, the movie “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” with music to be determined. Then, on Saturday, August 29, Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish play before the screening of “Jaws.” Later this summer, films will be shown after music by the Outskirts, the Black-Eyed Susans, Willy Mason, the Dock Dance Band, and more.