If you’re looking for live music, you’ve come to the right Island. Martha’s Vineyard features a diverse selection of music venues, from dives to dancehalls and everything in between. If it’s local musicians you want to hear, check out some of the watering holes in Edgartown or Oak Bluffs. For big-name bands, visit Dreamland in Oak Bluffs or Flatbread at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport.
Edgartown’s primary venue for local music is the Atlantic Fish & Chop House. The Atlantic is lively and sometimes wild. Located on Main street right on the water, it offers waterfront dining, a tastefully chosen selection of beef and seafood and a wide variety of well-mixed cocktails. But don’t be fooled by the restaurant’s gourmet façade.
The Atlantic features live music from Thursday to Sunday, the majority of which consists of local musicians. On Thursday nights you’ll find Island local Mike Benjamin and his band playing old favorites and modern classics, from the Temptations to Lady Gaga. Vineyard bluesman Jon Zeeman takes the stage on Friday nights and the Sultans of Swing spice up Sundays. Saturday nights are reserved for DJs.
Other live and local music in Edgartown can be found at the Wharf on Main street, the Port Hunter (also on Main street) and at Eleven North, on North Water street. Musicians such as Jon Zeeman, Mike Benjamin and the Woods Hole-based Brother’s Rye are common sights at the Port Hunter.
Musicians aren’t the only locals at the Ritz Cafe. It is a dive in the truest sense, dimly lit, with seating that puts you nose-to-nose with the performer. Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish play regularly on Tuesday nights. Jon Zeeman usually makes an appearance on Wednesday nights and the Ritz’s house band, featuring locals Don Groover (guitar) and Kent Riley (vocals), takes over on Friday nights.
Janet King, who books the Ritz’s entertainment, said that her objective in hiring a band, be they locals or from off-Island, is to get people dancing.
“We try to have all kinds of music,” she said. “People like to dance here. If I think they’re going to fit, I’ll bring them in.”
Sitting atop the Martha’s Vineyard Chowder Company in Oak Bluffs is Dreamland, one of the Island’s newest and largest music venues. The brainchild of Island restaurateur J.B. Blau, Dreamland has enjoyed a great deal of success since it opened last summer.
“When Nectars left, we committed a lot of resources to keeping the music alive on the Island,” Mr. Blau said.
Although Mr. Blau or one of his staff organized many of last summer’s shows, Dreamland has recently contracted Boston-based promoter Rock On Concerts to help bring some larger acts to the Island. Mr. Blau said that although more prominent bands are usually hesitant to play just one show on Martha’s Vineyard, the promoter can “route” acts to the Island by also booking them other shows in the Boston area.
“Because [Dreamland] is so large, we’re focusing more on larger acts so we can fill the room,” Mr. Blau said. “We can’t be a venue just for local bands, but it gives the opportunity for locals to open for big bands.”
Mr. Blau also said that Dreamland has directed its focus at booking more reggae acts, a fan favorite on the Vineyard. He said he believes that the music’s island theme and mellow vibe match well with the Island audience. Notable reggae acts this year include a performance by Barrington Levy earlier this month and Toots and the Maytals, who will do a pair of shows at Dreamland at the end of August.
“Reggae has long been one of the cornerstones of music out here,” Mr. Blau said. “It’s been a really big part of the Island for a long time — long before [Dreamland] got here.”
“Reggae is part of living on an island,” agreed Jess Phaneuf, a promoter for Flatbread, another of the Island’s prominent music venues. “The vibe here in the summer is ‘irie.’”
Flatbread, located at Martha’s Vineyard Airport, has a good-sized stage, which sits in the middle of the large but rustic-looking building. A bar in the back and a raised seating area on either side delineate the spacious (but easily filled) dance floor.
Ms. Phaneuf said that Flatbread tends to book larger acts, giving the opening spots on the lineup to up-and-coming local musicians.
“We try to book artists who have made a big name for themselves and have ties to the Island,” Ms. Phaneuf said. “People are more willing to come see a band if there’s some kind of backstory.”