Island Songlines

Picturesque snow quieted the Island a week ago, a reminder of how long, dark and lonely the wintertime can be here. Some say it’s a reason young people leave the Vineyard.

Then came Saturday with another musical potluck at the Chilmark Community Center. Not for the first time this winter, a few young men with a talent for music organized the night, showing they also have a talent for conjuring community warmth.

As trendy teenagers lingered at the door and schoolkids made snowmen outside, a man claiming to be an octogenarian dodged a toddler while offering his hand in marriage to a woman who might have been his daughter. Pies, pastas, soups, stews and other dishes weighed down tables which had suffered an excess of chips and pretzels in the first of these events in November. And all the while, a dazzling array of musicians played, hour after hour — from five o’clock on. There were rap songs, sea chanties, flute duets, folk standards, even a tribute to New England Patriots fans and disillusioned patriots.

In his classic book The Songlines, Bruce Chatwin spoke of indigenous Australians singing their world into existence. The songs, he wrote, describe interlocking ways through.

So have the organizers of this event left a trail of song reaching through time and across barriers. As Maynard Silva said, there were no strangers there that night.

Thanks to these can-do young people who did not leave this winter, but stayed to renew the Vineyard’s songlines.