Back before the internet, before television and before radio, there was church. While religious reverence was part of the draw, so was the music and the sense of community. And while many things have changed, a few things have stayed the same. On a recent Wednesday evening in Oak Bluffs, over 200 people followed the winding paths of the Camp Ground to the Trinity Park Tabernacle for the Community Sing, just as they have for over 100 years.

Families with small children, teenagers in college sweatshirts and elderly couples trickled into the open-air Tabernacle. A crew of boys on skateboards circled the cement walkway around the hall, sending a clattering chorus through the iron arches.

Before entertainment became mainstream and palm-sized, people would get together to sing, often at church. Parishioners sang traditional hymns as part of the regular service. But in the America of 150 years ago, the lines between religions and denominations were relatively rigid and the experience of singing for New Englanders was often confined to their own pews. Then, in part due to traveling folk musicians, interest in secular songs grew. Religious and nonreligious people alike had something in common.

The act of gathering together to sing songs is nothing new. But the Community Sing uniquely combined the enthusiasm of the saloon sing-along with the reverence of weekly worship and the ritual of the campfire tune. And because it was a community-wide secular experience it often led to religious intermingling.

“They saw their Catholic friends, their Baptist friends together,” said director Bob Cleasby. “Things are much more mixed now, happily,” he said.

The date of inception for the sing is unclear. “I was told by a gentlemen over 100 that they started in the Camp Ground in 1904,” Mr. Cleasby said. “The first written record we have of it was in the minutes of the 1919 board meeting.”

It still uses a songbook that was last printed in the 1930s. Tunes from the early 20th century make it into the lineup, as well as more contemporary songs. Mr. Cleasby has been at the helm for 27 years or 238 straight Community Sings. He said he tries to gauge each particular crowd and give them what they want.

Stationed by a table on a recent Wednesday evening, 10-year-old Alex Taylor from Minnesota handed out songbooks. His job as usher paid one candy bar per night, he said. On stage, Mr. Cleasby wore his hallmark red pants and white shirt, while taking note of the incoming crowd.

“If you were on the stage with me, I could tell you, now look at that person, look at that person, look at that person,” he said later, after the show. “That person needs to sing to something in his life that’s not good. That person dares me to make them happy.”

Kevin Brennan stood on the grass just outside the Tabernacle, his eyes on the accumulating crowd and his fingers deep in a container of cheese fries. Mr. Brennan’s wife was in Chicago and the empty refrigerator and quiet house had pushed him out into the fresh air.

“I can’t sing at home or I’ll get yelled at,” Mr. Brennan said. But the shushing doesn’t come from his family or his neighbors. So where does it come from?

“My subconscious, I guess.”

Mr. Brennan talked about his old home in New Jersey and how happy he is now to live on the Vineyard full-time.

“I try to never go back. America gets to me,” he said.

During the sing, Mr. Cleasby led rounds of a number called Little Tom Tinker, The Swiss Navy Song, Hey Jude. Afterward he noted that a couple who hadn’t been to the event in 50 years was in attendance. Another couple came from London on a recommendation, and a man in his 90s was seated firmly on the bench, as he has been for over 70 straight years.

But not everyone comes of their own volition. “Once in awhile I get someone who I can tell has been dragged there by their family. And they didn’t want to come. And they cross their arms over their chest and they look very grim,” Mr. Cleasby said. “And that’s the person I work on that night. And I get them. One way or another, I get them.”

A group from Camp Jabberwocky needed no encouragement. The camp, which caters to people with disabilities, comes at least once per summer. Zachary Sorenson of Colorado has been working at the camp for 11 years. The Swiss Navy Song is everyone’s favorite, he said.

“Paul, my camper, knows all the words and hardly needs a book,” Mr. Sorenson said. “These are the campers that appreciate the classic stuff. The rest of them are walking around Oak Bluffs.”

While there is no admission charge for the Community Sing, a free-will donation is collected. Pianist Amaryllis Glass played a different kind of song as the baskets were passed.

“It’s called Malagueña by a composer named Ernesto Lecuona,” she said. The piece, like Ms. Glass’s parents, is from Cuba. The Tabernacle’s nine-foot Steinway is the best piano that exists, Ms. Glass said. “And this is my favorite place to play on it.”

After the offering, the singalong continued.

“They sang different words to this one at Ohio State,” said Jeff Ferriell, former Camp Meeting Association president. Mr. Ferriell first visited the Vineyard 31 years ago to announce his engagement to his fiancee’s family. The Camp Ground was a source of interest to him right away. He explained how the original tents were built by a largely Methodist community. The tent walls were eventually replaced with wood as a necessity of the Civil War, as canvas was hard to come by because the supply was tied up in Confederate factories. First the walls were replaced with wood and eventually the roofs. Now there are about 315 cottages, with no tent flaps in sight.

“It’s a step back in time in our country,” Mr. Ferriell said. “These were the songs our parents heard from their parents. Kids here will remember this as part of their childhoods.”

As the evening continued, Mr. Brennan made his way into the Tabernacle and sat on a bench. Camp Jabberwocky sang the loudest, with bursts of laughter intermingling with some songs. A few young women stood quietly on the outskirts of the hall, smiling.

“There aren’t many times when people can get together without getting angry at their neighbors about their political beliefs,” Mr. Ferriell said. Friendly communal participation is the point of the evening. The power of music was in the hands of the people.

Mr. Cleasby said he would be at the helm as long as he could.

“You really can’t get it anywhere else that I know of in New England or maybe further away. It’s a Vineyard experience that only happens here, nine times a summer.”

The Community Sing takes place from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Tabernacle.

More photos of the Community Sing.