by Sarah Teach
The gentle string-pickings of bluegrass will drift across Children’s Beach this Thursday August 9 and Friday August 10 from 4-7 p.m. on both days. Come on over: it’s free, and no matter who you are, you’re invited to Hardly Strictly Eelgrass, an outdoor grassroots music festival happening right here on Nantucket. “We needed something like this,” says Greta Feeney-Samuels, who has organized the two-evening festival. “People in big cities can count on free music festivals going on throughout the summer. So we want to bring this same kind of event to Nantucket, and even though it’s low-budget, still offer high-quality music.”
The festival’s unusual name was inspired by a roots music band called Eelgrass that spent more than a decade playing together on Nantucket. Although the musicians no longer perform as the band Eelgrass, listeners can still enjoy the talent of some of the former band mates and enjoy their legacy of true island roots music. Bluegrass itself is hardly strictly confederacy and coal mining, and people from all walks of life are beginning to notice and appreciate it. “Bluegrass is going through a roots revival; young people are discovering this style of music for the first time. And I can’t think of anything more American than bluegrass,” says Feeney-Samuels, adding an after thought: “Except maybe jazz.”
On Thursday August 9, the festival will open with the surreal talent of local recording artist Jess Clemons, whose powerhouse vocals and raw, original lyrics will give you chills, even on a hot August evening. Following Clemons will be the guitar picking goodness of the local 4 EZ Payments and then the Chuck Colley Trio. Closing out the first evening of the festival will be Nantucket’ gypsy band, Coq Au Vin, whose intoxicating melodies bring even the least inclined person onto the dance floor.
The next night, Friday August 10, come hear the STARS Youth Chorale, a group of talented young island singers ranging from ages 7-14. “They’ll be doing some folksy Americana type stuff,” says Feeney-Samuels. “They’re adorable!” Following the kids will be a special surprise guest guitarist who you may recognize if you’re an islander. Taking the stage next will be Earth Got The Blues, a popular local band that has made it their mission to play the blues of the mid-20th century in an authentic fashion. Closing out the festival will be Southern Rail, a four-piece bluegrass ensemble visiting from
Watertown, Mass. Feeney-Samuels exclaims, “I’ve never seen anyone play the mandolin as fast as John Roc [of Southern Rail]! They’ve been making music together for 40 years. We’d like to mix them in with local bands and have them all feed off each other, and then the people who come to the
festival can take that energy home with them.” Feeney-Samuels expresses a desire to bring in even more off-island talent next year, and also to add some other music styles, like reggae, to the mix in the future. After all, the festival isn’t supposed to be strictly bluegrass!
If you’ve been missing the outdoor festival atmosphere, then Hardly Strictly Eelgrass is just what you’ve been waiting for. “We’ll be offering some swag for a donation: tee shirts, tote bags, oasters,” says Feeney- Samuels. There won’t be any food vendors, though, so bring a picnic basket with your favorite food and drinks. “Hopefully this will be a day in the summer that people will remember,” says Feeney-Samuels as she offers a wide-eyed grin and a girlish laugh and adds, “Maybe some people fall in love.” Come as you are to Children’s Beach this Thursday August 9 and Friday August 10 from 4-7 p.m. on both days, and get ready to enjoy that festival ambiance right here on Nantucket.