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Beach Road Weekend puts the Vineyard on the summer festival map

Dispatch plays Saturday at Veterans Memorial Park in Vineyard Haven.
Dispatch plays Saturday at Veterans Memorial Park in Vineyard Haven.(Handout)

Between Martha Vineyard’s sun-kissed afternoons, picturesque beaches, and walkable villages, it’s no wonder high-profile artists, musicians, and vacationing politicians have flocked to the island for decades. While some visit the Vineyard to unwind, many artists view its ambiance as the ideal milieu to reveal a most-authentic version of themselves.

Beach Road Weekend, a three-day music festival set for Aug. 9-11 at Veterans Memorial Park in Vineyard Haven, will comprise musicians that embrace the island’s music tradition. At the forefront of the festival’s inaugural lineup is a pair of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s John Fogerty and Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh. Fogerty will serve as Saturday’s headliner alongside Dispatch, Alejandro Escovedo, North Mississippi Allstars, Mason Jennings, and Super Diamond. Lesh will close out the festival Sunday after performances by Grace Potter, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, the Original Wailers, Galactic, and Matisyahu.

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Opening the festival is a Friday showing of the 1975 summer blockbuster “Jaws.” The Vineyard favorite will be accompanied by the Cape Symphony performing John Williams’s haunting score in sync with the film.

“People know the famous two notes — bum bump, bum bump — but they don’t realize the rest of the score is so incredibly beautiful,” says Jung-Ho Pak, the symphony’s artistic director and coordinator. “All of the genius of John Williams is there in every moment, not just when the shark is there. I think that’s going to really make people appreciate the overall beauty of the score.”

For some of the performers in the lineup, such as Boston-based Dispatch and Potter, a Vermont native, performing on the Vineyard means much more than a typical tour stop.

“It’s always been, in my mind, kind of a sacred spot,” Dispatch frontman Chadwick Stokes says.

Stokes’s connection to the Vineyard extends beyond music. He spent his teenage years working as a counselor at Camp Jabberwocky in Vineyard Haven — the same summer camp his grandmother worked at throughout her 20s. Some of his musical inspiration was drawn from the island; Stokes was just 16 when he wrote “Flying Horses,” a song which delineates his yearning to steal a ring from the famous Flying Horses carousel in Oak Bluffs. The guitarist’s first live performance of the song came at Wintertide Coffeehouse in Vineyard Haven.

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Beach Road Weekend will provide Stokes and his bandmates, Brad Corrigan and Pete Francis, an opportunity to perform some of the group’s most celebrated songs in a nontraditional way.

“These days we’re mostly electric, but we decided we’ll do more of an acoustic vibe and just focus on the harmonies,” Stokes says. “It’ll be more of a folky show for us than a rock show. I think if there’s a place to do that, this is a good place to lean on the folk.”

Like Stokes, some of Potter’s earliest memories on the Vineyard are of summer jobs she once worked.

“I used to paint houses on the Vineyard when I was in high school and college. It’s what paid to produce my first album I ever recorded,” says Potter, who burst on the scene after forming Grace Potter and the Nocturnals in 2002.

Even after she established herself as a talented multi-instrumentalist with a knack for powerful live performances, Potter continued to book gigs at some of the Vineyard’s intimate venues. She says this visit to the island is especially meaningful because she’ll be taking the stage for the first time with her new band, which features Jordan West on drums, Eliza Hardy Jones on keyboards, Benny Yurco on guitar, and Kurtis Keber on bass. Her set will include some of the material she’s releasing on a new album this fall.

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Potter isn’t the festival’s only act with new songs. Karl Denson, a saxophonist, flutist, and vocalist, returns to the Vineyard after releasing “Gnomes and Badgers” in March. Denson says his new album touches on issues dominating national news cycles these days.

“The absurdity of what we’re doing right now is what led me to kind of switch gears a little bit as I got closer to finishing the writing lyrically on this record,” says Denson, who noted one of the album’s songs, “Time to Pray,” was created in response to “This whole ‘You’re going to win so much you’re going to be tired of it’ mentality.”

As the Vineyard prepares for its first major music festival, the artists are looking forward to embracing the island’s feel-good mood.

“It’s a festive place,” Potter says, “so it seems fitting to bring everyone together in one place and just celebrate.”

Beach Road Weekend

At Veterans Memorial Park, Vineyard Haven, Aug. 9-11. Tickets from $25 (Friday) and $75 (Saturday and Sunday), www.beachroadweekend.com


Brad Joyal can be reached at bradjoyal@gmail.com.