Willy Mason has come home again. In the past year alone he’s traveled through Europe on an opening tour for Norah Jones and performed at Switzerland’s Monteaux Jazz Festival. His song “Oxygen” was recorded by opera star Renee Fleming. In a few short weeks, he’ll fly to the United Kingdom once again to record a new album.
But tonight Martha’s Vineyard’s homegrown star is back on our shores, on a familiar stage, for the of the Katharine Cornell Theater’s 2011 concert series.
Mason will be joined by a host of longtime acquaintances, his folk singer mother Jemima James and friends Nina Violet, Marciana Jones and Dan Waters, at the 8 p.m. concert.
It’s an appropriate homecoming for Mason, and not just because he gets to play among and in front of friends. The singer/songwriter got his start on the Vineyard Haven stage. He holds a special place for it in his heart.
“The Katharine Cornell Theater is a big part of my relationship with music and performing,” said Mason.
When Mason was 14 years old, the Katharine Cornell Theater (KCT) was “the only venue we could reliably play at as underage musicians,” he explained. After renting the place for $50 and doing all his own promoting—from printing posters to “finding and setting up the sound equipment . . . and cleaning up afterwards”—he filled the place. And then did it again and again.
That sense of empowerment still lingers, said Mason. “It informs the way I do business now off-Island, knowing that the best concerts can be thrown by kids with little going for them but enthusiasm and good intent."
For Gregg Harcourt and his wife Mary Wolverton, who have managed every aspect of the KCT concert series for more than 10 years, having Mason play is a perfect way to start what they promise will be an exciting season.
“Willy is one of the best representations of the young, creative musicians that are adhering to tradition,” Harcourt said.
That notion of tradition hits at the core of the KCT concert series’ mission. Harcourt said the series prides itself on featuring music that “speaks across time.” He has chosen a line-up of musicians this year who are innovative and yet “have respect for the music that has come before.”
Among those that fit the bill: bluegrass banjo players like Jake Schepps, who will perform in October. Schepps will play pieces by classical composer Béla Bartók.
In July, the theater will feature the Kane Sisters and Edel Fox, three young violin players “who are at the top of their game and who have never played here before,” said Harcourt.
And, of course, tonight the theater will feature Mason, an international recording artist with hit songs and Island folk roots—“a sweet guy from home,” said Harcourt—who got his start on the very same stage.
Willy Mason and special guests Jemima James, Nina Violet, Dan Waters and Marciana Jones will perform Saturday, March 5, at 8 p.m. at the Katharine Cornell Theater. Tickets, $10 in advance, $15 at the door, can be purchased at , Aboveground Records, , the and the Oak Bluffs General Store. To view the Katharine Cornell Concert Series 2011 line-up, go to www.kctconcerts.com.