The name Wintertide Coffee House means something to many Islanders. To some, it is legend, a place that every Island musician remembers with fondness, refers to whenever musical magic appears. To others it is a real memory of a place where they first got their taste of being on a stage, or heard their first live performance. Go back even farther and the name belongs to the pioneers who created the very first Wintertides in the basement of churches or at the Youth Hostel sometime in the 70s. Thanks to Tony Lombardi and the forces behind the Alexandra Gagnon Teen Center at the YMCA, the Wintertide has been reborn as the Wintertide Collective – and has come to rest in its rightful place among the Island’s musical teens.
“The original Wintertide relied completely on teens and those who didn’t want to buy into the drinking culture every single night. I mean, sometimes you just want to go listen to music and relax, you don’t want to smell old beer. That was a hole that was filled back then, and it’s a hole that we’re filling now.”
In the 80s, Lombardi took the concept of the Wintertide Coffee House over from its original creators who were no longer interested in running it any longer. He turned it from an occasional event into a brick and mortar reality, which lived in what is now Tropical Restaurant in Five Corners, for twelve years. As the director of the Alexandra Gagnon Teen Center, Lombardi has registered the name and given it to the kids – changing the name from the BASE to the Wintertide Collective. At the same time, changing the moniker of the “Teen Center” to Alex’s Place.
“We’ve been struggling of the identity for a little while,” said Lombardi of the center. “Teen center has a little bit of stigma to it, but Alex’s Place and Wintertide Collective are two names that resonate with the kids and feel every bit as real. Here we had this facility and I thought why are we trying to call it something that is non-descript like the BASE, I had this name in my back pocket and no one was using it so I registered it and gave it to the kids.”
Alex’s Place is the open, upstairs space of the center. It’s where teens can come and go as they please during open hours – to cool off, check their facebook, play a game, etc. In the fall, there will be programs run out of Alex’s Place like Alex’s Sisters, run by Laurel Whitaker, for young women and Alex’s brothers for young men. “We’ve identified that kids are really confused about their place in our culture. Some of them tend to want to dress up like the Jersey Shore and be those people. We’re trying to provide a counterweight to those extremes that they’re seeing in the media to try and help shape them into becoming, ultimately, the people we know they want to be,” said Lombardi.
The Winteride Collective, which takes place downstairs, is part of an Entrepreneurship Program that includes the Wintertide Collective, Studio 57, Digital Connectors and more programs to come.
“If we’re going to address the mission of the YMCA which is to enhance body mind and spirit…the body part is taken care of by the wellness center, and we look at mind and spirit. I tend to think about how to engage the mind in some way that is going to benefit the kids in their future life, give them a training of some sort, an opportunity that they wouldn’t otherwise get. When I think about the spirit, I think about the creative arts because the creative arts are a way to express what’s inside of you…whether through music, dance, painting photography…combine all of that, you get what the Winteride Collective is about.”
Another mission of the Wintertide Collective is to build a bridge between teens and the community. “One of the things we don’t want to do is have the kids just be in this space in a vacuum,” explained Lomardi. “That isn’t going to help anyone. They have to be around healthy adults in order to understand what it is to be a healthy adult. We’re up against a very strong media message that says exactly the opposite of what we want our kids to learn and so we’re taking that bull by the horns here by bringing the community and the kids together in an alcohol and drug-free space.”
Kids involved in the Entrepreneurship Program are the ones running the Wintertide Collective. They are the ones involved in the Adrenaline Music Project that teaches the art of performance, how to be on stage, how to write songs. Eventually, they will not only be the artists performing the songs, they will also be the producers mixing and recording those artists’ songs in Studio 57. They will be in charge of the public relations and distribution. And when it comes time for performances, they will be the sound and lighting engineers and the opening act DJs. “We have a DJ training program that trained 12 DJs last year, two got wedding gigs this summer for money,” said Lombardi.
Having the name Wintertide rest at Alex’s Place seems to make all the sense in the world. For, as Lombardi said, “This is the place where the kids of today - who are the adults of tomorrow, will bring their kids and say, ‘when I was a kid, this is where I used to go and listen to music.’”