Chilmark Potluck Jam Celebrates a Decade

Alex Karalekas might spearhead events, but the jam takes a village of volunteers.
 

Chilmark Potluck Jam recently celebrated 10 years and 50 evenings of Island musicians, families, friends, just looking for a community night out. Island musicians Alex Karalekas, Willie Mason, and Brad Tucker came up with a plan in 2008 so they could play their own music. It happened at the Grange Hall, and then it happened in Chilmark at the Community Center, and there it stuck. 

Starting the weekend after Thanksgiving each fall, the Chilmark Potluck Jam is one of the off-season’s mainstay events. The jams happen every six weeks through April or May, averaging between 200 to 300 attendees. Karalekas estimates at least 300 musicians have played in the past decade.

Tables are decorated with flowers (often collected by Karalekas’ mom) and seasonal arrangements, recently overseen by Courtney Nigro Fitzgerald, lit by candlelight. A fresh bounty of homemade dishes fills tables as new musicians and concertgoers arrive. The evening usually starts with young mothers and toddlers in tow. There can be an entire dance gang at the foot of the stage, none older than 9, rocking to the beat of the Rob Myers band the Pinkletinks. Like most Vineyard events, the generations come out for an evening to sing and play together. As evening turns to night, the youngest folks head home, and others continue to arrive with more dishes to share. By 9 pm, all the oysters have been eaten, and the crowd has settled in for the night.

Alex Karalekas may spearhead the event, but it takes a village of volunteers, who set up and break down the tables and chairs; music setup and sound technicians; musicians, cleanup crew, dishwashers, people shucking fresh oysters on ice, photographers, artists, and filmmakers. 

Many an Island musician debuted in this venue, singing their first song alone. You can watch the kids who’ve grown up as new generations of musical families join together onstage — it’s a lovefest. Anyone can sign up, and it is a completely free event. 

Each night has its own rhythm, but Karalekas says, “The last hour is usually where the magic happens.” Karalekas hopes to see some faces return that haven’t surfaced this past year, like siblings Sally and Ben Taylor. 

I wanted a list of all the musicians who’ve played in the past decade, but Karalekas has not kept an archive, so we can only see some of the announcements that have been posted on Facebook over the years. Karalekas, who has no formal musical training, started playing guitar at age 12, has toured abroad as an acoustic musician, and really appreciates the level of professionalism on the Island. He loves when the evenings “organically offer a mix of professionals” like John Forte, John Saw, Isaac Taylor, Jemima James, and Kate Taylor, along with musicians who may only enjoy singing for family. Karalekas says he “loves when singers like Lydia Fischer really find their voices.” 

Every Chilmark Potluck Jam is a welcoming evening where you never know who may be invited to share the stage with someone listed, where you can catch kids who’ve just gone on their first tours and are home again, where someone will try out a new sound, where community can always come together and have a wonderful night out filled with song and great playing, knowing there will be another great potluck just weeks away to brighten the dark nights, and ward off the damp off-season cold. 

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