Decked out in brightly colored Vineyard Vines clothing and big smiles, it’s hard to miss the young men of the Vineyard Sound as they pop up around the Island singing. The 10-man a cappella group has been a staple of Vineyard summers for the past 25 years. To commemorate this milestone, current Vineyard Sound members invited all past members to come back and sing at their 25th anniversary show at the Tabernacle, on Saturday, July 29.
While the members change and new songs are cycled through, the mission of the group has held strong, and the brotherhood has grown. Members old and new were looking forward to the opportunity to sing together.
“It’ll be very, very special for all of us. At this point we have 113 alumni. The performance itself is going to have around 70 to 80 alumni — hopefully more will come — and we’ll all be packed onto that Tabernacle stage,” said Henry Hetz, current Sound member and organizer of the reunion concert. “We’ll have certain eras, like the ’92 through ’99 group of guys, the 2000 through 2005; little sections of Vineyard Sound history singing whatever songs they’d like to sing. The current group will do maybe three or four songs total, because it’s really about [our alumni] that night.”
Mr. Hetz noted that the entire ensemble will sing a few classic songs that have been with the group since the beginning, such as their song “Good Ol’ A Capella,” “Vincent” by Don McLean, and “Walking in Memphis” by Marc Cohn.
The Vineyard Sound was the brainchild of Islander Chris Bettencourt back in 1992. At the time, Bettencourt attended Connecticut College, where he sang a capella. Wanting to bring the joy of music back to the Island for the summer, Mr. Bettencourt rallied friends from the college, as well as a few more far-reaching buddies, Townsend Belisle, then at Skidmore College, and two others from Wesleyan University. The majority of Sound members still come from one of these three institutions.
Sam Bigelow, a Sound member during the summers of 1997 and 1999, explained the group’s beginning as he remembers it.
“It was a group of friends that met through mutual friends and shared the love of singing. They actually all went to a Bobby McFerrin concert together,” Mr. Bigelow said. “They had tossed the idea around of doing a summer group, but they point to the concert as ground zero, where they quickly learned a song together in case they were able to meet McFerrin after the show. They ended up meeting him and sang for him, and he was really impressed. They were super-energized by it.”
With this momentum, all the group needed was a few more members. David Buffum, the first music director of the group, said, “I was a senior at Connecticut College in ’92. I was approached by my buddy Chris Bettencourt, who said that he and Townsend Belisle had met the year before and thought it would be fun to get a group together to sing on the Vineyard. When he invited me, I said, ‘Of course.’”
While Mr. Buffum knew the Connecticut College contingent, he met half the group upon arrival, “We shook hands and basically said, ‘Hey, how are you? Let’s sing.’ Now these guys are some of the best friends I’ve ever had. Many of us have been in each other’s weddings, and we’re still such good friends,” Mr. Buffum said. “There is a real power in doing something you love, with people who love it too. For us this happened to be singing, and it happened to be in an amazing place. We were living a dream life.”
This grateful, enthusiastic mentality has stayed with the group over the years. As the Sound’s current manager, Gavin Morgan, phrased it during a recent interview with the MV Times, “The group was founded on the idea that we’re 10 guys who work hard. We get to meet incredible people and perform for some pretty incredible things. We have magical moments with the people of the Island and the people who visit here, and that’s what the heart of the group is.” While the boys have four public concerts a week, they also schedule private events, and work in some spontaneous singing as well.
Mr. Hetz said, “Some of the most fun parts of this job are deciding, let’s get five of us and go to Lambert’s Cove, or go into town. Then we’ll run into someone who says, ‘Oh, can you guys do us a song?’ and it turns out someone is getting married. There were a bunch of teachers at Coop DeVille last week, and one of them was a big fan of ours. Then we found out that another one was a friend of one of our founding members, Chris Bettencourt, and those two guys had done a group together before Chris founded the Vineyard Sound. It’s just crazy stuff like that. That’s always the most rewarding.”