Me&Thee Looking for Local Audience
Coffeehouse draws big-name acts, but few Marbleheaders.
The me&thee coffeehouse just concluded its 40th year of presenting live folk music at the Unitarian Universalist Churchut to get to its next big anniversary, the Friday-night venue is hoping for increased local support.
“I would love to think that people would know that every Friday night, there is good music in Marblehead,” said Kathy Sands-Boehmer, a volunteer who arranges bookings for the concert series. But she said that audience is very irregular, and mostly from out-of-town. “I feel like Marblehead really supports the arts - The Marblehead Little Theatre, the Old North Church classical concerts - all I can think of is that we get fans of the musicians” rather than fans of the concerts.
The lack of a local audience is somewhat ironic, since both the corps of dedicated volunteers and performers cite the me&thee’s “community” as its major appeal. In fact, the name me&thee officially spelled out in lowercase and with an ampersand because founders thought it would be too formal and “religious-sounding” if capitalized...especially when the venue is a church.
“There’s nothing like it,” said volunteer Dianne Jenkins, while she brewed one of the 10 pots of coffee prepared each week. “There’s no place else where you can get this close and have that intimate experience” with the music.
Jenkins cited two of her favorite performances as evidence of this unique atmosphere. Once, Sara Lee Guthrie (daughter of Arlo, and a well-received musician in her own right) performed unplugged after somebody spilled coffee on the soundboard. Another time, the audience’s support and encouragement motivated Greg Brown to continue with a concert after he had received word of an unexpected death in the family.
“It is pleasantly unusual to play in such a nice place,” said last Friday evening’s opening act Jason Myles Goss, who said he played in a lot of bars in his home of Brooklyn. “Kathy does an incredible job, architecturally it’s a beautiful space and it allows for nuances in performances and you can do things that wouldn’t work so well other places.”
Headlining act Mary Gauthier, similarly praised the coffeehouse for its support of folk music, reminiscing about visiting Marblehead to hear friends and perform when she just started making a name for herself as an artist.
“Forty years, that’s continuity!” she told the audience at the beginning of an hour-and-a-half long set of music that was at times hilarious and heart-wrenching, often both, and perpetually top-notch.
But while pleased that members of the folk community value the coffeehouse’s uniqueness, volunteers have been frequently dismayed that Marbleheaders appear to not share their dedication.
Sands-Boehmer has added more opening acts for the performances to introduce younger artists and audiences to the venue – 14-year-old local Haley Reardon opened the Angel Band’s performance on Feb. 4. Ticket prices have been lowered from $20 to $10 for less well-known acts, and the coffeehouse has been aggressively promoting itself online and through Facebook in hopes of reaching an untapped audience. Meanwhile, Sands-Boehmer tracks online sales for upcoming concerts and delights whenever a local number is entered as a contact for reserved tickets.
Sadly, she only recognizes a few.
“There are not necessarily local regulars, but I’m probably the most obsessive, consistent attendee,” said Marbleheader Len Horowitz, who said that he knew about the me&thee but never had a chance to attend until after his kids grew up.
Now, he represents the ideal audience member. “This is my Friday nights,” he said. “I come in faith that Kathy gets good people, and I always come away with something.”
Before their next anniversary, the coffeehouse’s volunteers hope they hear this sentiment expressed by Marbleheaders more often.
The me&thee coffeehouse presents concerts every Friday night during the fall, winter and spring at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Mugford St. Ticket prices range from $10 to $25 and are available at the door on the night of the performance or in advance. Friday brings the Adam Ezra Group with Pesky J. Nixon to town. Visit www.meandthee.org for tickets, information on upcoming performances, and more.