Coq au Vin
This is not an Epicurean’s recipe – It’s a great Nantucket Gypsy Band!
Copyright Vladimir Kagan, July 21, 2013
A formal photo of the Coq au Vin band
Nantucket cannot survive a summer without its influx of temporary employees. No community that grows from 10.000 to 70,000 in a fortnight can survive without them. The Police hire "rent a cops", gardeners find Latinos, restaurants and merchants depend on the annual influx J-1 visa - foreign students for their staffing. Each year this annual migration brings students from different corners of the world. This year they are Chinese last year they were Russians and Bulgarians.
It was natural for me to assume that the cheerful music wafting into my son’s gallery was produced by a Slavic band. The captivating gypsy sound drew me into the garden of the Westmoor Club where Illya was having his show. Emerging from the dimly lit interior into the blinding sunlight, my eyes gradually adjusted to see a scantily clad nymph dancing with a hoola hoop to the beat created by a lithe blond belting out a song in a foreign language while gyrating with a tambourine. She had a booming voice that wafted above the throng of children gathered there for an outdoor picnic at the club. The band consisted of an accordion, two guitars and a violin. I thought "What a splendid contribution to the ethos of Nantucket." The sound was captivating and I was enthralled by the dancing performers. The children, for whom this performance was intended, could care less, however, the few Dads in the audience did! The band performed exotic music for the next half hour. The hoola hooper taught the children to dance along with her. At the conclusion of the band's performance I was flabbergasted when this nimble nymph came over and kissed me! "Don't you recognize me? I am your masseuse!" (How was that for a small world department?)
I never saw the band again that year.... However, It did occur to me that for Gypsies they looked incredibly "waspy". The violinist was an elegantly clad short bobbed blond that would have been at home in a church, performing with a string quartet. When the accordion player stood up he was a bear of a man with a bushy black beard, not unlike many Russians, but his bearded face did not look Slavic. The two guitarists looked straight out of an East coast prep school. Nonetheless the music and the foreign lyrics were captivatingly gypsy.
I had long ago forgotten this cheerful afternoon. Early this spring I went to one of our local farms to purchase plants for my garden. These farms are staffed with dedicated young people, who love the smell of the earth. The gardener that helped me was a wholesome, curly haired young girl in cut-off jeans and a healthy suntan. During our conversation, I discovered that in the evenings, she changed roles and morphed into the lead singer for the illusive Gypsy band!
One of Nantucket’s best-loved after-beach destinations is the Cisco Brewery. It has become the hottest venue on our Island, where young and old gather for a casual drink and show off their bikinis and suntans. The scene is wild, straight out of the seventies. The audience perch on minimal stools and rough-hewn wooden tables. Children play unperturbed and dogs wonder between your legs without leashes. A cold beer tastes like a nectar from the Gods and the atmosphere vibrates with the music. And there, lo and behold, was my illusive gypsy band! Coq au Vin. Ingrid Feeney, the wholesome farm girl was transformed into a hipster. The violinist, Joanna Hay, still looked still looked the part of a concert violinist though she was wearing a sexy orange mini-skirt... Another hoola-hooper was bouncing in front of the band and the lively music kept everyone happy... I stayed through their entire two-hour performance and instantly became a groupie!
The band in action at the Cisco Brewery
From left to right: Tom Stoddart, Lucy VanArsdale, Andy Harris, Caleb Cressman, Pete Arsenault,
Joanna Hay, Ingrid Feeney
Ingrid belting out a song at the Brewery
Left: Lucy strumming her bass - right: Tom Stoddard sitting-in on a session with Andy on trumpet, Caleb on his accordian and Pete on guitar
Ingrid and Joanna - the barefoot musicians
Joanna with her violin
The band peerforming "Sait James Infirmary" at the Cisco Brewery
(If your computer does not show the video, here is the link)
Through my friend, Ingrid, I learned that these were all talented American "kids" who had gotten together a few years earlier to play this kind of music. Turns out that Ingrid comes from Icelandic and Irish parents and is a linguist who sings in seven languages (this fall she is heading off to Chicago to get a masters in anthropology). Joanna Hay, the violinist, hails from Kentucky and is in fact a trained classical violinist. Back at home she runs her own production company. Caleb Cressman, the accordion player switched from violin to accordion about two years ago to play gypsy music... He lives year round in Nantucket on his farm with his wife and two children. In the daytime Caleb milks his sheep, tends to the animals, his toddler daughter and infant son.
Pete Arsenault is the very talented guitarist playing softly on an acoustic guitar. Robert Walder is a trained flamenco guitarist. Andy Harris is the trumpeter who also plays the euphonium, a hybrid between a tuba and a French horn that adds a deep-throated melodic sound and in an instant jumps a dozen octaves to emit the sweetest high notes. Lucy VanArsdale, the bass fiddler is a cheerful tattooed gal who rhythmically strums at her instrument for the right beat to the music. The band has no drummer; they don’t need one because the table-pounding audience provides all the drumming. Seldom is there a jam session without other musicians sitting in. Tom Stoddart comes with his Saxophone to the Brewery on Tuesday afternoon – Ethan Philbrick, Nantucket’s classical cellist, has played with them at Pazzo.
The band is busy every night playing at private parties, but their wildest gig is on Friday at Pazzo, a small Mediterranean eatery unfashionably located across from the Stop & Shop outside of town. They casually sit at a dining table in the middle of the packed restaurant and play their engaging music. The guests, first politely, tap on their tables along with the music, by the second set, they get more enthusiastic and stomp their feet… by the end of the evening everyone is jumping and dancing on every bit of available space including chairs and tables. The building shakes with the Coq au Vin beat. The music starts at 9:30 but the joint is jumping till way after midnight when Nantucket’s curfew kicks in. ...And there is Chris (my Wing Man) and I, dancing away the night!!!
Next Friday, the band has been invited to play at the Ossipe Valley Music Festival – They are thrilled to participate in this important event but are urgently trying to raise funds for their travel… attached is a link to the website where you can donate money to help defray their travel costs.
Thanks for your help,