Wasn’t that a time?
Some people are surprised to learn that some pretty famous folks have graced the me&thee stage over the years. The stories of how they got here are rarely told. Here are five short tales:
When the me&thee was just a few years old, we got a call from a local theater director who asked if we wanted to be part of a “theatrical production that would shock folks.” That sounded like a great idea (we were kids!), so we said “Yes!” It was the midst of the Vietnam War and we offered draft counseling along with the live music. We were not prepared for this theatrical production, though. Norman Mailer had moved into town for a few weeks and was looking for a stage to try out his new work, “Why Are We In Vietnam?” It’s a biting and angry piece with raw language and stagecraft that matched the frustration of the time. Mailer directed the shocking play with local actors on the me&thee stage and the controversy almost put us out of business. It also put us on the front page and filled the house.
Years later, a humble older guy with a guitar walked into the me&thee and volunteered. We had no idea that he was Frank Hamilton, a former member of The Weavers! He was in Marblehead for a while to visit family and he stayed for years. He taught us so much about music and coffeehouse management. We were having a hard time financially then and Frank suggested Pete Seeger might be convinced to come to Marblehead for a fund raiser. It was then that we discovered Frank had actually replaced Pete in The Weavers. Pete came and filled Abbot Hall to capacity. He was such a gentleman that he insisted that he, not Frank, go out on stage first that night so he could have the “honor” to introduce his friend. The crowd roared its approval and admiration.
Walking along Harvard Square, we heard a most unusual busker singing songs that could move you with their gutsy emotion. The singer was a sophomore at Tufts University and we immediately offered her a gig at the me&thee. That was how we came to present Tracy Chapman on one of her first stages. She was so overcome by the thunderous applause and appreciation here, she broke down in our arms and cried just behind the door to the left of the stage. That night, she moved us all.
Marshall Dodge of “Bert and I” fame visited the me&thee often, teaching us that folks would come out for high quality evenings, and that we could actually charge more than $3.50 to get in. The crowd was huge the first time he was featured, but we were nervous because Marshall was nowhere to be found. Did he forget? Just 15 minutes before showtime, he nonchalantly walked in the front door and announced, “I’m ready!” Asked where he had been, he simply answered he didn’t think he was needed. Besides, he told us, “I like to see you guys sweat!”
More recently, Tony Award winning actor John Gallagher Jr (HBO’s Olive Kitteridge and The Newsroom, Broadway’s Spring Awakening) wrote a blind letter to us saying he met the “kind proprietress” of the me&thee at the Philadelphia Folk Festival and could he be considered for a gig. When Canadian Ian Foster couldn’t get a visa in time for his gig here, John was booked to open for Anaïs Mitchell, whose Hadestown has since played to great reviews off Broadway. After John’s show, the line of autograph seekers stretched out for more than an hour, and we don’t even have a stage door. He drove back to Manhattan later that night.
Maybe it’s luck, maybe it’s serendipity but the me&thee has a long track record of attracting some of the finest performers in the country and beyond. Stick around for the next chapter!