Hot Tin Roof

A magical venue known as the Hot Tin Roof opened in 1979 at the airport on Martha’s Vineyard. George Brush and Herb Putnam, together with Carly Simon, operated the nightclub in those days as a combination restaurant and music venue. Featured in Rolling Stone, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, Newsweek, People magazine, The Roof (as locals affectionately called it) would ultimately be covered in every publication that mattered. It quickly became a hangout for the SNL crowd, the Taylor family and a place where anyone from Keith Richards, Walter Cronkite, John Travolta to Jackie Kennedy Onassis could be spotted on a Vineyard summer night. Before they were the Blues Brothers, Belushi and Ackroyd polished their act at the Hot Tin Roof. You’d hear Bonnie Raitt, Delbert McClinton, Ricky Nelson, Leon Russell, Jesse Colin Young, Martha Reeves. And it was always a party at the Hot Tin Roof.

In 1986, with each of their careers going in different directions and the club well established, Carly, George and Herb decided it was time to sell. They sold the club to island businessman, Peter Martell, but the recipe and island’s social dynamics had changed, and The Roof hit a dry spell of magic and went dark.

Ten years later the club rose from its ashes. Recognizing the island’s need for The Roof, combined with his passion for his labor of love, Herb Putnam and a team of high profile investors decided to buy back the club and re-launch the legend. This time Simon and Putnam had as partners Dick Friedman, Dirk Ziff, Steven Rattner and Harvey Weinstein among ten investors. The club re-opened with a newly-renovated space, featuring incredible murals by renowned artist Margot Datz of old trucks, farmers, docks, haystacks, beach sunsets and other island visuals. Simon and Putnam resumed operations with expanded capacity, an open-air section and an upgraded sound system. This time the HTR offered even more variety in musical acts. You might hear anyone — John Popper, Martin Mull, Maria Muldaur, the Roches, The Temptations, The Average White Band, Pat Benatar.

Playing The Roof became a box that needed to be checked on many artists’ “I played at” lists. When Peter Tosh played the sold-out club, concert goers were literally hanging on limbs of the trees from outside of the club’s fence to witness the famed member of Bob Marley & The Wailers. Major talent agents from powerhouse music agencies William Morris, CAA, Monterrey Peninsula perennially phoned the club to get both their up-and-comers and timeless artists on the summer lineup. Jim Belushi called one night and said he wanted to play the club, and play he did. It was not only a place to hear established stars, but became one of the venerable rooms where countless artists like Susan Tedeschi, Cyndi Lauper, Stephen Marley, Derek Trucks, Grace Potter rocked out before their stars were launched.

Cory Cabral, the HTR General Manager and talent booker, recalled one particular night when New Orleans’ funk band The Neville Brothers were scheduled to play:

“It was a sold out Friday night show in August and the stage was set for an epic night of music. But disaster struck at 3pm on the day of the show when it was discovered that the backline (i.e., instruments and sound equipment) had not arrived on the island. The band’s agent and manager threatened to cancel the show. Meanwhile, the Roof management team called everyone in their collective rolodex to procure some of the rarest keyboards and percussion instruments in the music industry. With the show in limbo — for 6 grueling hours — it was a flurry of non-stop calls to every instrument rental company, private pilot, charter plane, courier and boat captain they knew. With flight conditions below minimums, it took 147 phone calls until two pilots were located to take the charter.

Cabral continued: “Once the equipment was couriered from downtown NYC to the tarmac at Teterborough NJ, the pilots had to frantically take out the seats of the plane with a pocket Leatherman because the dimensions of the instrument cases were wrong and didn’t fit. With the seats removed, the pilots were Vineyard bound with the requisite keyboards in order for the band to perform.

“Meanwhile, several of the club’s high profile owners, many Hollywood celebrities and 550 + concert goers were anxiously awaiting for the doors to open while the equipment was in flight from NYC and ferried from Hyannis by speed boat. The doors opened and the band bought time playing some of their tunes on a Hammond B3 organ until the equipment arrived.

“The visibility was so poor, the pilots missed their landing on the first approach and just made it on their second attempt. HTR staff then loaded the equipment into a transport van from the Vineyard airport tarmac and were ready to roll to the club when the U.S. Secret Service stopped them because Bill Clinton was exiting a plane at the airport. Everything was on lock down until Clinton found out the equipment van was heading to the Roof. He gave the Secret Service the go ahead to let them through.

“Clinton knew Carly Simon and had been to the club for a birthday party for one of his staff a few years back. After Clinton gave the go ahead, the van with the keyboards sped through the airport gates and were unloaded straight to the stage while Aaron Neville was in the middle of singing his solo ‘Tell It Like It Is.’ As soon as Aaron finished the song’s last note, the Neville Brothers rocked seamlessly onto the keyboards, culminating with a night of unforgettable music.”

 Every week was another adventure bringing international musicians to the stage at The Roof. Just making it to the Woods Hole ferry on time for most artists was a miracle. Cabral recalls the time when blues legend Taj Mahal missed the last island ferry, and the only way to make it to the island on time to play his sold out show was with a Cigarette speed boat. Reggae dance hall superstar Barrington Levy missed his flight from Jamaica and the only way to get him to the club on time was with by chartering a private plane from Miami. And there was the night when the royal family of reggae, Morgan Heritage, was about to hit the stage when just as they were about to play the first note, the power went out across the island, causing the show to go dark. The Morgans played an acoustic set by candle light until the power went back on. A deep rolodex of private pilots, charter planes, boat captains, speed boats, couriers and instrument rentals was usually tapped to make the magic happen. But at the Roof, one way or another, the show always went on.

A third era for the club formerly known as the Hot Tin Roof began in 2006, when Barry, Mona and Arthur Rosenthal launched Outerland (renamed because previous ownership would not relinquish rights). Cabral stayed on as GM and talent booker. For three seasons, Outerland was open every night to continue the tradition of great music Outerland added a fine dining restaurant, as well as special nights for the local Brasilian community and a Family Dance-O-Rama.

Outerland continued to be the “in” place to be on the island. It was a Farrelly Brothers hangout with Hollywood friends like Jake Gyllenhaal, Woody Harrelson, Greg Kinnear, Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen and Larry David. Vineyard tourists and summer people would plan their vacations around the concert lineup at Outerland. Every week the international reggae series would bring the hottest and most legendary Jamaican reggae artists to island. Unrelenting, the parade of great musical acts continued — Judy Collins, Citizen Cope, John Hiatt, The Avett Brothers, Hall and Oates.

In 2009, a Vermont nightclub known as Nectars took over the venue in partnership with Flatbread Co., a wood-fired pizza restaurant chain with locations in New England and Hawaii. Nectars, a Vermont food and music venue, features regional and local musical acts and wasn’t able to sustain their presence on the Vineyard. In 2012, Nectars departed, and Flatbread stayed on as a pizza place for another few years, featuring occasional acts, but mostly local favorites. By 2014, the historic music scene at Martha’s Vineyard airport was no more. The Roof aka Outerland aka Nectars aka Flatbread went dark.

Over the years an incredible lineup entertained Vineyarders and summer visitors — Barenaked Ladies, Little Feat, Bo Diddley, Los Lobos, P Funk, Ben Harper, Albert King, Willie Nile, Blind Boys of Alabama, Tish Hinojosa, The Bacon Brothers, Buddy Guy, Taj Mahal, Janis Ian, Susanne Vega, Chris Daniels, Robert Cray, David Bromberg, Lou Reed, Peter Wolf, Richie Havens, Marshall Tucker, Jerry Lee Lewis, Eddie Money, Queen Ida, Phoebe Snow, Dr. John, The Mamas and the Papas, 10,000 Maniacs and Jorma Kaukonen.

The long list of reggae performers that played at the Roof and its successor identities includes Jimmy Cliff, Toots and the Maytals, Burning Spear, Peter Tosh, Steel Pulse, Eek-a-Mouse, Yellowman, Sizzla, Morgan Heritage and Freddie McGregor. Jazz greats Dizzy Gillespie, Les McCann, Nona Hendrix, Herbie Mann, Maceo Parker and Tito Puente played there.  

Many New England favorites played at the club including Arlo Guthrie, Jeff Muldaur, Roomful of Blues, James Montgomery, Cheryl Wheeler, The Ululators, Johnny Hoy, Entrain, Mike Benjamin, Phil DaRosa — and of course, Carly Simon, James Taylor and the entire Taylor clan, James, Alex, Livingston, Kate, Hugh, Sally, Ben, Aretha, Liz and Isaac.

In the dead of winter, countless off island tourists would drive out to the airport and knock on the door of the club’s closed doors, begging for just a glimpse of the place they’ve heard so much about. The Roof was a part of Vineyard folklore. For 35 years, the club brought the music world to the island to play on its stage. Many lifelong loves, friendships and memories were forged on a summer’s night at the Roof. It was an institution that unified the island community every time the doors opened and the music flowed.

On Martha’s Vineyard, it was the place to be.

(by Michael G. West and Cory Cabral)

Help support MMONE

Purchases made on Amazon.com help to support MMONE's effort to celebrate New England's rich musical heritage. Learn about more ways to support us here.