As the world opened up again after two years in an induced pandemic coma, Me&Thee board member and founder Anthony Silva realized some changes needed to be made to the beloved performance space that has occupied the Unitarian Universalist Church on Mugford Street for 53 years to attract a new audience and stay relevant.
The first change would be the name.
“No one under 35 knows what a coffeehouse is. When you say coffeehouse, they think Starbucks. We are listed online as a restaurant,” he says of the venerable institution which has hosted acoustic music by renowned singer-songwriters for five decades.
“The church administrator told me that there would be people lining up outside the door at 9:30 in the morning asking for a cappuccino,” he says with a laugh. “We are now Me&Thee Music because we are a music series. Audiences have changed and we asked, ‘How can we continue the tradition?’”
“COVID-19 demolished audiences for art galleries, movie theaters and music venues,” he observes. “We are still feeling the ripples of the pandemic with fewer people going out. We needed to find a way to rebuild our audience.”
Silva and the board tweaked the formula of the successful venue by expanding the scope of talent that plays the tiny stage. Going forward, it will be much more than a person onstage with a guitar.
“We’re in an experimental stage,” says Silva. “We’ve expanded beyond singer-songwriter. For example, last year we hosted jazz saxophonist and flautist Stan Strickland, and it was a huge hit. Next February, we will have Brazilian samba.”
Silva adds, “We have also changed to Saturday instead of Friday to see if it works. In addition, we are open twice a month instead of every Friday. It was burning out audiences and volunteers. So far, the response has been great from both. This will give us flexibility. We have new board members, new volunteers and new ideas. We are building community from inside and outside.”
With all the changes afoot, Silva felt it was time to host the very first Me&Thee Music dance party. On Saturday, Dec. 10, the local retro band The Mugfords rocked the house for a holiday concert and dance party, including oldies from the ’60s and ’70s and holiday songs “reimagined as if the Cars or the Beatles were playing them,” says guitarist Paul Todisco.
The group is composed of four close friends, all Marbleheaders, who have played together for almost three decades, according to Todisco, affectionately dubbed “the human jukebox” for his encyclopedic knowledge of rock music.
“We met at a UU retreat almost 30 years ago,” he recalls. “I had just moved to the area and joined the local church. The choir director was Debra Basile. I was fascinated and thought they were great, so I auditioned. She put me in the tenor section next to Chad Rosen, her husband, and the rest is history.”
The two became fast friends and “caused a lot of disruption” with their shenanigans, he admits.
“Then and there, we decided to start a band,” Todisco says. “Chad and I brought our guitars, and Debra came with a bass. It was a real hootenanny. We were united by our sense of humor and love of music. That’s what binds us.”
Rosen continues, “We discovered that Paul knew every Beatles song, and Deb could pick out the harmonies beautifully. We were a trio at first, but then Steve Pierce joined us. You have to have a drummer, after all!”
Pierce taught with Debra at the Marblehead Middle School.
“Any kid who went through Marblehead schools had Steve as their art teacher,” says Todisco.
The warmth and camaraderie among the members of The Mugfords is palpable.
“We are not doing this for the money,” says Rosen. “We just want to have fun. It helps that we’re all really good friends.”
While the four enjoy joking around, they are also serious musicians, Todisco stresses.
“Deb is conservatory-trained and a multi-instrumentalist,” he says. “We’ve all played in bands, too. We practice and spend a lot of time trying to get things right.”
When the pandemic put the kibosh on public gatherings and performances, the band began playing outdoors.
“We got our vaccinations and took everything outside on the porch,” Todisco says. “It made people walking by really happy to hear live music after such a long time.”
Me & Thee Music is located at 28 Mugford St. and continues its 53rd season in February with two local musicians. On Feb. 3, Brazilian jazz vocalist Teresa Coelho and her trio perform on Feb. 17, Marblehead’s Hayley Reardon presents her homecoming following her world tour. For more information, visit meandthee.org.