The band, Coq au Vin, has taken Nantucket by storm with an eclectic repertoire that includes everything from Django-style gypsy jazz, Eastern European and Russian folk music to French chansons, Cuban songs, American blues — and a little bit of pop. Since launching the band last spring, they’ve become the most sought-after show on the island. “We played eighty gigs in ninety days this summer!” exclaims Ingrid Feeney, the band’s singer.
Coq au Vin’s bandleader, Nantucket-born Caleb Cressman is a musician, composer, ethnomusicologist and organic farmer. He plays an array of different instruments—Irish fiddle, flamenco guitar, mandolin, sitar and percussion — in a wide range of musical styles. The accordion is his newest instrument, and that’s what he plays for Coq au Vin. Cressman also composes all of the original music that Coq au Vin performs.
Cressman put together the earliest incarnation of Coq au Vin as an instrumental ensemble in the summer of 2011 to perform at art openings, cocktail receptions and other Nantucket events. With Cressman on accordion, Joanna Hay on gypsy-style fiddle, Zeb Bennett on acoustic bass, and Bob Walder and Pete Arsenault on guitars, Coq au Vin got its start, stunning Nantucket audiences with their completely unique, if not foreign, sound. A bit later, Cressman brought on horn player and fellow farming colleague, Andy Harris, who “plays a funky-dirty and very imaginative trumpet lead,” says Ingrid Feeney, who joined the band at the beginning of this year.
“When Ingrid started singing with us in January, we realized that something very good was happening,” says Cressman. “Putting a band together with players from such different backgrounds was a perfect fit for Ingrid’s tremendous voice and her linguistics background. Ingrid can sing pretty much anything in any language.” Feeney explains that she was initially concerned that fellow islanders who hail from Russia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, and other parts of Eastern Europe would be critical of their “imperfect attempts at interpreting folk music from these regions.” But she says it has been just the opposite. “Many people have embraced me with tears in their eyes, telling me how happy it makes them to hear this music and what a good job we are doing!”
Part of Cressman’s vision for Coq au Vin was to be able to play unamplified. “Acoustic music has a more balanced, natural sound and the band can play intimate gatherings that a rock band would have trouble with,” says Cressman. “We are also highly mobile and versatile, since we can play with anywhere from three to eight musicians. And thanks to Ingrid’s pipes, she can hold her own over the rest of the band, which is incredible.”
Mostly the band plays together for fun. They especially love gigs where they can “get a little more loose and where the audience is more rowdy” like at their weekly gig at Pazzo. But they admit that they’ve selected much of their repertoire to be appropriate for cocktail parties and other special events. “So I guess we did want to be able to support our music habit by playing fancy gigs too,” says Feeney. One of the most gratifying aspects of performing this past summer has been the community’s enthusiastic response. “It has been incredibly heartwarming,” says Feeney.
“We are especially grateful to the theater community for coming and dancing at Pazzo after their shows and really helping to create a special ambiance there.”As for Coq au Vin’s future aspirations, they’re not yet sure where they want to go with it. The band will be on a brief tour the first week of December to New York City, Philadelphia, and Delaware. They also plan to make a studio recording over the winter. “But we all have other plans in life too,” says Feeney. With that in mind, Nantucketers should take heed and catch the island’s hottest new band, when, where and while they can!