On a Tuesday evening earlier this summer, representatives of the Jeff Tolman Music Award, a 501(c)3, presented themselves at a select board meeting to make an unreasonable request: that they might close and be given free rein of the only—and very busy—town parking lot, from noon and through the evening, on a mid-August Saturday for a musical event, an event that might devolve into who-knows-what.
The board granted it unanimously, a measure, truly, of its own magnanimous vision and of the regard they had for this organization and not, as it might have appeared, because the town manager was herself an old rocker who expected to be among the performers.
Jeff Tolman, already a talented, enthusiastic, and innovative musician when he graduated from Vinalhaven High School in 1990, went on to the University of Maine at Augusta for further musical education but then, while certainly not tiring of music, he returned to our island to pursue lobstering.
He acquired a boat and named it Rampag&, an amalgamation of “Gram”—his grandmother, Marion—and “Pa”, her musician husband (Bob)—and the ampersand implying, perhaps, things to come.
Back at home, he and an island girl he’d only known as a child, but who was now a teenager, fell unmistakably in love and on August 10, 2002, he and Alexandra (Ali) Bickford married. They were soon blessed with a daughter, Isabella, and for a tragically short time, Jeff was her loving father, but on April 27, 2006, on his 34th birthday, Jeff had an unexpected heart attack and died.
A month or so after he died, grieving fellow enthusiasts Richie Carlsen and Tracy Wotton organized a musical event to benefit Jeff’s daughter, Bella, and to help the community heal and to carry on Jeff’s love for music.
Four years later, Ali married Johnny McCarthy, another island boy and clearly to anyone watching—and on this little island-bound community, we are all always watching—the very best next step. The devoted couple had two more children, Jack and Faith, while Bella quickly grew to become as gifted a musician as her dad, albeit a vocalist and drummer.
Not much later, Ali, Richie, and Tracy established the Jeff Tolman Music Award. Its mission is “To encourage and instill a love for music in people of all ages,” and since then, the group’s made yearly donations to the school music program, provided a college scholarship, funded music lessons, and contributed to other organizations or events that promote an appreciation for music.
In 2015, 11-year-old Bella spoke about her dad during the award of a $6,000 scholarship to a deserving graduate.
In 2007, the award’s founders hosted an outdoor musical event, widely and wildly attended, featuring musicians from all over the island. They called it “Rampage,” and it was, but only in the very best sense. The event took on a life of its own and Rampage was held for the next nine years, until her death, at Charlotte Goodhue’s spacious and somewhat removed estate at Roberts Harbor.
For a few years following, there were events, as the program clung to life, but not of the same magnitude, and then COVID struck.
On Aug. 19, the town parking lot was closed to traffic at noon. Folks who might have expected to park in the lot and run errands were untroubled. A local freight company drove their tractor-trailer to the lot and deposited the latter to serve as an enormous stage.
Countless folks showed up to set up huge tents—just in case—and to install hundreds of chairs in front of the stage. Attendant booths popped up—kid’s face painting, sales of T-shirts, etc.; several downtown businesses donated $250 to this re-birth of Rampage, and a very ambitious food emporium was established at the opposite end of the lot from the trailer.
During the afternoon a big crowd began to assemble. By 5 p.m., it far exceeded expectations and available chairs. The first of eight gifted, local musical groups, including the very entertaining old rocker, took the stage at 5, and within minutes, five generations, from two to 93, were dancing in the big open space between the chairs and the stage, matched by equally copious crab rolls and treats at the lot’s other end, prepared by Johnny’s extended and supportive family. The joyous music and the infusion of loving comradery continued all evening.
A palpable, collective, and sustained sigh emanated from us all that night and now, weeks later, we’re still breathing deeply.
Phil Crossman lives on Vinalhaven. He may be contacted at PhilCrossman.email@example.com.