Allen McGarry: Gettin' By With A Little Help From My Friends
By: James Thomas, March 29, 2012
Kevin W. McCann - Allen McGarry (on trumpet) is joined on the Island Merchant stage by fellow musicians and friends.
Allen McGarry has already begun his strumming pattern and is about to launch into a song when the front door opens and a man with a small case steps over the threshold.
“Are you Allen?” he says, interrupting the music.
“I am!” McGarry says, warmly and completely unperturbed. “You wanna play that thing?”
Sure enough, a few minutes later the man is on stage playing mandolin on an Alison Kraus tune. Except for a brief huddle before the opening strains, the proceedings are entirely spontaneous.
Later on, after the gig, I ask McGarry how he arrived at the decision to add “and friends” to his weekly gig at The Island Merchant on Main Street Hyannis, in which he invites folks up to play with him.
If you go...
Allen McGarry & Friends
Every Friday at 7:30 PMThe Island Merchant 302 Main Street, Hyannis
“It’s kind of a leap of faith,” I point out.
“I am actively trying to attract good music here, and I suppose the discovery process involves some risk,” McGarry says. “There is,” he adds, laughing, “always the possibility that it’s a mistake.”
But with a polished crew of regular sidemen under McGarry’s capable leadership, the Friday show never fails to unfold with the natural affability and quiet confidence of a professional ensemble. McGarry’s beautiful singing voice and deep musicality are the center that holds.
A musical journey
McGarry’s musical journey has its roots in the 1960s. His family—including his eight brothers and sisters—moved to the Cape during the height of recorded music. With influences ranging from The Beatles to his father’s big band singers and his mother’s progressive church music, McGarry began trying his hand at the guitar.
He split his time as a full-time musician between summer resorts in Florida and winter resorts in New Hampshire through most of the 1990s. A decade ago, McGarry stepped away from music for family reasons: his children were growing up, and he wanted to spend what time remained with his own beloved parents.
It was their passing two years ago that brought McGarry back to music. He had been out of the business for a while and was transitioning back in with a few small gigs and private parties when the Island Merchant decided to give him a shot.
“The first night went pretty well, and they kept asking me to come back,” McGarry remembers. “It started as a solo act, but the season was winding down and I wanted to keep going. In the beginning, expanding to an ensemble was honestly a business calculus. I was thinking that some other musicians might bring their friends and put a few bodies in the place. But then it took on a life of its own and I suddenly had this band.”
McGarry balances his own strong identity as a solo musician with his desire to front a tight ensemble. The first set is longest and he plays it mostly alone or with a few special guests, performing deep cuts from classic albums, deeper cut gospel tunes, and the occasional ethnic song.
The second set includes a wide array of music and features his mainstay guys including Jack Hart on keys, Scott Lariviere on bass, Rick Levine on lead guitar, Jay Sheehan on drums, and Peter Sheehy on trumpet.
“I am a solo gig” McGarry says, “and I don’t ever want to part with that entirely. Most of the songs we’re playing with the group were developed for me to play solo. But a huge part of my quest to get a new start is working with a group, to grow as a musician.”