Six Degrees of MQ Murphy
It’s no secret that Cape May has a lively entertainment scene. Through my local lens I’ve witnessed how Cape May’s increasing popularity results in higher demand for performance artists, and there is currently a buzzing scene of talented and extraordinary musicians. Regardless of how much music you’ve heard around town there is guaranteed to be undiscovered territory. This column will be an exploration of Cape May’s established and evolving music scene, encompassing performers of all styles and assortments. Welcoming a blend of genres, genders, and energy, I am excited to peek behind the curtain of the artists that grace Cape May with the sounds of music.
From radio show host to open mic host, MQ Murphy may have had a delayed start in his musical pursuits, but once he got the ball rolling it hasn’t stopped since. You may have heard him on Cape May radio station WCFA. He hosted a show called Six Degrees every Saturday from roughly 2008 to 2015, in which he would connect two seemingly unrelated artists within six steps. MQ has been so involved that you are bound to connect him in six steps to just about any musical facet in town over the years.
The Singer-Songwriter weekends? Oh, yes, he was there–both performing and interviewing other artists. The iconic music scene from the Merion Inn? For sure! That’s where he connected with his current band members. The throwback and local-favorite Pilot House Open Mic? Of course! That’s where his band officially formed. A trip down musical memory lane awaits, but for now let’s discuss MQ’s current pursuits that encourage further growth in the local music scene with the Mad Batter Open Mic.
The Mad Batter is a true gem because they have live music seven nights a week all year. This statement usually requires repetition because it takes folks by surprise, as it did me when I first heard MQ announce this at an open mic. The Mad Batter celebrates local creators both in the musical and artistic realms, because there is always local artists’ work displayed on the walls.
This eclectic environment is the ideal fit for an open mic, and it has earned a fabulous reputation. Hosted by MQ, it occurs every Sunday, summoning all sorts of musical talents. MQ organizes the acts by only filling half the slots ahead of time, with the performers that reach him via email or Facebook messenger. The rest he intentionally leaves open for walk-ins, which proves beneficial for the spontaneous singer or music lover inspired on a whim.
This open mic has garnered much well-deserved attention, with thanks to MQ’s tendency to share photos on social media of the performers along with the general response from any attendees. This event emphasizes the openness of an open mic. The variety it offers is the highlight as you could see pros let loose for a quick jam session or rookies test the waters of live performance. And for those just visiting for a bite, beer, and some tunes, it’s the perfect atmosphere to unwind.
So what about the other six nights of live performance? The monthly line-ups can usually be found on The Mad Batter’s website, with performances by popular local musicians like Andy Reeves, Barry Tischler, The Honey Hawks, and of course The Squares, a trio consisting of MQ and musical couple Debra Donahue and J.M. Kearns, who play every other Wednesday.
The setup of The Squares includes MQ on acoustic or electric guitar, Debra on nose flute, J.M. on acoustic guitar and harmonica, and vocals all around. They are a folk/americana trio that often rotates performing in duets, so they are practically four bands in one. Their tendency to alternate between who plays together allows for each combination to be heard, and the rotation of instruments and vocals gives them range. The Squares’ ability to harmonize is a noteworthy highlight of their performance that invokes chills and truly captivates.
Their sound pulls inspiration from lyric-driven musicians like Lyle Lovvett and New Jersey native John Gorka. From melancholy melodies to upbeat tunes that reflect the folky zest of the 60s and 70s, their pure passion for playing emanates off stage and throughout any venue. “Playing in our trio has been, by far, the most satisfying and fun musical excursion of my life” says J.M., and this sentiment translates through their performance.
They recorded a CD in 2016 titled Second Act, referencing their musical second coming later in life. The majority of tracks on this record are originals written by MQ or J.M., with the other five tracks covers that avoid replication by adding the Squares flair. Their songwriting ability is refreshing and authentic, exhibiting the abundance of untapped talent they harvested before embarking on their musical journey. And the reward they receive from performing sounds like it was well worth the wait, as J.M. put it “When it’s an original song they (the audience) are relating to, that is like oxygen for a songwriter.”
To understand where the music scene is, we must reflect on where it has come from, and the background of these band members offers much insight in that regard. They can be traced back to some of the most influential local events in Cape May’s recent history, like The Merion Inn and The Pilot House, which are both no longer with us but acted as pillars for the music community.
Debra Donahue, nose flute pro and long time vocalist, is a prominent connecting factor to many local musical happenings in town. Debra was a founding member of one of the first local gatherings for musicians called The Hootenanny (“The Hoot” for short), alongside Glenn Mcbrearty, and Vicky Watson, former owner of The Merion Inn. Debra’s fruitful musical experience in Nashville contrasted with the absence of such in Cape May, motivating her to help establish a sort of foundation for the music community, and The Hoot accomplished exactly that.
They gathered weekly at the Henry Sawyer room located in The Chalfonte Hotel and The Merion Inn. Barry Tischler, popular local musician, was a regular to The Hoot and eventually became the host of a local open mic at the Pilot House that would become a hit. “Light in attendance at first, local musicians began coming out of the woodwork, and the community was born,” says Debra. World class performers like the late and great George Mesterhazy as well as Barry Miles were very involved with the event. Musical late bloomers like J.M. and MQ were able to harness their talents here and blossom into the accomplished and admired performers they are now.
Within six degrees (or less) of MQ Murphy, you could find a connection to a plethora of Cape May’s musical events and gifted, well-known figures of the past and present. Debra’s pioneering of The Hootenanny spawned many avenues of opportunity and personal relationships for local musicians. J.M. and his creative songwriting nature encouraged MQ to transform the contents of his notebook into insightful and witty tunes.
As any community should, Cape May’s musicians constantly support and inspire each other, which could only generate more prosperity. Stay tuned as we continue to explore the creative characters emitting musical sound waves in our South Jersey treasure trove of talent. ■