When Greenport native Eric Tonyes was in high school, he looked around his class one day and saw that everyone around him was staring at their phones. That image struck him hard, and he set about deleting his social media accounts and closing off his access to the internet. He vowed not to buy a smartphone and decided to set off on leading an offline life. And then, he threw himself into his passion, devoting himself fully to music.
Now 21 years old, Mr. Tonyes still lives in Greenport and he still sees himself as an outsider. But he’s found a community of sisters and brothers who share his commitment to music, and he’s decided to put the internet into the service of the music community here.
This spring, he started the non-profit East End Music Alliance, after “god gifted me with a substantial amount of money via a Super Bowl pool,” he said, which supplied the starter funds for the charity.
“The idea is that the money we make goes into the music community to help musicians,” he said.
Mr. Tonyes has invested $7,000 in audio and video recording technology for a studio, and he’s looking to use the money raised by EEMA to help musicians record, market and promote their work.
He’s also looking to build an offline community with the assistance of the internet, with a Facebook page and a weekly email providing updates from musicians throughout the twin forks.
“People said it was a fantastic idea, and the idea is spreading,” he said of the group, which already had 45 members as of late spring.
He’s hoping to be able to have a get-together for musicians this summer at The Wharf House at Founder’s Landing in Southold.
Mr. Tonyes is a multi-instrumentalist with wide-ranging interests, whose first memory is of staring at a band at an amusement park and realizing that he wanted to be a part of it.
“There were a lot of people there who were happy,” he said.
He started out playing the trombone in fourth grade, and gradually expanded his skills to include the makings of a rock band — guitar, bass, drums and piano.
He’s currently playing drums in a band called The Crushing Violets, lead guitar in an original rock band called Wednesday’s Society, bass guitar in a classic rock band called “Flashback” and acoustic guitar in a classic rock duo with Joe Hampton.
He has a small business buying and selling antiques, but music is rapidly becoming his life’s work.
Like many young people here, he had considered the idea of moving away from home. After all, we are so close to one of the biggest cities in the country, long known as a hotbed of creative ideas.
But at some point, he realized that “music could do more good for me if I stayed here.”
And he also realized that he could do more for music in his hometown.
Though EEMA is based on the North Fork, it welcomes members from both forks. After all, music, like the airwaves, doesn’t follow the boundaries of town lines.
While many music venues here have historically demanded a steady stream of cover bands that play recognizable songs that get audiences up and dancing, he believes that tide is turning, with more appreciation among both audiences and venues for original ideas. He’s hoping to encourage original songwriters to join EEMA and help build support for expanding the idea of what kind of music can be played in venues here.
It helps, he said, that audiences here tend to be a sophisticated mix of city folks and people who know and love good music.
“Around here, there hasn’t been much demand for new music, but I strongly believe that’s changing,” he said. “Most places want to hear new stuff. I see a very flourishing blossoming of new, original music.”
For more information on how to join the East End Music Alliance, visit facebook.com/EastEndMusicAlliance.
— Beth Young