Q & A with EEMA founder Eric Tonyes by Gianna Volpe

We are living during the dawn of a brand-new era where a novel virus has swept the globe to usher in a pandemic new normal. 2020 has, thus far, been a make it or break it kind of year: Growth seems to be as exponential as extinction and businesses—Not too mention bonds—are being both built and broken. This is the foundational path upon which The East End Music Alliance is forging ever forward. EEMA is a non-profit organization celebrating its inaugural year of existence in a world so different from that of its inception it could be considered an entirely different planet. But this does not scare EEMA’s 22-year-old founder, Eric Tonyes, who understands perfectly well that the only thing that stays the same is change, so I took time this March to find out more about EEMA’s Greenport born-and-bred boss man.

You grew up in the village?

And I never left. I’ve always lived within one square mile of Greenport and not many people can say that. 90% of the kids that I went to school with don’t live here anymore. Few and far in between are those people I graduated with who are still here.

Well it’s tough to make it these days!

It’s literally impossible. If it wasn’t for the Green Hill Kitchen people I wouldn’t be able to live out here.

So how did the East End Music Alliance start?

I guess it really started years ago because I was looking at old journals of mine and I had an idea of a non-profit record label and, at some point, that subconsciously developed into this East End Music Alliance idea. I was somebody who, well, I never had a cell phone and I stayed in my bedroom for years, essentially, just playing music by myself. At some point, I heard of the Taps and Corks Open Mic, so I started going there and then to other live music venues in the area.

When was that?

September of 2018. Six months later, it was very clear to me that this place we live in has an incredibly dense amount of incredible musicians. Growing up out here I knew, ‘Okay, there’s live music at the restaurants and wineries,’ but it was never totally clear to me how many musicians actually live here and there’s no organization representing them like the End Arts Council, North Fork Arts Collective, Hamptons Arts Network, Old Town Arts And Crafts Guild…The list goes on and on for the artists and I think that’s because for the past 100 years musicians have been a bit resistant to organization. Don’t get me wrong. 200-300 years ago the artists were being killed by churches and governments for being rebellious, but I think that changed before World War II when the artists became more accepted by society. Not all of them, a lot of artists see a lot of backlash, but—

—So are you talking about, like, are you imagining a union for musicians?

Essentially. I mean, there is a music union…but they haven’t changed my life.

Do you want to change lives? What do you hope to do for East End musicians like yourself?

I hope to provide them with opportunities they wouldn’t necessarily have. The end goal is to expand music out here on the East End of Long Island and beyond. The East End Music Alliance is about our community and as more and more people move out here full-time, we year-round locals are losing our way, in a way. People are having to leave because they can no longer afford it and that’s disturbing to me. If it were not for the East End Music Alliance, I would have been one of those people. Not that it’s paying my bills — I’m not making a penny from EEMA — but the people I have been able to meet and the opportunities it has afforded me has, so far, granted me the ability to stay where I grew up and still call home. I’m not sure I would have otherwise. In that way, the East End Music Alliance has already changed my life and the real mission is to pass on these provisions to other local artists, strengthen the community, preserve the character of our home while also expanding musical culture, push for original music and push for the demand of it because there is already such high demand locally for cover music.

Is that changing?

It is, with the help of places like Green Hill, who are pushing for live music and really supporting the local community/original artists and I’m really thankful for that. That is a really big part of The East End Music Alliance: To provide a platform for original music. It’s almost selfish; It’s almost personal; It comes from my own experiences with original music. When somebody performs original songs there is an energy to it that is unlike anything else in the world.When you are watching an honest performer express themselves, there’s a certain bliss to that moment.

What other services are you currently providing?

We are buying and renting out equipment to people at extremely low prices. We have two 12-inch mains and two 12-inch subs that we rent out — $40 for 24 hours — and I will meet people wherever they want me to meet them. I want to give it to musicians who may not otherwise be able to afford it for whatever reason so they can play a gig or a larger gig if they, say, have equipment, but don’t have enough for an outdoor gig or something.

What else is in store for EEMA this year?

This upcoming year we intend to hold events at some larger venues, host a series of open mics, invest into a wide variety of equipment for members to use and continue this seasonal newspaper.

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