By Marion Filler
Arts in the Community, a series of the Mayo Performing Arts Center, showcases some of the best up-and-coming acts in Greater Morristown.
The featured band, Purple Hayes, is saying farewell. The quintet, which first performed together at MPAC in February at Morristown Onstage, will be pursuing individual musical projects– after one last gig together. They promise a dance-worthy celebration of their brief but memorable journey.
“Purple Hayes has been a fun, joyous ride. Music, laughter, camaraderie: What more could you ask for?” says the band’s cajon player, John Hone.
Showtime is 7 pm at the gallery on 70 South St. Admission and refreshments are free; purple attire is suggested.
“As our free Summer events for 2019 are coming to end, and with two additional free events in September, we are continuing our commitment to MPAC’s mission,” by delivering creative arts programs into the community, says Kadie Dempsey, community engagement director for the theater.
“We chose Purple Hayes because we wanted to feature a local Morristown group as one of our final free Summer concerts,” Dempsey adds.
“We know that Munah Hayes and her mother Willa (a.k.a. Mimi) have been active stakeholders in the Morristown community for a long time, as has another member of the band, Kevin Coughlin of Morristown Green!”
The group’s breakout moment was a full-throttle cover of Besame Mucho that had the crowd of 1,300 cheering and clapping along at Morristown Onstage. Fans wanted more–the band’s pumping rhythm punctuated by goofy humor was a winning combination.
So, Purple Hayes — the Hayes ladies on vocals, backed by Coughlin on ukulele, Hone on percussion and Todd Dennison on ukulele bass — obliged with a whirlwind of high-energy gigs at Greater Morristown churches, libraries, street fairs and festivals.
Their repertoire ranges from Aretha and the Beatles to Pharell Williams, with some original numbers sprinkled in for comic relief.
Coughlin first saw Hayes years ago, singing solo at Morristown Onstage. They reconnected at Hayes’ yoga class at the Morristown & Township Library, where the instructor’s closing song reminded him of the tremendous potential of her powerful voice.
They coaxed Munah’s mom, Mimi, to round out the trio. Their group name is a riff on the iconic Jimi Hendrix song, Purple Haze.
Performing Besame Mucho at the Folk Project’s open mic in Morris Township, they caught the ear of Hone and Dennison, seasoned musicians in the Folk Project house band.
So why the abrupt ending? For Munah and Mimi, Purple Hayes could not compete with a higher calling, one compelling them to forge a new beginning. With Munah’s three young daughters, they plan to start a “traveling church” and sing original songs that praise God.
“We evangelize,” says Munah, who describes herself as “more spiritual than religious.”
“As a believer, I believe in righteousness but under that is love, joy, unity and kindness. It’s easier said than done because we live in a world that is not righteous,” she says.
Even so, Munah says, “if you follow the righteous path, God’s light will shine upon you,” and she wants to spread that message.
Mimi Hayes, who is in her 70s, never performed before joining Purple Hayes, and was reluctant at first. She often was told her voice was too soft. How things have changed.
“At our last rehearsal with Purple Hayes, Munah was telling me that I was too loud! She is very gifted, but I’m finding out that I am too,” says Mimi.
Still, leaving the group is not easy.
“Oh my gosh, yes, I’m going to miss Purple Hayes so much. One of the reasons people respond to us is that they can tell we really like each other,” Mimi says.
Coughlin is sad to say goodbye but has no regrets.
“From my standpoint, it’s been a great run, and a great experience. These are really good people, fun people, they’re super talented, and it’s been a treat to play with them,” he says.
Purple Hayes has performed to enthusiastic audiences at the Great Swamp Watershed Festival, the Presbyterian Church in Morristown, the Troubadour (formerly The Minstrel), Diversity Day on the Morristown Green, and Meet Me in Morristown on the library lawn.
Going forward, Coughlin is scheduled to perform at the Troubadour’s holiday concert with The One Uke Wonders. Hone performs occasionally with his daughter, Amy, and regularly at Folk Project concerts, along with Dennison, who also performs with The Asthmatics and singer-songwriter Andrew Dunn.
And as for Purple Hayes… who knows? If there is a reunion tour someday, Coughlin will be ready.
“I have a closet full of purple shirts,” he says.
Purple Hayes at the 70 South Gallery, Monday, Sept. 16, 2019, at 7 pm, presented by MPAC’s Arts in the Community program. Admission: Free. Light refreshments. At 70 South St., Morristown. And don’t miss the final free concert in the summer series: A Springsteen tribute by The BStreetBand, Wednesday, Sept. 25, at 7:30 pm in the Mayo Performing Arts Center.