Kelly Connaughton

Posted on 27 February 2010

web convo kelly

The 35-year-old talks about why she and a group of Sag Harbor residents think the diversity and artistic core of the village make it the perfect location to create The American Music Festival of Sag Harbor, a hopefully annual tradition held each April, but one festival organizers hope to kick off at this year’s HarborFest.

First off, why a music festival in Sag Harbor?

Well, to be honest, the whole process has been completely organic. My background is in music and it is where my passion lies and this is my community. When I came back I first noticed the music at Bay Burger and I was really knocked out at the quality of musicianship, the number of people coming each week and the good, down to earth feeling. When I found out they were going to continue the jam sessions at Bay Street Theatre, I was inspired. I talked to Claes Brondal from the Bay Burger jazz jam sessions and asked how this had all come about and he told me about how Bay Street had really been engaging the community and opened up and how the event was free. It was inspiring, this partnership and that Bay Street would continue this musical momentum. I told Claes about the idea for a music festival and he said I should talk to John Landes [co-owner of Bay Burger]. I told him I thought it would be great to do a music festival and we started gathering a group of people and the more we talked about it the more enthusiastic the feedback we got was. In the meantime, music at Phao began and the singer songwriters at Bay Street. It’s exciting – out of the whole East End, I feel Sag Harbor has this artistic vibe – it just fits. Sag Harbor is unique and in particular, is very supportive of the arts.

The festival also aims to support Sag Harbor itself. The idea originally was to start it before the season, but we have decided this year, because of conflicts, to launch the festival this September with the help of the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce at HarborFest. We have talked to Robert Evjen [president of the chamber] and he is really excited about the idea of being able to bring music into the event. We are operating as a non-profit with John Landes, Laura Grenning and I serving as directors. We are hoping  through sponsorships we can raise enough money to cover the costs of the festival and anything that is left over we would look to use to provide scholarships for musicians.

The festival has been billed as an “American” music festival. When I think of American music, I think of blues, jazz, rock-and-roll – musical genres created here or genres that flourished in the United States. What is your definition of American music?

You are right on target. That is the feeling we want for the festival. I would also include in that folk music and rhythm and blues and also Americana. That really leaves us wide open for a variety of artists. We would like to start small with a three-day festival. The first time out, our goal is to exceed expectation know we have a good model set up. We are hoping it will be an annual event at the end of April after this year’s kick off. In April, every one has spring fever, it’s the off-season and it could draw people to Sag Harbor becoming an off-season magnet for the village. It is also for the community. In-season we are all so busy, we don’t always get to enjoy the cultural events going on out here. This year we are hoping to collaborate with the schools – this school district is known for its emphasis in music – as well as students and community members that are interested as well. We want a festival feel to the weekend – music on the streets with Bay Street serving as the main stage with three concerts over the weekend of September 10 through September 12.

Are you modeling this weekend on any other music festivals around the country?

To be honest, not one in particular. We really want this to be about music and about Sag Harbor. We are hoping to collaborate with organizations throughout the village to enfuse Sag Harbor history into the festival.

Do you have “dream” headliners the festival would attract in a perfect world?

In a perfect world, there are a lot of local greats out here, and a lot of big names we would like to get involved, not just as performers, but as organizers. We are establishing a music advisory committee to help set up the program. There are so many genres in American music we want to have a program that touches on them all, but holds a theme. I hesitate to say any names of dream headliners, but they know who they are.

As for local musicians, part of the idea is to have street music throughout the village during the festival, correct?

We are still working with the [Sag Harbor Village Board of] trustees to get the proper permitting. In concert with HarborFest, we hope to have different locations throughout Main Street and other areas of the village and have different acts playing throughout the day, kind of like the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Our philosophy is the more, the merrier, but we are open to seeing how it evolves because this is for our community. We hope it will bring more business to the village in the off-season while also supporting this incredible surge of creativity. There is just so much music going on in Sag Harbor right now.

How can local musicians get involved?

First of all, the best way to get involved is if you are not in the local music scene yet get to the open mic sessions, get to Blue Sky, get to Bay Street. Being involved in music and networking you have to get out there performing – be where the action is. Specifically with the music festival, we will do an open call and anyone who is interested in sending a CD or whatever they have, with contact information, can reach us at The American Music Festival of Sag Harbor, PO Box 2323 Sag Harbor, NY 11963.

What is your personal connection to music — why does this matter you?

The short story is I have worked for non-profits for the last 15 years, starting with Bay Street Theatre, but it has almost all been music related. For seven years, I was the director of the Henry Mancini Music Festival in Los Angeles. We brought in children from all over the area and hosted free concerts at UCLA. I am a local Long Islander, so I came back to New York and worked for the Grammys from 2004 to 2006, which taught me a little bit more about music. The last couple of years I have been doing consulting work because while I love New York City, I prefer a different lifestyle. I have worked from Ireland to San Francisco, but my home base is Sag Harbor and I am trying to do more work locally.

But this is not about me, and I want to stress that. Music is my passion, and my happy place right now is bringing the right people together. I am just excited to do that.




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5 Responses to “Kelly Connaughton”

  1. Marlene Lucio says:

    Wow!!!! This sounds like a very inspiring event. It would be great to hear follow up on how things work out and grow. Good Luck Sag Harbor!!!

  2. thurston says:

    Certainly sounds like a welcome idea. I just hope they can bring some unique acts to the table and not just a weekend of the same old acts you can see every week.

  3. Louis says:

    this sounds really cool. looking forward to it!

  4. Nico says:

    It’s a great idea, and, from what I’ve heard, there’s some really serious acts that are likely to be getting involved. One thing with the venues out here is that there tends to be the same national acts who come out every like clockwork. The American Music Festival’s organizers are going to be bringing in some great musicians who’ve never or rarely played out east. I’m very psyched!

  5. ewd says:

    Sounds like picking up where the Chamber left off some 20 years ago when they tried to have a Jazz Festival every September with music at all the local spots and a big concert (first at the Whalers Church as there was no theater at Bay Street yet) – if anyone remembers it was John Pizzarelli the first year and Judy Carmichael the second. A parade of antique cars even took place one year – all very ambitious and a lot of fun. Hopefully this is an idea that will build organically and therefore take root.


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