By Tessa Raebeck
Like many great ideas, it started at the kitchen table.
Building upon years of dinner conversations, East End singer songwriters Nancy Atlas, Caroline Doctorow and Inda Eaton will come together Saturday at “Way Out East…A Journey in Song,” the second show devoted to the combination of their talents.
“There’s a thing about harmony singing,” said Ms. Doctorow, “and it’s kind of hard to beat three women singing together, because it’s a very appealing sound and situation and it sort of creates one new voice out of the three voices.”
“It seemed like a natural idea to take to the stage for sure, as we all have a certain vocal pocket and timbre that we sing in,” agreed Ms. Atlas. “This definitely grew from pure roots.”
The artists first crossed paths at a songwriter series many years ago, but had never had the chance to get to know each other. That first get-together quickly evolved into regular dinner dates; they have now been meeting at least once a month for the past four years. They’re not unanimous on whose idea or house it originally was, but that doesn’t matter.
“Before we knew it, guitars came out and we were singing at the end of the meals,” said Ms. Atlas, who lives in Montauk and performs with her band, The Nancy Atlas Project.
“Those dinners really feed our souls,” said Ms. Doctorow, who leads Caroline Doctorow and the Steamrollers, “because we talk about everything and it makes you feel—it ’s very comforting to know that other people have felt the same as you.”
“There’s not been one time that I didn’t leave one of these gatherings feeling a bit more inspired,” said Inda Eaton, who lives in Amagansett and lends “a tad bit of maverick energy” to the group with her grassroots band and Western roots.
Between them, the three acts have opened for Blues Traveler, Hootie and the Blowfish, The Band, Alison Krauss, Elvis Costello, Toots and the Maytals, Jimmy Buffett and Crosby, Stills and Nash, just to name a few. Ms. Atlas, Ms. Doctorow and Ms. Eaton, who will be joined Saturday by a few members from each woman’s band, have combined their rock, folk and indie music into a western, distinctly American sound.
With her two friends in tow, Ms. Eaton will return to her home state of Wyoming for a short tour at the end of April.
“This is our hometown show before we go out West,” said Ms. Doctorow, a native New Yorker who lives in Bridgehampton. The set list on Saturday is comprised of “the exact songs we will be playing out on the prairies,” Ms. Atlas added.
Since moving their collaboration from the dinner table to the stage two years ago, the artists have been working together when they can, singing backup at each other’s shows, playing on one another’s records and using each other for inspiration.
“What really helps is the camaraderie,” Ms. Doctorow said. “If one of us is having a problem—the music business is a very tough business—what’s so great is to lean on the experience of the others and the wisdom and the advice.”
“Both Inda and Caroline have given me some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten in this business and I would hope they could say the same about me. We are truly lucky to have found each other,” said Ms. Atlas.
That mutual understanding enables the singer-songwriters to turn their stylistic differences into a harmonious collaboration of their songs for “a lovely, laid back experience,” according to Ms. Atlas.
“Because of the camaraderie, we’re able to bridge our own music styles,” Ms. Eaton said. “Music is its own camaraderie, but there’s an additional camaraderie that goes on that I think comes from the uniqueness of our careers, there’s not too many other women singer-songwriters.”
“To spend time with other women singer-songwriters is very empowering,” she added. “We deal with a lot of the same issues…it’s great to run things past each other and get some of that professional support.”
Each woman also brings distinct skills to the business side of the table. Ms. Eaton is technically savvy—a “multimedia wizard” according to Ms. Doctorow—and can direct the effects and equipment side of a show. Ms. Atlas deals with financial logistics and the people that come with them, negotiating money and ticket prices.
“She’s really a good person to have to go to bat for us if something’s not right with a venue, etc.” said Ms. Doctorow. “She’s very strong in that way.”
Ms. Doctorow covers the “nuts and bolts” of an event, she said, booking the radio, writing the show description and making sure everything is in order to move forward.
“Caroline writes all the time,” said Ms. Eaton. “She’s very prolific and so she’ll put something together and I’ll think, ‘Wow, I didn’t think about that.’ Or Nancy will come up with this real powerhouse song and you walk away thinking, ‘Oh, I didn’t think about that, how inspiring was that?’”
Ms. Doctorow wrote a song for Ms. Atlas, aptly called “Song for Nancy” in 2011 and “My Sunday House,” a song she wrote for Ms. Eaton, is on her latest record.
“What it’s about,” she explained, “is how music becomes your religion when you’re on the road. You live and breathe it and it becomes a vehicle for revival of your spirit.”
“Inda and Caroline understand me in a way that few others do,” Ms. Atlas said, later adding, “We are able to discuss things at a very real and deep level with all the fat cut off. I truly cherish my monthly dinners.”
“You get invited to someone’s kitchen table and that’s where the music sounds the best,” said Ms. Eaton. “That’s the best way to hear music and harmony, just as it comes out of the kitchen table. That’s my hope for the show, is that people get a sense of the authentic essence of a song.”
“Way Out East…A Journey in Song” is Saturday, April 5, at 8 p.m. at the Bay Street Theatre, 1 Bay Street in Sag Harbor. For tickets and more information, call the box office at 725-9500 or visit baystreet.org.