by Emily J. Weitz
This weekend, the streets of Sag Harbor will ignite with song. The Sag Harbor American Music Festival was created as a way to get music to everyone, in a town where there is talent to spare. On Friday evening, Monica Mancini will kick off the festivities with a tribute to her late father, Henry Mancini, and Randy Brecker will tear it up on the trumpet with his All-Star East End Band. This ticketed event will be at Bay Street Theatre, but from there, the music will leak out the doors and up the street.
On Saturday, there will be a spectrum of musicians playing all over town, free and open to all.
“I wanted the event to be free,” says Kelly Connaughton, president of The Sag Harbor American Music Festival. “I wanted the music to be accessible to all, no matter their age or background. At the end of the day, we just want to expose people to different kinds of live music.”
It’s the spectrum of genres that makes this an “American” music festival, as eclectic as America itself.
“That broad scope captures Sag Harbor,” she says. “There are so many community elements. It’s a strong cultural place, a cultural destination for the arts and painting, poetry and writers. We hope to capture a cross-section of that.”
With 14 bands from jazz to blues to folk to R&B, they’ve gotten off to a good start.
“But our mission this year is to keep it small, simple and successful,” Connaughton explains. “We wanted a small model that works, that we can build on in the future. We have a lot of people who believe in us and we want to deliver.”
Headliner Monica Mancini was thrilled to be asked to participate in the debut festival. She has recorded a number of her own albums and expanded her repertoire far beyond the work of her father’s. However, Henry Mancini’s legendary compositions like the theme song for the Pink Panther movies are deeply embedded in American culture, and it will be fitting that she pays homage to him at a festival of American music.
“People really have a connection to his melodies,” Mancini said in an interview this week. “You’ll be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t remember the first time they heard Moon River. It was either the first piano piece they learned or the song they played at their wedding.”
It’s always a powerful experience for Mancini to perform her father’s work.
“This is music that has been in my life and heart for so long that performing it feels like wearing a pair of fuzzy slippers… second nature.”
In a way, it allows her to feel close to him even though he’s gone, and undoubtedly audiences feel the same.
“I consider dad’s writing on par with the greats in American music,” she says. “He wrote pop standards of our time, right up there with the Gershwins…his contribution is profound; and what child won’t dance around the house to the Pink Panther?”
Randy Brecker, who will take the stage after Mancini on Friday night, has rocked out on the trumpet with some of the biggest legends of our time, including Bruce Springsteen, Frank Sinatra, and Frank Zappa. He moved to Sag Harbor last May after 46 years living in the city and has found the town to be “A beautiful location with a lot of culture,” he says. “It’s perfect!”
Since he’s new to town, he thought getting involved with this project would be a good way to settle in to the music scene.
“You wouldn’t believe how much local talent is out here,” he says.
His performance Friday night will feature a band of East End musicians put together especially for this festival.
“We’re going to play a little jazz, funk, rock, and some South African-American grooves,” he said this week. “This will be the first time we’ve played together so it’ll be really exciting since everyone will be on their toes.”
Friday night’s event at Bay Street will be the only ticketed performances. All day Saturday, the galleries, restaurants and shops will host free music.
“In the age of iPods,” fears Connaughton, “live music is dying off. Live music is a completely different experience than sitting by yourself. This is about accessibility to live music, as well as promoting Sag Harbor. It’s just as much about this community as it is about music. It’s about celebrating Sag Harbor through music.”