By Kathryn G. Menu
Sag Harbor over the last two years has evolved into a village where live music is embraced, from the jazz jam sessions at Bay Burger and Bay Street Theatre to open mic nights at the former Blue Sky and evenings of jazz at LT Burger and Phao.
This weekend, a group of residents unveiled plans to take this resurgence of live music to the next level, announcing the inaugural Sag Harbor American Music Festival, to be held this fall. The weekend-long event is aimed at celebrating American music, while also supporting local business and providing another reason for people to visit Sag Harbor during a quieter time of the year.
Slated for Friday, September 30 and Saturday, October 1, the festival will feature a main stage performance at Bay Street Theatre by double Grammy Awards nominee Monica Mancini, a recording artist and concert performer who has appeared with the Chicago Symphony, the London Metropolitan Orchestra, the New York Pops and the Boston Pops.
While that Friday performance will have a ticket price meant to cover the cost of the production, organizers say the remainder of the music festival will entail free performances by various artists at local restaurants and gallery spaces on Saturday.
The festival aims to feature specifically American music, including all forms of jazz, blues, folk, rhythm and blues and Americana. Board member and co-artistic director Kelly Connaughton said she hopes the festival helps make Sag Harbor “a musical destination.”
Before moving to Sag Harbor, Connaughton carved out a career in the music industry, directing the Henry Mancini Music Festival in Los Angeles for seven years and at the Grammy Awards for two years.
Connaughton is one of several local organizers of the festival, including co-artist director Kerry Farrell, Grenning Gallery owner Laura Grenning and Bay Burger co-owner John Landes, who last year helped the village draft a new law that legalized live music in restaurants in Sag Harbor.
On Tuesday, Connaughton said board members hope to host the festival annually, and strive to make it an event that connects professional musicians with local businesses, educators, community organizations and media outlets across the East End.
Connaughton said Sag Harbor Village is already a place known across the East End for its live music scene, with venues like Bay Street Theatre that rival similar clubs in New York City.
“We have free, accessible music for everyone in Sag Harbor,” she said. “The festival is meant to shine a light on that and ultimately, we hope that the donations we collect will support free, year-round music in the village.”
In order to support the event, the Sag Harbor American Music Festival has drafted a range of sponsorship opportunities from $50 to $10,000. Depending on the level of sponsorship, businesses will be given listings and advertisements in the festival program, tickets to the main stage show, as well as being listed as sponsors in advertising campaigns.
Just three days after the Sag Harbor American Music Festival board announced its plans on Sunday, it has already picked up a few sponsors.
One of the festivals’ founding sponsors is Rich Decker’s Studio 89, which has pledged $5,000. Devlin McNiff Real Estate has also sponsored the festival with a $1,000 donation, and Bates + Masi Architects designed the festival logo for free.
The size of the festival this year, said Connaughton, will depend on the level of support it receives.
“It is all pending, but as of now, on Saturday, we should have at least four locations for live music, which will be spread throughout the day to encourage people to walk around the village and visit our local stores,” she said.
While the full musical lineup has yet to be booked, Connaughton promised a mix of American music, although she said various forms of jazz will be a priority, given its popularity in the village.
“Frankly, jazz is the personality of Sag Harbor, and one of the truest forms of American music,” she said.
Landes added that the board would also love to book the Sag Harbor Community Band, a musical mainstay in the village, and with village approval would love to see music on the sidewalks, and possibly even a New Orleans style, Dixieland band lead a parade down Main Street.
“This will be another Sag Harbor event that will bring people to the village in the off-season,” said Landes. “We want this to be a benefit for everyone in Sag Harbor.”