By Emily J. Weitz
The Marine Park concert series has been a fixture in Sag Harbor for years. Members of the community lay out their blankets and unfold their lawn chairs to sit, overlooking the boats, and listen to an eclectic assortment of music on Thursday evenings throughout the summer. But two years ago, when the over-extended Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce decided to cut the program, people wondered if a beloved community event had come to an end.
“We regretfully took a step back,” says Kelly Connaughton, President of the Chamber of Commerce, “because we needed to focus on the windmill restoration. We as a chamber had to look at the investment of money that was going into that event.”
Thankfully, the musicians themselves stepped in. Ray Red Entertainment and Vivian Walsh Promotions teamed up last year to bring a concert onto the green and when they saw the reception, they decided to crank it back up to four different performances this summer.
“It seems to be working,” says Connaughton. “We’re really happy that they’ve continued because we know how much the community loves these concerts.”
Ray Red is happy to be able to take over.
“This is nice for Sag Harbor to have,” says Red, “and to have it go off without any trouble. This is something we do for a living. We play music all over the place. We put up PA systems and we break them down. It takes us no effort.”
He says that having musicians and people in the business in charge of the event makes it easier for everyone, and it keeps the lineup interesting. While he appreciated the work the Chamber of Commerce did all those years, Red believed there were lots of extra expenses because they didn’t have the equipment themselves. Also, members of the chamber have their own businesses to think about, and in the summer it’s hard to focus on a separate event like this. But music is Red’s business.
“I own a nice big PA system, my own lights,” he says. “After the first one last year worked out so well, we decided to give back to the village what we used to have—four concerts in Marine Park.”
Being deeply involved in East End music, Red also saw an opportunity to showcase more local talent instead of always going back to the same old standbys.
“Vivian and I are both musicians and entertainers and we pay attention to who’s playing,” says Red.
He was thrilled to slot Tumi in for the first show of the series. The band plays Ecuadorian and Native American-inspired music.
“They were so good when I saw them on the wharf,” says Red. “I thought, ‘I’m gonna play Brown-Eyed Girl in two weeks. I promise. But this is a nice change from the standards. It was a great way to start off the series.”
This week, longtime Sag Harbor resident and musician Jim Turner will be playing with his band: James Benard on the drums, Fred Scribner on guitar and Brett King on bass. Sarah Hartman, a gifted young woman from Sag Harbor, will join them for a few songs as well.
To Turner, the idea of music being accessible to anyone who wants to enjoy it is really important.
“My whole adult life,” he says, “I’ve been fond of the idea of art of any kind being free. Culture should be readily available and free to the public.”
When a community gathers to listen to a concert, there’s a collective mentality that takes over.
“If you’re a performer and you play music,” says Turner, “it’s not totally about you. It’s about the audience and the crowd, and their chance to commune. I’ve noticed at these events, whether they’re nightclubs or parties or concerts, it’s very much about the community gathering.”
He loves being able to facilitate that kind of community interaction, whether it’s in a restaurant, around a campfire, or at an event like this one.
“The fact that this is a catalyst for people to get together,” he says, “that’s what it’s really about. It looks like it’s about the performance and the music, but it’s also very much about the community.”
The Sag Harbor community has risen to the occasion. So far, people have been engaged with the music and have cleaned up after themselves and respected the shared space. The first concert, Ray Red made an announcement to people to clean up after themselves, and he says the crowd was superb.
“The village employees came around in the morning expecting it to look like an after party,” he says, “and found the park was cleaner than the average day. They called me and said ‘Why don’t you have a concert every day?’”
Every day may be a stretch, but for the next few weeks, the Marine Park concert series will be in full swing. Music from local talent will beckon the community out on Thursday evenings at 7:30 p.m.
“We’re trying to keep the tradition going,” says Red. “We get a lot of grandparents and their grandkids. It’s mostly local people that come out, and local sponsors that pay for it. It’s about the community.”