By Tessa Raebeck; Photography by Michael Heller
With Grammy Award-winning artists on the steps of the Old Whalers’ Church, a 30-piece percussion band in front of the John A. Ward Memorial Windmill and New Orleans jazz emanating from a Main Street alleyway, the streets of Sag Harbor will be filled with music this weekend.
The third annual Sag Harbor American Music Festival kicks off Friday night and brings free performances to the village from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday.
“We’ve got something for everybody,” says Kelly Connaughton, president and co-artistic director of the festival. “We’ve got jazz, blues, some Latin fusion going on. We want to represent all aspects of all-American music, the foundations of American music — rock, jazz, blues, American, R&B, country.”
Connaughton and co-artistic director Kerry Farrell have carefully curated a roster of both recognizable faces and up-and-coming local performers. The 23 diverse acts range from cabaret singer Nancy Stearns to The Complete Unknowns, a Bob Dylan tribute band.
“We put together these groups that we find interesting and that we think would be a unique music experience to bring to Sag Harbor,” said Connaughton. “We want to focus on the roots of American music and showcase that for our audience here in Sag Harbor.”
Almost entirely run by volunteers, festival organizers hope to encourage off-season patronage while also entertaining local crowds. Except for the two biggest concerts, BeauSoleil Friday night at the Old Whalers’ Church and Joe Delia and the Thieves at the after party on Saturday at Bay Street Theatre, all performances are free and most are outside. Connaughton attributed the low price to the support of Studio 89, the festival’s founding sponsor.
“We want to keep the music accessible for everyone,” she said.
Each act will play for about an hour and all venues are within walking distance of one another. With the festival now in its third year, new venues have been added and bigger names signed on.
Friday night at 8 p.m., the event begins at the Old Whaler’s Church with BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet, a two-time Grammy Award Cajun string band from Louisiana.
“This is the biggest group that we’ve had come up,” said Connaughton, who called the act “one of the best Cajun bands in the world” and said they have not performed on the East End in over six years.
At 11 a.m. Saturday, Escola De Samba BOOM, a 30-piece percussion group based on the East End, will again perform in front of the windmill.
“It’s a great way to kick everything off and call everyone to action and get them into the village,” said Connaughton of the Samba band.
After hearing the soul of samba, visitors can walk down the street to the Off-Main Stage to hear the Hoo Doo Loungers, a 9-piece New Orleans party band dedicated to the city’s rich musical tradition founded by Sag Harbor’s Joe Lauro and musical director/keyboardist David Deitch.
“This year, we’ve got a huge amount of music going on,” Connaughton continued. “We have for the first time the Off-Main Stage. It’s off Main Street and it’s going to have our biggest acts of the day.”
The Off-Main Stage will be in the alleyway between the Romany Kramoris Gallery and The American Hotel on Main Street. The organizers obtained a permit to close the road to car traffic and set up a side street stage.
Throughout the afternoon, music will be lofting from galleries, restaurants and stores across the village. The founder of Escola de Samba BOOM, Richie Siegler, and his locally famed jazz quartet will perform in front of Life’Style on Main Street, Sag Harbor’s own Matty Liot will sing the blues at the Sag Harbor Fine Arts Center on Spring Street and Greenport’s Christine Giuliano will perform children’s songs from her award-winning album “Spiritual Lullabies” at the John Jermain Memorial Public Library’s temporary home on West Water Street.
The Soul/Jazz Train Express with special guest Randy Brecker will take the Off-Main Stage at 1:30 p.m.
Local favorite Alfredo Merat will play at the Sag Harbor Inn, the festival’s hotel sponsor, on West Water Street. A part of the café theater circuit since he was 17, Merat’s widely influenced music has brought him through Europe, the Caribbean and the United States. The Brazilian singer Ludmilla, accompanied by Marcello Pimenta on the guitar, will perform at Page @ 63 Main. Across the street at LT Burger, the vocal harmonies of Hopefully Forgiven, headlined by East Hampton’s Telly Karoussos, deliver alternative country, folk and rock music.
Community favorites are returning again this year, with acts like the Sag Harbor Community Band at the American Legion and Caroline Doctorow & The Steamrollers on the steps of the Old Whalers’ Church. Guests are encouraged to bring their own chairs to settle into an afternoon of music on the village lawns.
Singer-songwriter-guitarist Gene Casey and his band, the Lone Sharks, will have the Off-Main Stage reverberating with rockabilly at 3:30 p.m. At the Cuddy, Kristen Moore’s voice and violin will blend with Dick Johansson’s guitar playing in everything from jazz to country.
Down the road at GeekHampton, blues and country player Jake Lear, recently returned from three years on Memphis’ renowned Beale Street, will play with bassist Carlos Arias and drummer Roy Cunningham.
“He’s a tremendous blues guy,” said Connaughton. “If people haven’t heard him play they need to get over there.”
With a polyrhythmic guitar, which allows the audience to hear more than one rhythm at a time, Mark Yodice of the June Rise will fill the walls of the Grenning Gallery, followed by Sara Hartman, an 18-year-old singer-songwriter who graduated from Pierson and is now attending the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Crooner Inda Eaton will perform at the Twilight Lounge at Dodds & Eder, where spectators are encouraged to enjoy refreshments before heading out to dinner at one of Sag Harbor’s many restaurants.
Jettykoon, the house band of the Montauket, will leave Montauk to entertain the crowd at La Superica at 8 p.m. The night ends at the official after party with “the most popular Surf Blues band on the East End,” Joe Delia and the Thieves at Bay Street Theatre.
“It’s a dance party basically,” said Connaughton of the after party. “The stage is going to be open so people can walk right up to the band and dance.”
Tickets for the after party are $10 and will be available for sale at the Bay Street box office on Saturday.
The Sag Harbor American Music Festival will be held Friday, Saturday 27 at 8 p.m. and Saturday, September 28 from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. A full schedule of all performances and venues is available online at sagharbormusic.org.