By Tessa Raebeck
Schools, government offices and the Long Island Expressway (LIE) were all closed, but one thing brought Sag Harbor residents out of their homes in spite of Friday’s blizzard: music.
The theatre was filled to capacity for the inaugural performance of Bay Street Theatre’s newest program, “Fireside Sessions with Nancy Atlas,” showing that murmurs of cancellation and the threat of icy roads cannot quell die hard music fans – and that those fans do in fact exist on the East End in January.
“It was insane, it was really insane,” Atlas said Monday of the concert, which featured Chad Smith, the drummer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Each week, the fireside sessions feature Atlas, her band, the Nancy Atlas Project, and a different special guest, such as Smith, who sits in with the band.
The audience enters to see a giant “fireplace,” a projected display of a cackling fire on a screen behind the band. The fire is always there, but the performance changes with each guest.
“The guests,” said Atlas, “are all top-shelf world class professional musicians.”
Atlas, who lives in Montauk with her husband Thomas and their three children, has met or worked with each guest at some point during her two decades in music and personally invited each musician to join her on stage.
While Atlas and her musician friends are quickly booked up during the busy summer months, they – like most people on the East End – find they have sufficient downtime come “the dead of winter,” she says.
“I started calling them up and they were available and it was just kind of meant to be,” said Atlas.
Each separate event focuses on the musical desires and talent of that particular special guest, who chooses which songs are performed.
For Smith’s performance, the focus was, naturally, on songs that showcase drums and percussion.
This Friday, January 10, the special guest is Andy Aledort, who is “an amazing, amazing guitarist,” says Atlas, and is the sideman for Dicky Betts. The session with Aledort, who has played with legends like Jimmy Page, will feature guitar-centric songs.
In addition to showcasing the guests, the original music of the Nancy Atlas Project is also featured.
“It’s nice,” said Atlas, “you never know what you’re going to get. There’s so much in life these days, with technology, there’s no surprise. We’re like a little Christmas present every Friday – it’s all wrapped up.”
“You’re going to see that fire cackling on a big screen,” she continued, “you don’t know what you’re going to get under the tree…I’m trying to change it up each week.”
The fireside sessions started with drums, will feature guitar this week and will move on to keyboard and vocals in the following weeks.
On January 17, funk and R&B keyboardist Danny Keane will join Atlas on stage.
Bay Street plans to announce the remaining guests for the series soon.
“There is an art to the show,” explained Atlas. “It doesn’t just happen. I’m trying to really provide just a top shelf show for Sag Harbor and also a chance for us to get together as a community and enjoy it.”
“We always – all of us – have to work so hard in the summer,” the performer continued. “This is really about reconnecting with the locals and giving them something that’s affordable and really great – that’s my goal.”
According to the turnout Friday, the first session met that goal.
“We were sold out with a waiting list,” said Tim Kofahl, Bay Street’s director of marketing and public relations, of Friday’s show. “People are anxious to get out of the snow.”
Atlas is hopeful the concerts’ good turnout will reverberate throughout downtown Sag Harbor.
“I’m tickled pink,” she said, “if in any way the repercussion goes out to some of the restaurants or some of the bars in Sag Harbor on a Friday night, if the bartenders and the waitresses make a few extra bucks.”
She said when the concert got out around 11 p.m., some 200 people were “roaming the streets looking for food.”
Expecting an intimate show, Atlas was surprised and encouraged by the response.
“In its own way,” she said of the blizzard, “it was kind of endearing, because it is about the winter and getting together and being all together as a community. And having this wonderful, magical – hopefully – show and then to have the snow – it was just enough.”
Fireside Sessions with Nancy Atlas will run every Friday at 8 p.m. through January and February, excluding February 7. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online at baystreet.org, by phone at (631) 725-9500 or in person at the Bay Street Theatre Box Office on the Long Wharf in Sag Harbor, Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.