Tag Archive | "the Nancy Atlas Project"

Why Here? Musicians on the Influence of the East End: Nancy Atlas

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Nancy Atlas performed with special guest drummer Chad Smith during the first of her Fireside Sessions at the Bay Street Theater on Friday, January 3. Photo by Michael Heller.

Nancy Atlas performed with special guest drummer Chad Smith during the first of her Fireside Sessions at the Bay Street Theater on Friday, January 3. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Michael Heller

Nancy Atlas spent her childhood in Commack. The daughter of an avid fisherman, she began coming out to the East End with her family from the time she can remember. Eventually, her family bought a house at Lazy Point when she was 7. “We spent any day off there we could,” she says, laughing. “It was literally 1970’s jump into the station wagon, pee in the mayo jar and head out east.” At 17, she moved to England to attend Cambridge University, where she studied art and art history, with an eye toward a career as a graphic artist in the advertising business.


MH:  So after graduating college in the U.K., how did you end up back in the United States?

NA:  That was a very rough time… It was 1991, and I came back around the time that O.J. Simpson was being followed, so I had a complete and utter nervous breakdown….I couldn’t process moving back into the United States.


MH:  Did you move directly here?

Singer-songwriter Nancy Atlas. Photo by Michael Heller.

Singer-songwriter Nancy Atlas. Photo by Michael Heller.

NA:  I did. As soon as the option presented itself for me to choose where I would live, it was a no-brainer. I always knew I’d live out here in some capacity. My brother was renting a house right near the Quiet Clam, and that was the first place, but I’ve lived in almost every town: I’ve lived in Southampton, Amagansett, Sag Harbor—for about  seven years—Springs, for four years, over by Louse Point…


MH: So what inspired you to pick up a guitar? Did you have any musical background?

NA:  I wrote songs from a very early age. My musical education is that I did a year of piano when I was 10, and then I studied 10 years of viola—a lot of people don’t know that—but then I wrote on piano from the time that I was about 11 years old. That was around the era of Debbie Gibson—Remember her? I wasn’t trying to be Debbie Gibson; it just came naturally that I would write my own songs, so there are videos out there, lurking somewhere, of an eighth-grade talent show of me singing a song I wrote with seven girls singing three-part harmony. When I look back, of course I would have been a songwriter. So when I got into high school I was still doing the viola, but I started to take graphic art more seriously, and that was the price it paid: the music kind of veered off a little bit. But I was still known for music, like in high school I was Best Musician—Commack High School, 1989. There’s probably a good photo floating around of that too! (laughs) But I think that when my life choice came, in college and when I was becoming a young adult, I really had to stick to it, and once I picked up a guitar, I knew that I could die for this; I knew that there was a commitment to the music that I didn’t have with the art. There was always an insecurity with the art… I always kind of wasn’t sure, and with music I’m very, very confident; I don’t really write for anyone but myself. And I think as an artist you go through periods where you have to learn how to not write for people again.


MH:  So at what point did you realize that playing guitar was the thing?

NA:  I was very depressed before I came home—truly depressed, not just sad, but clinically depressed—and I couldn’t find a job, so I decided that I had to do something to get myself out of the funk. So I just went down and bought a used guitar on Portabello Road for 60 quid, and started learning Van Morrison songs and tablature stuff—totally self-taught, and I never looked back. I started going to open mics, and I started writing songs within three weeks of picking up a guitar. It was immediate because I had had that background of the piano from when I was younger. And when I went to the Stephen Talkhouse I think I was playing guitar a total of three months, and a producer said, “Who the hell are you?” (laughs) So I started working with a producer, and got sucked into the many dreams of rock ’n’ roll stardom…and here I am, still going!


MH:  So what keeps you here on the East End, when your career may have taken off if you had perhaps moved to a bigger city like L.A. or Nashville?

NA:  That’s a very layered question, because the things that keep me here are starting to disappear… and I might disappear. I’m getting tired of a lot of the crap that’s going on in this town right now.


MH:  “Right now” notwithstanding, what continues to keep you here?

NA:  Well, I don’t mean to be existential, but that depends on your definition of “making it.” Because I feel like I’ve “made it.” I’m a successful songwriter who has a gorgeous house a block from the ocean, a beautiful vintage car and three great kids, and am still doing it. I really don’t mean to nitpick, but people say that to me a lot, like, “Geez, do you ever get upset that you haven’t ‘made it?’” And I’m like, “Well, what’s ‘making it’?” Because is ‘making it’ playing Jones Beach, or having a song on the radio? Would I like that? Sure! Would I love to play Red Rocks and be on tour? Sure! But it’s all relative. I really, truly believe that, and if I really wanted to do that, I’m the type of person that would move to Nashville and see my kids on the weekends—I’m an A-type; I don’t talk about stuff, I get it done. But the raw beauty, the quiet… as an artist I’ve always felt that the East End calls to a certain type of artist, in that it delivers, and I draw off of the raw beauty—that’s the short answer.

At Bay Street’s Fireside Sessions, Nancy Atlas and Special Guests Hope to Keep Locals Warm this Winter

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Nancy Atlas performed with special guest drummer Chad Smith during the first of her Fireside Sessions at the Bay Street Theater on Friday (Michael Heller photo).

Nancy Atlas performed with special guest drummer Chad Smith during the first of her Fireside Sessions at the Bay Street Theater on Friday. (Michael Heller photo).

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.

Nancy Atlas goofs around with special guest drummer Chad Smith during the first of her Fireside Sessions at the Bay Street Theater on Friday. (Michael Heller photo).

Nancy Atlas goofs around with special guest drummer Chad Smith during the first of her Fireside Sessions at the Bay Street Theater on Friday. (Michael Heller photo).

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.