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Sep 12, 2017 10:31 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

The Inaugural Great Eastern Music Festival Takes Place At The Montauk Lighthouse On Saturday

Sam Ou
Sep 12, 2017 10:47 AM

Of everyone on the Lighthouse Committee of the Montauk Historical Society, Greg Donohue knows a natural amphitheater when he sees one.

“I happen to be the only resident Dead Head on the board of directors,” he said by way of explanation. “I’ve been going to shows since 1967, and here you have this real estate with a view of Block Island Sound, Connecticut and Rhode Island, with a national historic landmark at your back, and a hill that lends itself to a day of music for families and people with blankets. Boom.”

And, so, the inaugural Great Eastern Music Festival was born. It just took 11 years of sitting on the idea, and a perfectly good stage that they built in 1996, to make it happen—not to mention a meeting with Bill Ayasse.

“I told him to come and look at what I think is a natural amphitheater that would knock the socks off anybody. He came out on a cold, January day and that’s where our relationship began,” Mr. Donohue said. “He looked and said, ‘Holy. Shit. You were right.’ I say, ‘Can we do this?’ And then came the experience and the genius and creativeness of Bill. He became the producer of this, and that’s where we are right now: a little bit more than one week away from the whole experiment.”

On Saturday, September 16, both national and local bands of the bluegrass, Americana and acoustic persuasions will descend upon the Montauk Lighthouse grounds for a day filled with music—from The Dustbowl Revival, Sarah Jarosz and Sam Outlaw to Tall Tall Trees, Seldom Scene and Eastbound Freight, whose fiddler is also the festival’s producer.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” said Mr. Ayasse, who also produces the Long Island Bluegrass Festival. “The intention was not to get large touring bands in there, knowing we would sell it out in a second. This is high-quality Americana music that we’re featuring, with the bluegrass festival vibe.”

Mr. Outlaw deadpans that he is a no-name musician. While that keeps his ego in check, it couldn’t be further from the truth. The California transplant, by way of South Dakota, is already thinking ahead to his third studio album, with two records and an EP already under his belt, all of which he plans to pull from during his set at Great Eastern, he said.

“‘Tenderheart’ is not necessarily a song about a true story,” he said on Saturday morning during a telephone interview from his home in Los Angeles, his son, Leo, chirping in the background. “It’s a guy who sits in this bar and longs for this love he lost.”

He diverges. “Okay, Leo just put a whole pink ball in his mouth. That’s probably not good, or safe,” he laughs. “He’s fine. What I’ve realized with having a 16-month-old, it’s like having a drunk 19-year-old girl. They’re always wobbling around and a little suicidal. That’s toddlers.”

Mr. Outlaw gets back on track. “In this song, it’s not clear as to what happened—did she leave, did he leave, did he f--- it up somehow?” he said. “I hope it’s not about future me. I have this bad habit of writing songs about something vague or simply symbolic, and later it seems to be written about myself.”

This was the case for his debut album’s title track, “Angeleno.” As the lyric goes, “Didn’t plan for a baby/When God gave them a son/The city’s dirty but maybe/The dirt’ll make him strong.”

Less than a year later, that was him.

“We were having a baby and we didn’t see it coming,” he said. “But now that we know how sex works, we figured that out. We figured out the nuts and bolts. It took us by surprise, we never read up on the process. He’s just so fun. He’s turned into a real human now, with personality and he can walk and drive us even more crazy.”

That afternoon, Mr. Outlaw would say goodbye to his family for a night before they joined him in Nashville ahead of the Americana Music Association Awards on Wednesday, September 13, where he is nominated for Emerging Artist of the Year. “So I’m going to lose this award in front of my family and friends,” he said.

From there starts the tour that will bring Mr. Outlaw to the East End for the first time, where he will join more than two dozen bands for a festival to raise money for capital improvements to the lighthouse while— during short lectures by the Montauk Oceans Institute between acts on the second stage—raising environmental awareness among the concertgoers.

“Can we make a change if we want to? It’s the same shit we were going through in the ’60s,” Mr. Donohue said. “We have to ask ourselves what we want. We make a direction and we go. We’re at that point again and it’s very severe. The pollution is not just in the north Atlantic. I’ve seen it off Gardiner’s Island. It’s something that needs to be talked about, and what better place to do it?”

The inaugural Great Eastern Music Festival will be held on Saturday, September 16, from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on the grounds of the Montauk Lighthouse. Tickets are $65, $25 for children age 6 to 12, and free for children age 5 and under. A portion of the proceeds will benefit capital improvements on the Montauk Lighthouse. For more information, visit greateasternmusicfestival.com.

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