Amytyst Kiah performs at the Old Whalers' Church on Friday night. TODD ROETH PHOTO
A view of the Steinbeck Stage during a previous edition of the Sag Harbor American Music Festival. COURTESY SHAMF
The Marine Park tent at the 2022 Sag Harbor American Music Festival. ANNETTE HINKLE
East End native R.O. Shapiro performs in the Alley Stage at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday. COURTESY SHAMF
A performance on the stage at John Steinbeck Waterfront Park during a previous festival. WIL WEISS
Carla Gargano and Allison Scanlon dance to the music of the Scofflaws as they perform on the Alley Stage during the 8th Annual Sag Harbor American Music Festival in 2018. MICHAEL HELLER
The Scofflaws performed at the Alley Stage during the 8th Annual Sag in September 2018. MICHAEL HELLER
Sag Harbor native, singer-songwriter, returns to her hometown to perform at the Sag Harbor American Music Festival. COURTESY SHAMF
Sara Hartman performing at a previous Sag Harbor American Music Festival. COURTESY SHAMF
Jake Lear performing on the Alley Stage during the 2018 Sag Harbor American Music Festival. MICHAEL HELLER
The Sag Harbor American Music Festival is getting back to basics this year. From September 28 through October 1, the festival returns with its pre-COVID-19 format, including two marquis indoor concerts and numerous pop-up performances at several village restaurants in addition to free shows at three popular outdoor venues throughout the weekend.
A total of 36 musicians and bands will play during the four-day festival, some local favorites and some new to the East End, according to Kelly Dodds, the president and co-artistic director of the organization. All but two of the performances will be free and open to the public.
Also back this year is the “Alley Stage” next to The American Hotel, a highly popular spot when it debuted several years ago — so much so the festival had to abandon it after 2018 because of the massive crowds it drew, which spilled out onto Main Street causing a bit of a traffic jam. Festival organizers have recalibrated the space and the kinds of acts that will perform there, they said.
“We do surveys every year and people give us their feedback. Plus, I live here, so I definitely hear from people about what they liked or didn’t and there was a big interest in bringing back the Alley Stage,” Dodds said in a recent interview about the festival. “We’ve repackaged it and are bringing in some smaller groups.
“It’s a really fun space. The whole of Main Street can hear the music played there, which gives a really cool and lively feeling to the area.”
The venue is now known as The Sag Harbor Express Alley Stage.
This year’s festival headline performers are Grammy-nominated artist Amythyst Kiah, who will perform at the First Presbyterian (Old Whalers’) Church on Friday night at 8 p.m., and Sag Harbor native Sara Hartman featuring Joe Delia and Friends performing at 8 p.m. on Saturday at Bay Street Theater.
Kiah’s music is described as a blend of blues, folk and country and Rolling Stone credited her with “expanding on those foundations with a definite rock edge and a spirit of experimentation.” The iconic magazine has also dubbed her one of America’s “greatest up and coming secrets.”
A native of Tennessee, Kiah’s performance at the Old Whalers’ Church will mark the first time she plays anywhere on Long Island.
“We are so excited about Amythyst. I think she is one of those artists we are catching on the way up right before she kind of blows up,” Dodds said. “She is on the verge of big things so this is a really special, special treat to have her here.”
The second headliner of the festival, Sara Hartman, grew up in Sag Harbor, attending Pierson High School, eating pizza at Conca D’oro and working at Kites of the Harbor. She played at the very first Sag Harbor American Music Festival in 2011 — “I was set up in the corner of a gallery and my little sister sang backing vocal,” she recalled.
In 2015 she signed with a major record label and moved to Berlin to work on her debut EP and tour Europe, the UK and North America. In 2017 she took a break from the business, then her mother became ill. Eventually, Hartman began writing songs again — for herself and others — and producing her own music.
Today, she is based in Berlin and returning to Sag Harbor to perform her new EP, “start somewhere dark” with Joe Delia & Friends at this year’s festival.
“It’s a warm fuzzy feeling to be able to bring what I’m making back home,” Hartman said in a recent email from Germany. “I’ve been working hard on this new album and have quite a journey planned. The performance is dedicated to my mother who, unfortunately, can’t be there.
“Honestly, it gives me chills to bring this album home. It feels like a new chapter is beginning,” Hartman said. “It means more than I can type to start that chapter where the whole journey began.”
Platinum and gold-selling recording artist Joe Delia and “friends,” guitarist Klyph Black, drummer James Benard and Grammy-winning bassist Michael Viñas, will accompany Hartman at the Bay Street Theater show.
In addition to the headliners, the music festival features an eclectic roster of solo artists and bands performing under the Provisions Tent at John Steinbeck Waterfront Park, on the WLIW-FM stage at Marine Park and the Sag Harbor Express Alley Stage. There will also be performances near the Civil War monument. The music starts at 10 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday and goes until after 7 p.m. both nights.
One of the artists set to play the Alley Stage is East End native R.O. Shapiro, also known as Raphael Odell Shapiro. Originally from Westhampton, Shapiro’s family moved to Sag Harbor in 2002 and he grew up there eating “Olaf’s waffle cones, learning how to drive in the Haven’s Beach parking lot, taking surreptitious nighttime bike rides to North Haven,” he shared in an interview via email last week. Shapiro even interned at the Sag Harbor Express — the Alley Stage sponsor this year — before leaving for college in 2008.
With a background in musical theater, Shapiro’s style has danced around from folk to rock to acoustic to an Austin, Texas influenced American roots sound. Recently, he’s been focused “on the story as well as the groove, inspired by Bill Withers, Joni Mitchell and Emily King.” Shapiro will play a pared down, solo set with his guitar at the festival.
“I’ll be [playing] just across from where I busked for the first time,” Shapiro said.
A number of musicians will also perform at several of the village shops and restaurants sponsoring the festival. Opening night Thursday will have six bands playing from 5 to 9 p.m. at El Taco Bar, Sen, Sag Pizza, Squid Kidd Brewing Co. and K PASA. They include the rockabilly band Roy Wilson & the Buzzards, local rock band Lynn Blue, Annie Trezza, a singer-songwriter from Montauk, Rorie Kelly, another singer-songwriter from Long Island and Real East End Brass, a New Orleans-style jazz band based on the East End.
The Sag Harbor Inn will host the band Born & Raised at 2 p.m. Saturday and Hinterlands will play at Provisions market at 2:30 p.m. On Sunday, Baron’s Cove will feature The Bodega Tallboys from New York City, an Americana/blues group, at 2 p.m.
The Belle Curves, an indie folk rock band from Brookhaven will also perform on the green near the Civil War Monument at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
“I’m really proud of and excited about our local sponsors,” Dodds said. “Year after year they come back, and then some. Their support keeps us going and growing, and that means we are achieving the mission of the festival organization: developing and strengthening the Sag Harbor community through connections and music.”
The Sag Harbor American Music Festival is a nonprofit organization. Donations, sponsorships and the sale of merchandise helps to cover the cost of producing the festival each year. The festival pays the performers, production crews and supplies some of the sound and lighting equipment.
The festival also offers a young musicians program and produces other, smaller scale free live music performances during the year.
The cover art for this year’s festival program — an original piece made by a local artist each year — was created by local painter Michael Butler and is called “Musicians at St. David AME Zion Church.” It features the R&B band Certain Moves.
The painting will be on display at Romany Kramoris Gallery on Main Street leading up to the festival and will be raffled off to benefit Eastville Community Historical Society, trustees of the church. The winner will be announced at the end of the festival. Poster prints will be for sale during the event.
In an age that affords access to countless virtual experiences — Skype dates, reality simulators, socializing via social media — the Sag Harbor American Music Festival aims to offer access to live music in a casual format. The idea is to give the community mostly free, tangible experiences in venues that allow the audience to come and go.
“It’s a nice way to introduce your children to live music without having to commit to an hours-long concert,” Dodds said.
During the pandemic, the festival had to shift gears to an all outdoors lineup that, as of last year, got a little too spread out to be sustainable, Dodds said. This year, she and co-artistic director Kerry Farrell “reigned it in a bit,” an intentional effort given the popularity of the event and the ease with which it could grow.
“We have strived from the beginning to be Sag Harbor-sized … we don’t have any future plans of trying to shut down Long Wharf and having Bruce Springsteen, for example,” Dodds explained. “But if a big name artists pops in a shares a stage with someone that’s great.
“The invitation is open, wink, wink,” Dodds added. “If you’re reading this and want to come play at the festival, let us know,” she said with a laugh.
The Sag Harbor American Music Festival full schedule is available on the group’s website at sagharbormusic.org. The schedule is subject to change. Tickets for the headline performances can also be purchased through the website. Tickets to the Amythyst Kiah show at the Old Whaler’s Church on Friday night are $40 each. Tickets to see Sara Hartman featuring Joe Delia and Friends at Bay Street Theater are $30. SHAMF is rain or shine.
One fine body…