The Montauk Music Festival, from Thursday, May 19, through Sunday, May 22, will once again help the South Fork’s easternmost destination welcome summer.Hundreds of live music performances will take place at more than 40 venues in and around Montauk during the seventh annual event.
Ken and Sue Giustino have organized the festival since its inception. “There are a thousand and one moving parts when putting on a four-day music festival like this,” Mr. Giustino said, “but the one word that comes to mind every year is, ‘community,’ not only for the town, but the bands and musicians that filter in, basically taking over the place. It’s a great vibe.” The festival runs the weekend before Memorial Day: “So, it’s a great way for businesses, during the shoulder season, to have an additional summer weekend to fill their hotels, restaurants and bars,” he added.
Over the years the Montauk Music Festival has had its fair share of growing pains. “The first year we put on the festival, I was running around like my hair was on fire,” Mr. Giustino recalled.
“There was this one band on stage performing at some bar in downtown Montauk, and one of the guys needed a cord for his amp. I got the call and dashed over to the gig, hopping fences, and handed a new cord off. When I walked away I heard the lead singer—who was surprised at what was happening—call out to the audience, ‘Hey, that’s the guy that runs the festival!’ It was very hands on back then,” he said with a broad smile and slight glimmer in his eyes.
Molly Adele Brown, a part-time Westhampton resident, will appear at the festival for the first time performing original contemporary country songs.
“When I was growing up it seemed that Jimmy Buffett was playing in the house non-stop,” Ms. Brown said with a laugh. “My dad would also play records by The Marshall Tucker Band and Carol King, and so having that exposure to music as a kid eventually led me to create my own sound, which I call a country-pop mix.” On Sunday, Ms. Brown will play on the village green performing a new song, “Weather the Storm,” which she describes as “a tribute to honor the soldiers that have fought for this country.”
Up-and-coming rock band Red Tide, from East Hampton, will play two shows at the festival. While the members of this trio—16-year-old guitarist Sam Grossman, 15-year-old bass player Harlan Beeton and 14-year-old drummer Anthony Genovesi—are young, their sound is mature and loud. Playing Gosman’s Dock outdoor stage at last year’s festival, the band was continually told to “turn it down.” When their amps wouldn’t go any lower, they were asked to leave the stage. A “Spinal Tap” moment, for sure.
Drawing influence from such rock luminaries as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, Red Tide delivers its own heavy take on both classic and modern rock ’n’ roll.
“A couple of years back we played the festival, and after the gig this guy in his 50s came up to us with tears in his eyes—but in a good way! He was obviously a major rock dude,” quipped Harlan, who is the lead singer in addition to being the bassist.
While all the artists this year will bring their own unique songwriting craft to the festival, one must-see band is Long Island’s reggae-rock infused Oogee Wawa, named after the Zulu term for “cheers!”
All the band members are surfers, and components of that free-flowing lifestyle come through at their shows. One of their songs that has become the band’s sing-a-long anthem over the years is “Empty Pockets.” With the lyric “we don’t care,” the song might just be the band’s own take on the “live life on the easy side” mantra.
“Montauk is its own little heaven, and so to get the opportunity to play music and hang out with other bands during the festival is pure bliss,” Oogee Wawa lead singer Jesse Roenbeck said.
“We struggle, and pursue this dream, because at the end of the day we make everyone at our gigs happy,” he mused. “We just try to keep the party going, and we thrive off that.”
New to the festival this year will be an outdoor concert series held at the foot of the Montauk Lighthouse. The stage will be set up at the edge of the natural grass lawn amphitheater with the Atlantic Ocean serving as backdrop. On Saturday, Remember September, a pop rock band from Connecticut, will get things going with feet-stomping infectious grooves bringing their own brand of what they call “the funk.” On Sunday, Montauk resident and singer-songwriter Megan Leonardo will share her knack for blending strong vocals and catchy melodic hooks. Both performances start at 2 p.m. Tickets are required, as well as an $8 parking fee.
While music will be pouring out of pretty much every bar and restaurant that line the downtown Montauk strip, off the beaten path is one of the most engaging parts of the festival. Done performing for the day, musicians gather on the beach at night to network and to exchange ideas about creating music. With guitars in hand and a bonfire going, a serendipitous open jam takes place under the stars.
On Friday morning, the Montauk Elementary School allows kids to get involved with the festivities. Songwriter Alyson Faith and her “Funkytown Playground” will hand out instruments, and children will get the chance to create a song on the spot. “After that the kids hop on a bus, and head over to the outdoor stage at Gosman’s dock,” Ms. Giustino said. East Hampton High School’s jazz band and rock band will perform to close out the day, she added.
On Sunday, the East Hampton High School Far East Fiddle Club gets things going for the day’s concerts on the village green.
A unique aspect of the festival is that it is all-age inclusive, bringing the creativity of not only professional bands and songwriters together, but the next generation of music creators. And since this is the Hamptons, who knows what celebrity might show up? Last year “Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon jumped on stage and belted out a couple of songs at sunset mecca the Montauket.
This year’s Montauk Music Festival is all about diversity, embracing not only various musical genres—reggae, blues, rock, alternative, country—but people from all walks of life, as well.
“It never ceases to amaze me watching large groups of people at the festival celebrating and collectively enjoying that spiritual thread that runs through all of our lives, music,” Mr. Giustino said.
The opening night party will take place at Gurney’s Inn on Thursday. Tickets are $45, which includes a four-hour open bar and finger food. The party starts at 8 p.m., with live music going until the wee hours.
Food and beverages during the concerts on the village green will be provided by the Montauk Friends of Erin, a community organization, with proceeds going to support local activities throughout the year.
For more information about the festival and to download the festival app, which is updated daily with venues, bands, and performance times, go to montaukmusicfestival.com.
One fine body…