Keeping the Faith, Gene Casey Still Doing Rockabilly

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Gene Casey & the Lone Sharks will play a concert on Saturday, March 24, at 8 p.m. at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center. Randee Daddona photo

Gene Casey likes to say he started up The Lone Sharks when he was very young.

The truth, otherwise, can be a bit hard to bear.

“We’ve been doing this for 30 years, if you can believe that,” the lead singer said with a deep laugh, chatting from his home in Southold. “Part of me says, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t talk about how long we’ve been doing this, because people feel like, “Wow, you guys are dinosaurs.”’ But I’m proud of it, because it’s hard to keep anything going for 30 years, like a marriage or a job. Keeping a band together is like being married to four different people. It’s a challenge to keep everyone happy.”

He paused. “So I’m proud of that,” he said, “but on the other hand, I’m like, ‘Jesus.’”

The band’s upcoming show on Saturday night at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center is a three-decade retrospective of sorts, bringing back their greatest hits and greatest musicians for an encore concert almost one year to the day of their nearly sold-out debut in the established venue.

“Everyone is very excited about playing a beautiful theater. We actually have dressing rooms, which like, what? Dressing rooms and a basket of fruit? Wow, we’ve arrived. We don’t have to get dressed in our cars,” Casey said, tongue-in-cheek. “We had a rehearsal last night — which is rare to have a rehearsal — and it was just a nice feeling. To get to do a theater is like affirmation of work that we’ve done. It just feels like, ‘Okay, it’s really nice to be acknowledged and to have the opportunity to play in a nice venue.’”

Flashing back to the spring of 1988, Casey was working as a handyman for author John Irving in Sagaponack, after trying to break into the Manhattan music scene.

“I thought it would just be for a couple of months and I ended up staying for almost 20 years, really,” he said. “Back then, there were a lot more bars that had music, and I just said, ‘Let’s put together a group that’s fun.’ It wasn’t like, ‘I’m gonna conquer the music business from Sag Harbor.’

“I like to think the original intention and the original spirit — to not be pretentious, to just play good roots, rockabilly music and have fun — is basically what we’re still trying to do, all these years later,” he said. “Just enjoy and be down to earth about it.”

Despite being one of the most recognizable faces on the East End, Casey doesn’t consider himself a local celebrity — “There’s the butcher, there’s the guy who works at the hardware store, I just feel like, well, I’m the guy who plays music,” he said — and chuckles at the mere suggestion.

“I was at a private event and there were these waitresses and the girl working behind the bar, and they were kind of looking at us, so we’re like, ‘Oh, I guess we’re the big stars,’” Casey recalled. “So I walked over there and the gal said, ‘My grandmother loves your music.’ And I was like, “… Okay.’ That was a little reality check.

“But one of the interesting things is our original 1990s fan base that followed us, came to our gigs and disappeared because they got married and started having kids, they have started to reappear because their kids are now grown,” he continued. “It’s really come full circle. We hope to see them in Westhampton Beach.”

With the changing of times and the closing of the original Hamptons bars, Gene Casey and The Lone Sharks tend to stick to the North Fork these days, playing a circuit of wineries and eateries, though their music has reached audiences nationwide on television shows such as “Justified” and “Sons of Anarchy.”

“It’s usually in a bar scene where someone’s walking in a bar and you hear music in the background. It might be me,” Casey said. “I can’t get out of bars, even on TV.”

But the Westhampton Beach show will allow them to stretch their legs, playing a set of originals and party favorites, while encouraging their fans to do the same — even without a dance floor, per se.

“People are used to dancing to our music, so they were kind of complainin’ last year. A few people got up and were being sneaky in the aisles,” he said. “This is really a celebration of many years, I think, and staying true to the original purpose of roots music — carrying the torch and all that jazz — and us, basically, sticking to our guns. By that, I mean remaining true to the spirit and honoring the traditions. We never really jumped on any bandwagon. We just do what we enjoy doing, and it’s nice when that’s acknowledged.”

 

Gene Casey and The Lone Sharks will play a concert on Saturday, March 24, at 8 p.m. at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, located at 76 Main Street in Westhampton Beach. Tickets are $30. For more information, please call (631) 288-1500 or visit whbpac.org.

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