By Stephen J. Kotz
It was a homecoming for Dawn Beyer. On a glorious, sun-drenched Saturday, the Sag Harbor born singer-songwriter, whose family has deep musical roots here, performed to a large crowd in Marine Park during the Sag Harbor American Music Festival.
Ms. Beyer, who is now 31, moved from Sag Harbor to Texas with her parents, Bill and Donna Beyer, when she was six. She first picked up the guitar when she was about 10 years old and began writing songs with a country feel soon after.
In fact, the way she came upon her first instrument is the stuff of a pretty good country song. Ms. Beyer said she had been bugging her parents about getting her a guitar, but they didn’t have the money to buy one. “That very night, a truck driver came in off the road and asked my dad if his truck was for sale,” she said. It turned out Mr. Beyer’s 1956 Chevrolet pickup wasn’t for sale, but when the truck driver offered an old Epiphone acoustic guitar as trade, the struck a deal and Dawn got her wish.
While in Texas, Mr. Beyer, a former Sag Harbor police officer, made a living putting on wild west shows. Hs daughter soon got the idea of putting out her own tip jar and performing her limited repotoire. You could say she caught the bug pretty easily.
As a 12-year-old, Ms. Beyer began touring with family friends who had a bluegrass band and played at festivals around Texas. “They’d let me get up and sing a couple of songs,” she said. She also had brief glimpses of the big time, singing a song before a Willie Nelson concert as a 12-year-old and later playing a couple of songs with George Jones’s band when she was 15. Around the same time, with her father as her promotor, she set out on her own, playing at clubs, bars and festivals, with her father promoting her talents.
“Growing up in music, I knew this kid of mine had something special,” Mr. Beyer said this week in a phone interview from his home in Nashville.
Mr. Beyer had good reason to trust his musical instinct. The Beyer family’s musical roots are deep. Ms. Beyer said her great grandmother, Olivia Hildreth, who married Jacob Beyer, played piano and sang. Jacob Beyer sang barbershop harmony on the radio with a Brooklyn group, the Knickerbockers.
In Sag Harbor, the couple raised three sons, Robert, Jack and Ellis, all of whom played brass instruments and sang. Her grandfather, Robert and his wife, Florence, were charter members of the Sag Harbor Community Band, with Mr. Beyer playing trumpet and his wife drums. The couple’s children also were musically inclined with Bill Bleyer picking up trumpet, Bruce Beyer the drums and Brad the keyboards and drums.
Ms. Beyer, who returned to Sag Harbor with her family from time to time over the years, said she always remembered the music that was played at family gatherings.
On Saturday, as she performed a 90-minute set, it was her turn to celebrate the music for an audience largely made up of family and friends. “I’ve done nothing but my own songs, and you’re still sitting here,” she quipped at one point, before doing a couple of covers of country standards such as George Jones’s “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” and Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.”
Ms. Beyer recorded her first record, when she was 14, when her family still lived in Texas. She later moved to Nashville, and despite some interest from the mainstream music business, she chose not to sign a contract. “As soon as you get a deal, they start telling you what you have to change about yourself,” she said.
While the rise of online music may have caused an upheaval in the mainstream music business, it spelled opportunity for Ms. Beyer and other young performers, who were savvy enough to take advantage of it. She has founded her own label, the Real Nashville, and sells songs on her website, which also contains a virtual “tip jar” where listeners can use Pay Pal to contribute to the artists whose performances are included on the site.
Ms. Beyer said she keeps busy with her live performances and recently rented an apartment in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where there are several major recording studios, and plans to record an album. A book about her experiences is also in the works.
She also books her own shows peforming for everything from private parties to larger club audiences. “I traveled to Maine to sing at a bonfire. I sang in a kitchen in Florida,” she said. “It’s cool to be booked and not have a list of cover songs you have to do and hear your audience singing along.”