Gospel and Bluegrass at Fifth Annual Sag Harbor American Music Festival

The Fairfield Four.
The HillBenders will present a bluegrass rendering of The Who's rock opera, "Tommy", at this year's Sag Harbor American Music Festival.
The HillBenders will present a bluegrass rendering of The Who’s rock opera, “Tommy”, at this year’s Sag Harbor American Music Festival.

There will plenty of surprises along with the usual stable of standout local performers as the Sag Harbor American Music Festival (SHAMF) celebrates its fifth anniversary with a weekend of live jazz, blues, folk, R&B and Americana music, performed across Sag Harbor over the weekend of September 25-27.

One of the more unique treats on tap will be a Saturday night performance by The HillBenders, a band out of Springfield, Missouri, that will present a bluegrass rendering of The Who’s famous rock opera, Tommy, at the Bay Street Theater at 9 p.m. “The Who’s Tommy, A Bluegrass Opry” will feature the album in its entirety with special video accompaniment and audience participation. The HillBenders recognize their ability to bridge the gap between the common music consumer and the bluegrass genre, selecting material for the album that defies any hillbilly stigmas.

“With our widely varied influences, we’re all trying to bring in songs that unify,” said mandolin player Nolan Lawrence “We wanted to pair bluegrass with the other American music we grew up with —rock and roll!”

The weekend will kick off, as it has in the past, at the Old Whalers’ Church, where the festival will kick off with a performance by Grammy winning gospel artists, The Fairfield Four, on Friday at 8 p.m. Billed as one of the most distinguished proponents of traditional African American a cappella gospel singing, the group had a strong influence on blues musicians like B.B. King, among others.

The Fairfield Four.
The Fairfield Four.

Founded in 1921 in Nashville, Tennessee, and known best for their appearance at the end of the film “O Brother Where Art Thou,” the Fairfield Four have maintained their authenticity by carrying on traditional stylings exemplified by groups like the Bessemer Sunset Four, the Birmingham Jubilee Singers and the Famous Blue Jay Singers with Silas Steele. The current members of the Fairfield Four are Joe Thompson, Levert Allison, Larrice Byrd, Sr., and Bobbye Sherrell.

Adding to the Gospel flair of this year’s festival will be a special brunch at Harlow East on Long Wharf featuring the inspirational sounds of The Ron Crichlow Ensemble, a high energy Gospel group comprised mainly of childhood friends from Queens. The first set of music will start at 12 p.m. and reservations can be made by calling (631) 725-5858.

On Saturday, September 26, the Festival will feature free performances all day in various locations across Sag Harbor by Nancy Atlas, Pitch Black, Mamalee Rose, Gene Casey, Inda Eaton, Alfredo Merat Radio Europa, Joe Delia & Thieves, HooDoo Loungers, Escola de Samba Boom, Complete Unknowns, The Montauk Project, LUMA, In Circles, Hopefully Forgiven, Jake Lear, OCDC, Robert Leaver, Ludmilla Brasil, Mambo Loco and more.

General admission tickets for The Fairfield Four and The HillBenders concerts are $25. Tickets and additional information for these events are available at SagHarborMusic.org