By Christine Sampson
The Montauk Lighthouse Committee is hoping to fight erosion and support upkeep at the lighthouse with music.
The lighthouse, through the U.S. government, Army Corps of Engineers and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, has $24 million in erosion control funding coming to it over the next few years. But the Montauk Historical Society, to which the lighthouse committee belongs, isn’t off the hook financially.
“They’re paying for the job itself, but there is a maintenance component,” Greg Donohue, a member of the Montauk Lighthouse Committee, explained in an interview. “If the contracts are going to be signed, the historical society will be responsible for the maintenance.”
To raise money to keep up its part of the deal, the Montauk Lighthouse Committee is planning an ambitious event for September 16, dubbed the Great Eastern Music Festival.
The two-stage lineup has already been set. The main stage, north of the lighthouse, started with a wooden bandstand that according to the National Park Service was built in 1996 to celebrate its bicentennial, forming a natural amphitheater. And a portable stage is being brought in on the meadow at Turtle Cove, on the southwest side of the lighthouse, for a second group of performers. Huge tents will be erected so the festival can go off, rain or shine.
The lineup of acts includes Americana, swing, jazz, bluegrass and folk — in other words, a lot of music that centers around rich performance and a lot that centers around a deep message. Which is convenient, because the festival itself has something of a message.
The second stage, Donohue said, is called the “Save the Oceans” stage to encourage awareness of the current threats to the world’s oceans. Nearby, in the Montauk Oceans Institute building, in what was once the fog signal structure, an exhibit consisting of art made out of plastic that was pulled from the ocean will be open to the public
“We need to tell the tale about what’s happening to our oceans and what’s inevitable if we don’t act now,” Donohue said. Citing the fact that 105,000 people visited that exhibit last year, he continued, “They were blown away by the subtlety of the art and the gravity of the truth about what we are doing to our oceans.”
Bill Ayasse, the festival organizer and a member of the bluegrass band Eastbound Freight, which will play on the main stage in the morning, has been busy lining up acts from across the country to play the festival.
“I think if you put on a good show and you have the proper funding, anything is possible,” Ayasse said in an interview. “In order to raise money for the lighthouse we need to put on something that is going to be quality.”
Although the Great Eastern Music Festival is not the first time music has been used as a fundraising mechanism for the Montauk Point Lighthouse — the festival is a bit of a throwback to Paul Simon’s charitable concert series back in the late 1980s and 1990s — this is the first of its kind in quite some time.
Ayasse said he is aiming for a wholesome, “roots” type vibe at the Great Eastern Music Festival, which he said will be family-friendly, and hopefully something that can be duplicated in years to come in Montauk.
“If you get to go to a festival like this as a child, you get to experience the music,” he said. “Each artist will make an impact on a child and a family, and hopefully it will be something they look forward to each year.”
The headliners are The Dustbowl Revival, an eight-piece Americana swing and funk group from Los Angeles; Sarah Jarosz, a New York City-based, Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist; and Grammy-nominated bluegrass legends Seldom Scene, from Washington, D.C.
Local talent is represented as well, including Long Island songstress Kirsten Maxwell, country-rock-folk band Miles to Dayton and the East End’s own Gene Casey, who will be playing a twangy acoustic set of his own songs together with Tricia Scotti.
“What I like about [the festival] is, in addition to benefiting the lighthouse, it seems to be more focused on the music, rather than just a way of dragging tourists out to Montauk,” Casey said in an interview. “It seems to have a stylistic musical focus that is very appealing to me.”
Both the lighthouse cause and the environmental message resonated with him, he said, so he was happy to accept the invitation to play.
“There have been a lot of changes to Montauk, some good, some not so good,” Casey said, “and the lighthouse is a symbol of Montauk’s past and its durability.”
The Great Eastern Music Festival is planned for September 16 at the Montauk Point Lighthouse. Tickets are $65 for general admission, $25 for children ages 6 to 12 and free for children ages 5 and under. Parking is at the Montauk Point State Park lot, Camp Hero State Park and other locations, with shuttle bus service provided to the lighthouse. Food and beverages will be available for purchase on-site. For more information, including artist biographies and song samplings, visit greateasternmusicfestival.com.
Five Questions with Headliner Sarah Jorosz
Singer-songwriter Sarah Jarozs picked up two Grammy Awards in 2017, winning for “Best Folk Album” for her latest release, “Undercurrents,” and winning “Best American Roots Performance” for one of her songs, “House of Mercy.” Originally from Texas and now based in New York City, The Austin Chronicle recently wrote that Jarozs, 25, has “blossomed into one of the most stirring musicians of her generation.” Along with The Dustbowl Revival and Seldom Scene, Jarozs will headline the inaugural Great Eastern Music Festival in Montauk on September 16.
How has your move to New York City benefited the trajectory of your career and your stable of material for songwriting?
New York is a very naturally inspiring place. Especially coming from a place like Texas and growing up in a very rural, country community, New York is about the most opposite that you can get from that, so after graduating college it was a really welcome change of scenery and pace. That energy really fed into the songs, and also kind of having a lot of alone time to reflect on songwriting was different.
How would you describe your genre of music?
I kind of grew up in the bluegrass world, but once I started writing my own songs the goal was to have it be more original and not have it tied down to a specific genre. When I’m writing music I’m not thinking about what genre it’s going to fit into — I just want to make good music.
What’s the difference for you between playing individual shows versus playing in a festival atmosphere like the one you’ll be headlining in Montauk?
There’s aspects about both that I really love. I think playing an indoor, separate show on my own can be nice because the sound is maybe more controlled in an indoor space. It might be more conducive to quiet listening vibes, but then a festival is really fun because as an artist it’s nice to be able to see other artists play. It’s why I, and a lot of my musical peers, fell in love with music in the first place. Touring your own shows week after week can get a little monotonous, so it’s nice to see what other people have to offer.
The Great Eastern Music Festival in Montauk has an environmental awareness message to it, with one of the stages dubbed the “Save the Oceans” stage and an exhibit planned of plastics collected from the waters. Does this message resonate with you?
That’s so great. That absolutely resonates with me. I’ve been thinking about it more and more all the time, with everything going on in politics. Being on tour, and even not being on tour and just being a human and living life day-to-day, I’ve been thinking about how I can live more sustainably.
What are you looking forward to about the Great Eastern Music Festival?
I’ve been [to Montauk] briefly, but I’ve never played there. I played recently in East Hampton at Guild Hall with GE Smith, but I’m really excited to go to Montauk. I think it will be a nice time to get out there. It’s the end of a little northeast weekend run for me. It will be a nice way to wrap up summer touring, really, because the next thing for me is the beginning of a five-week fall tour. It will cap off a really fun summer of music, and it’s always great to play in new places that you’ve never been before.
10 to 10:40 a.m. Buddy Merriam and Back Roads
10:50 to 11:30 a.m. Eastbound Freight
11:40 to 12:30 p.m. Miles to Dayton
12:40 to 1:20 p.m. Tall Tall Trees
1:30 to 2:30 p.m. Sams Outlaw
2:50 to 4:00 p.m. Seldom Scene
4:20 to 5:30 p.m. Sarah Jarosz
6 to 7:30 p.m. The Dustbowl Revival
Save the Oceans Stage
10:30 to 11:10 a.m. Hank Stone
11:30 to 12:10 p.m. Kirsten Maxwell
12:30 to 1:10 p.m. He-Bird, She-Bird
1:30 to 2:10 p.m. Bill Scorzari
2:30 to 3:10 p.m. Pluck and Rail
3:50 to 4:20 p.m. m2d trio
5:30 to 6:10 p.m. Gene Casey
6:30 to 7:10 p.m. Gravity Jazz Quartet