Q&A with Kelly C. Dodds of the Sag Harbor American Music Festival

Kelly C. Dodds, president of the Sag Harbor American Music Festival.

Kelly C. Dodds, president of the Sag Harbor American Music Festival.

By Kathryn G. Menu

The president, co-artistic director and co-founder of the Sag Harbor American Music Festival talks about the local music scene, her favorite acts this year, and why you can expect to see a couple of toddlers rocking out by her side throughout the festival weekend, September 29-October 2.

This marks the sixth year of the Sag Harbor American Music Festival, which we have watched grow into one of the premiere fall festivals on the East End of Long Island, hosting everything from the Hillbenders epic performance of The Who’s “Tommy” to The Fairfield Four – this year bringing Joan Osbourne to one of the many stages the festival mounts throughout the weekend. When you first began this venture, did you have any idea it would be this successful?

No idea! In our first year, we expected to have maybe five free acts. We are a non-profit and mostly local businesses sponsor the festival. The support from the business community was overwhelming and we had 20 free acts in 2011. Now we present upwards of 30 free acts during the festival weekend.

What has drawn you to music in your own life? Why this drive to celebrate it and bring it to the streets of Sag Harbor each year?

Every human is born musical and can feel that emotional connection — it’s what makes music universal. It’s important to me to support live, accessible music whenever possible. I have professional experience producing music events in LA and New York and a commitment to serving my community as best I can. When I moved back to Sag Harbor, I found like-minded people and we formed the festival. Live music fosters human connection in a time when most entertainment is virtual and isolating.

The East End has a tremendous amount of musical talent — as evidenced during SHAMF where it feels like everywhere you turn there is a different local band performing. What do you think it is that fosters, and sustains, such talent?

We are fortunate to have so many gifted performers that live here year-round. One of our goals was to engage local businesses in hiring musicians. The festival’s success demonstrates how valued live music is by our community. Eighty-six-percent of our budget is used to pay the musicians, production crews and related expenses. Sag Harbor Village made it easier to hire musicians when it changed the permitting process six years ago. Sag Harbor people love their music! Thursday Night Jazz Jams at Bay Burger have packed the house for at least six or seven years now.

Is there anything you are most looking forward to at this year’s festival?

Ah, so much! Aside from the supremely talented Joan Osborne at Old Whalers Church, I can’t wait to dance Saturday night with Gene Casey & The Lone Sharks. We are putting up a big tent outside Dodds & Eder that can hold hundreds. Anyone who donates a minimum of $25 to the festival gets a ticket. I wish it could all be free, but we have to pay the bills! We want to make a substantial donation to Pierson’s performing arts programs again this year, so help us out and dance all night.

You have two young sons. Will they be at the festival this year?

Oh yes — Rowan and Ellis love music, dancing, singing and laughing. They’ll be out and about with my parents on Saturday. On Sunday, Jackson and I will bring them to Marine Park for the free shows with Lost Bayou Ramblers and Hoo Doo Loungers. I love watching our kids enjoy the music — all our kids in the community!

Any concerns about rain?

The festival is rain or shine! The big tent will serve as a “Rain Stage” if necessary on Saturday and Sunday.

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