Kelly Dodds

Kelly Dodds. Photograph by Steve Kotz
Kelly Dodds. Photograph by Stephen J. Kotz.

By Sam Mason-Jones

Kelly Dodds is the founder of the Sag Harbor American Music Festival. Now in its fourth year, 2014’s festival will take place the weekend of September 26 and 27, with a village-wide celebration of the roots of American music.

What was it about the Village of Sag Harbor that moved you to set up the Sag Harbor American Music Festival?

KD: Sag Harbor is so unique and special and we really wanted to utilize the layout of the village to show off the feeling of the town and the community to the locals, the visitors, everybody. We were influenced by festivals like the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, but wanted to do it on a Sag Harbor-sized scale.

We have been allowed to set up in lots of unusual venues around the town. Last year we created what we call the “Off Main Stage” in an alley just off Main Street, and received tremendous response and congregated a large crowd for each of the three acts who performed there. Performances will also take place in Geekhampton, Lifestyle and a lot of restaurants, as well as local landmarks like the Windmill beach and the Old Whalers’ Church.

What sort of acts have you booked to fill the array of venues at this year’s festival?

We’ve got everything from non-traditional hip-hop to the  jazz, rock and folk of roots American music. It’s a huge mix, but with a focus on genres specific to the U.S. like blues, Americana and bluegrass. When we created the festival, even in naming it, we decided to focus on the music that is uniquely American, which people often don’t recognize. We wanted to expose visitors to the real roots of American music.

This year we’re particularly excited to have booked virtuoso bassist Christian McBride and his Trio, who will kick off the Friday night, and for which I would recommend getting tickets early. Also Edith Gawler and Bennett Konesni, who are up-and-coming in the folk world, and curate a festival on Shelter Island each summer. We are also looking forward to welcoming a number of fabulous musicians local to the East End. A comprehensive list of acts and locations will be announced in the coming weeks.

Have you made any changes to the festival since last year?

This year’s festival will differ from the previous three in that we are going to have a wider selection of performers; we are going to tack on a few hours at the beginning and end of the day to squeeze a few more acts in. The layout is also going to act in a way that allows you to walk along and follow different genres at different times, so you can pick and choose what you want to see. The timings this year will also allow the possibility to hear a little bit of each and every performance, as Sag Harbor is small enough. That’s one of the great things about Sag Harbor, its manageable. You can just park your car and walk around the village all day long.

Is there anything unique in the format of the Sag Harbor American Music Festival?

We are different from a number of festivals in that we are sponsored completely by local businesses and individuals. We are a 501(c)(3) charitable organization and 85 percent of the money we raise goes toward paying the musicians and our production teams. The festival is helped by a large number of volunteers because we don’t have any staff. That’s how we keep the overhead so low. The remaining income is reinvested back into musical projects in Sag Harbor.

Which projects will you be looking to invest said income into?

In the last three years we have made substantial donations to the Pierson High School music department, and we’ve partnered with them to produce specific things. One year they purchased a new piano, the next they purchased a new software system. This year we are talking about purchasing some new instruments. In addition to that, we support free live music year-round. We help pay for music during the winter-time; for instance, the Chamber of Commerce puts on HarborFrost in February, and we will sponsor the music for that day. As much money as we have, we will reinvest into live performances and the school and any other deserving musical ventures.