Nancy Atlas and her Musical Friends Heat Up Winter for a Seventh Year

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Nancy Atlas opens her seventh season of the Fireside Sessions with special guest Simon Kirke at the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, New York on Saturday, January 4, 2020. Michael Heller photo.

This winter, Nancy Atlas is turning up the heat — koselig style.

More than anything, the Norwegian concept is a feeling, one of intimacy and warmth shared with others. It is chopping wood together and building a fire, cozying up to the flames during the darkest of nights.

For Atlas, the East End musician and her band of 20 years are the wood. And together, with the community and a slate of world-class guest musicians, they become the flames of “Fireside Sessions,” a weekly winter concert series at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor.

“I feel like we are making that fire, that we are a little bit of East End koselig,” Atlas said. “Our wood is homegrown and cured, baby!”

One weekend into the seventh annual series, Atlas and her band are back into a well-oiled groove that takes over all of January, she said. After each Saturday night concert wraps — Simon Kirke kicked off the series on January 4 — the band rests on Sunday before getting a new set list on Monday, “and away we go,” the lead singer said.

“We’ve sold out 36 of these shows. It’s been a pretty epic run,” Atlas said. “That’s mind numbing to me. That’s a shocker. I never saw that coming in 2014, I’ll tell you that much.”

Atlas also didn’t see the full-blown blizzard coming the night of the kick-off “Fireside Sessions” concert. But it wouldn’t stop her, the band or their premiere guest, Chad Smith, drummer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

“It was madness,” she said. “He jumped on a week before. It was just crazy. He put on a phenomenal show and we brought out all the guns — backup singers and the whole shebang — and we said, ‘Hey, come back next week!’ and the next week, we did everything in our power to put on the best show that we could possibly put on.”

Nancy Atlas opens her seventh season of the Fireside Sessions with special guest Simon Kirke at the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, New York on Saturday, January 4, 2020. Michael Heller photo.

That momentum has only grown, transforming what was once a cold, dark theater in the dead of winter with dozens of sold-out shows, despite featuring musicians whose names are not readily recognizable.

“When I travel the country, I have a list of people I use that are just phenomenal, phenomenal sidemen,” Atlas said, “and so I said, ‘Why don’t I shine a light on them? I know that if people will just trust me to come, they don’t have to necessarily know who they are.’”

Trust has clearly become one of the bedrocks of “Fireside Sessions,” and anyone who has followed the lineups over the years will recognize January’s lineup, which was an intentional move, Atlas said. “This is kind of the premier crew,” she said.

Among them is Clark Gayton, who will perform New Orleans piano funk with Brian Mitchell on Saturday night. Having toured with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Prince and Sting, he is “super, super famous in the world of who you call when you need a trombone player,” Atlas said, “but you don’t necessarily say his name on the street.”

Nancy Atlas and the Nancy Atlas Project performed at the Bay Steet Theater with special guest Danny Keane as part of her annual Fireside Sessions series on Saturday, January 14, 2017. Michael Heller photo.

“The thing that’s been a complete joy for me is I truly believe that people trust us, both these world-class musicians and the audience,” she said. “They trust me to put a good show on, and I think that’s why they keep coming back.”

The day of each concert is a whirlwind, Atlas said, starting from the moment the guest artists arrive to their first and only practice — usually for no longer than two and a half hours — before they take the stage.

“From a singing standpoint, it’s kind of like running the New York Marathon, and then running it again. It’s just no bullshit,” Atlas said. “It’s the only way we can do it. One of the highest compliments I ever got, so far, is G.E. Smith turned to me after and he said, ‘You’re a hell of a band leader.’”

She laughed. “I said, ‘Thank you! I’ll take that from you!’ That really makes me feel good, because G.E. was the bandleader for ‘Saturday Night Live’ for 25 years.”

As the band rolls with set list changes, and even costume changes, the night becomes a “live, living, organic thing,” Atlas said, “and I’m feeding off the crowd and feeling what they’re feeling, and I’m taking them on a ride and they’re taking us on a ride. It’s really quite exhilarating and fun.”

But despite what she gains from “Fireside Sessions,” Atlas cannot help but feel a tug toward her true calling — songwriting — and learning to balance the two has proven to be a challenge.

Nancy Atlas opens her seventh season of the Fireside Sessions with special guest Simon Kirke at the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, New York on Saturday, January 4, 2020.

“To suddenly pick yourself up and submerge yourself in other music can sometimes be completely distracting. The clock is tickin’,” she said. “I’m 48 right now and a few of my friends got sick this year and, unfortunately, I’m in that zone where I’m starting to lose people that I love. We are getting older and time is precious, and I really just wanted to enjoy my friends that I don’t always have a chance to make music with — and here’s this golden opportunity to celebrate them.”

Fireside Sessions with Nancy Atlas and Friends continues with New Orleans Piano Funk with Brian Mitchell and Clark Gayton on Saturday, January 11, at 8 p.m. at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor. Up next, Randi Fishenfeld performs on January 18, followed by Jonny Rosch on January 24 and The Choir Show with Danny Kean on January 25. Tickets are $35. For more information, call 631-725-9500 or visit baystreet.org.

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