Since March, among the many cultural casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic on the East End has been live music. The ability to gather in an intimate club or performance space to hear our favorite jams played by our favorite local bands is now just a distant memory.
The musicians aren’t too happy about this either, which is why one of their own is doing something about it.
Welcome to the Friday Night Hustle, the single-minded mission of Montauk rocker Nancy Atlas to bring the joy of live music back into our collective world — in a manner of speaking. The six-episode concert series was filmed in recent weeks at The Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett and it features Atlas and a varied line-up of her many musical friends performing alongside her on stage, just as they have at many Friday Night Hustles before the lockdown began.
For that reason, while the music will bear a strong resemblance to what we know and love on the Talkhouse stage, the audience will be seated, not a few feet from the band, but safely at home, accessing the Friday Night Hustle on their own computer screens or television monitors. The series begins on November 13 with new episodes coming available every Friday, ending with “the Holiday Special” on December 18.
“They are all prerecorded, live performances,” Atlas explained in a recent phone interview. “In short, we canned the peaches.”
Like the rest of us, Atlas spends days on end at home, and on many of those days, she is also tasked with keeping her three kids, sons Cash and Levon, and daughter Tallulah, on track with their schooling.
It was Tallulah, in fact, who reminded Atlas of how small the window was to make music together before people are driven back inside for the cold months as illness of all sorts appear with the winter.
“My daughter got sick at the end of August with a high fever,” explained Atlas. “She didn’t have COVID, but I realized that as people get simple common colds, it’s going to mitigate the ability play together.
“It dawned on me that we had this beautiful fall weather and it was our chance to can the peaches,” she continued. “On top of it, musicians are very vulnerable to the virus because we’re conduits for energy. We’ve lived a rough life. The musicians I know in their 50s, 60s and 70s drank alcohol and smoked cigarettes and it’s not a good combination.”
Beyond the physical health of the musicians, with the current dearth of gigs, the financial health of local music makers is at stake as well, and for Atlas, creating the Friday Night Hustle in a virtual format is not only a way for her friends and associates to get back to doing what they love, but it is also designed to send a little money their way in these difficult times.
To that end, viewers of the Friday Night Hustle are encouraged to contribute at a variety of support levels, from $10 for one show at the “I Just Need to Smile Right Now” level, to $300 for a ticket to all six shows, which includes a swag bag and option to meet at the Talkhouse on Friday nights to watch the broadcast.
The Talkhouse itself is, of course, the legendary home of East End music, and it, too is an important part of the series as the venue has not been able to host live shows for months.
“The Talkhouse was suffering and they are a family to me,” said Atlas. “The Talkhouse stage is sacred ground. So I wanted to do a trifecta of three things — I’ve set out to make a weekly series that celebrates and honors the music of popular musicians who live out here; I’ve set out to honor the preexisting magic that the Talkhouse has always delivered to our community; and I’ve also tried to make it an online experience artistically that will engage people and have them coming back for more.
“I didn’t want a live-stream telethon feel,” Atlas added . “I wanted people to be able to support their artists.”
To that end, the six episodes of Friday Night Hustle were recorded and professionally shot over the course of two weeks at the Talkhouse, from September 29 to October 15. Right now, Atlas herself is busy editing the live performances down for the broadcast.
“I have learned more about Final Cut Pro in the last two weeks than I probably chose to,” she said. “I know it now. I didn’t in October. Every episode has seven to nine musicians. I want you to be blown away.
“Art and energy beget art and energy,” she added. “I was miserable and was writing no new songs. I thought, I am numb. I was headed into depression, which I know about. But this gives me a skip in my step.”
The musicians appearing in the series represent a “who’s who” of East End rock royalty, including Gene Casey, Klyph Black, Andy Aledort, Inda Eaton, Winston Irie, Hopefully Forgiven, Sarah Conway, Annie Trezza, Mamalee Rose, Jimmy Lawler, Bosco Michne, Thomas Muse, James Bernard, Michael LeClerc, Dan Koontz, Danny Kean and, of course, the Nancy Atlas Project.
Atlas notes that all safety precautions were taken during the recording of the episodes. Some musicians had COVID tests prior to the performance, and there were absolutely no other people in the Talkhouse aside from the participating musicians, the two person film crew and the two person sound crew.
“There were never over 10 people there. It was the number one concern of mine, to provide a safe environment,” she said. “Some of the musicians have been quarantining together, so when people see them on stage, they need to know they’re quarantining or playing with musicians in their pod, so they’re able to get on stage comfortably.
“I will say, more than one musician openly wept,” said Atlas of the opportunity to perform live on stage again after all these months. “It was incredibly moving and humbling. There’s a sadness, but also a camaraderie.”
In the end, Atlas is hoping that for viewers watching the Friday Night Hustle, even from one’s own couch, it will make them feel like they’re part of it all.
“The Talkhouse is a home — a gathering of friends,” said Atlas. “In this completely and utterly frustrating time, we can understand that music has the power to heal. I think we are finding our way. Don’t give up on us. If you see musicians doing things online, realize we’d rather do it live, but can’t.”
With the sun now setting earlier and as another period of quarantine and shutdowns stare us in the face, Atlas invites everyone to come on in and gather round while she and her talented friends play a few songs.
“To me, this project is also about providing people a slice of community,” she said. “My goal to let you forget life for 60 minutes and have a live show. Without a doubt, it’s the closest thing to sitting at the Talkhouse and seeing a live band as you can get.
“I really hope this inspires people to get involved and watch, to support your local musicians with elegance and grace and art — and f—ing great music.”
One hundred percent of the funds raised through the Friday Night Hustle will go to the participating musicians and the staff at The Stephen Talkhouse. Virtual episodes are available at Musae.me or stephentalkhouse.com every Friday at 8 p.m. for six weeks starting November 13. After that, you can watch it whenever you want as many times as you want. Ticket prices are a sliding scale of $10 to $100, or $300 for “Friend of the Hustle” and all six episodes. The goal is to raise as much money as possible for the participants, so please consider donating more if you can. For those struggling due to the pandemic, a “Pay What You Can” offer is available.