By Dawn Watson
Nancy Atlas might have a perfect track record of 15 sold-out Fireside Sessions shows at Bay Street Theater here in Sag Harbor, but that doesn’t mean that she’ll ever take the gig for granted.
When the singer/songwriter/guitarist started the series as a respite from the doldrums of winter on the East End, she prayed that her hard-core fans would show up. And though she was hopeful that she’d find audience, Ms. Atlas had no idea that she’d be filling the house each and every time she and her band—Johnny Blood, Brett King, Richard Rosch and Neil Surreal, plus a special guest star, typically a world-class musician who happens to be a side man in a famous group—would take the stage.
“It feels pretty damn good. And trust me, our band doesn’t take one second of it for granted,” says the Montauk resident of the success of the Fireside Sessions.
“It was a wing and a prayer,” she says of the idea, recalling that she had guaranteed Bay Street’s Producing Director Gary Hygom 90 seats for the first show. “He thought I was crazy, that I wouldn’t be able to put that many people in the place in January. I agreed but I thought it was worth a shot.”
It was a bet that paid off. Audiences have clamored for the shows, which the singer calls “a 90-minute sonic vacation,” right out of the gate. This year’s lineup, which includes a concert every Saturday night in January and features Clark Gayton on January 7, Danny Kean on January 14, Randi Fishenfeld on January 21 and a surprise guest on January 28, is nearly sold out.
The shows are hot tickets due to their spontaneity, according to Ms. Atlas. You never know what’s going to happen, or who will show up.
Her personal favorite recent gigs include: Red Hot Chili Peppers’ drummer Chad Smith singing “Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl)” during 2014’s sold-out blizzard show at Bay Street and Simon Kirke of Bad Company playing the ukulele and belting out an acoustic reggae version of “Feel Like Makin’ Love” and sharing juicy tidbits about the band. There’s also Henry Haid, from Broadway’s “Movin’ Out” musical about Sag Harbor’s very own Billy Joel, who lead the audience in a sing-along version of “Piano Man” and Danny Kean performing “Lean on Me.”
“It gets me every time,” says Ms. Atlas. “It takes 300 people to church.”
This year’s upcoming shows should prove to be just as memorable, thanks to another stellar lineup. And the surprises should keep on coming too, says Ms. Atlas. Especially for the final show this year, which is shrouded in secrecy.
“I can’t mention the mystery guest until he is confirmed but the tiny hint is that he has played before,” says the musician. The only fact that she can verify is that it’s not Mr. Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers—a Montauk resident and frequent stage-sharer with the band.
The confirmed musicians for January are heavy hitters and a dream list for any music fan, she reports.
Mr. Gayton, a trombonist, has played with Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Prince, Tom Jones, Queen Latifah and Elvis Costello, to name a few. Mr. Kean, a keyboardist and vocalist, has played with Lenny Kravitz, Stevie Cochran, Sam “Bluzman” Taylor and Gary U.S. Bonds. And Ms. Fishenfeld, a classically trained violinist, has played with BB King, Air Supply, Foghat, Kansas and Clarence Clemons.
The regular members of the band are also quite accomplished in their own rights. And bring it every time on stage, says Ms. Atlas.
On lead electric guitar and vocals, Mr. Blood is impeccable, she reports.
“The man can do it all. Samba. Rock. Blues. Jazz. Zeppelin. Bowie. Coltrane. Stevie Ray Vaughn. Santana. You name the man not only plays it but nails it every time,” she says. “In my opinion a large part of the success of this series is due to John.”
Mr. King, on bass and vocals, is a “truly badass player,” according to Ms. Atlas. The Sag Harbor resident “knows when to hold down the bottom, and then when needed he can Entwhistle out on me. A true gem.”
On drums, Mr. Rosch “delivers every time,” she says.
“Personally I don’t know how he does but he does,” she says of the demanding job of going hard every night on the skins. “I’m a fan for sure.”
And Mr. Surreal, who plays the keyboard, harmonica, and accordion, and contributes to the vocals, is the gypsy of the band.
“Every band needs a gypsy and everyone loves Neil,” she says. “He is the butter cream frosting on the cupcake of our band and I love playing with him.”
The January shows are just the tip of the iceberg for the musicians, who have been together for 20 years and have had an immensely successful 2016, reports their front woman. This coming year should prove to be an even bigger one for the band, she says.
Their new album, “Cut and Run,” comes out in the spring. And one of their most recent songs, “The Tale of Johnny Load,” a sea shanty inspired by the tale of Montauk lost-at-sea fisherman Johnny Aldridge, gets a mention in his soon-to-be-released autobiographical book “A Speck in the Sea,” which is expected to hit big and has already been optioned into a film.
“We have had a banner year with sold out shows, wonderful support and just a lot of love,” says Ms. Atlas. “John, Brett, Richard, Neil and I truly appreciate it. We feel it across the board and often remark at how lucky we are.”
Tickets for the Nancy Atlas Fireside Sessions at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor are $25. Seating is limited. For additional information and reservations, visit www.baystreet.org.