By Gianna Volpe
There’s never been a more meaningful time to celebrate local food and traditional American music than this Saturday’s Plant & Sing Festival as it will be the first held at Sylvester Manor since heirs of the historic plantation gifted nearly the entire property to the non-profit organization in its name.
For the first time this year, tickets are on sale for a VIP brunch where Sylvester Manor’s Development Director Kim Folks said attendees would be able to meet some of the event’s headlining artists.
“We thought it would be a really key opportunity to offer something special for our sponsors and might be a draw for increasing our fundraising. We also just built a new farm building so that morning we’ll do a little sample of the music there and serve some fresh, local food and produce from our farm,” Ms. Folks said. “We’re so excited. We’ve had so much unbelievable support.”
Artists to perform at Plant & Sing include Martha Wainwright & Lucy Wainwright Roche, Eastbound Freight and The Deadly Gentlemen.
As many as 1,000 people will attend the all-day event, which will feature the first musical collaboration between the Wainwright sisters, who spent their childhoods summering on Shelter Island.
“I’m really excited about this collaboration because it’s sort of a special thing they’re doing just for Plant and Sing,” said Bennett Konesni, co-founder of the Sylvestor Manor Education Farm and descendent of the Sylvestor family. “[Martha and Lucy] don’t generally perform together, but they’re putting together this set to share with our audience for the first time, so it’s a new collaboration that is really neat to be a part of because people can see something that’s never been seen before.”
Mr. Konesni, who also performs music with wife, Edith, said he will open the festival’s musical portion, adding all those who join in the morning planting of garlic and other fall vegetables can learn and sing along to a number of traditional American work songs.
“It helps remember and acknowledge the slavery that happened here because a lot of the songs that we sing are very old songs from African American tradition…so it’s reminder of just what people went through before us; it’s a way of keeping a memory alive in a sense,” he said. “There are a lot of issues in the world right now, especially issues of inequality and injustice and a food system where people, land and water are still being exploited. We got here because those patterns of exploitation were set long, long ago and if we’re going to change them we need to remember that it’s a deeply entrenched way of thinking and that it’s absolutely part of our history here and in the country. The first step to undoing that is to acknowledge and remember that and the second step is to say, ‘What are we going to do about it?’”
For Mr. Konesni, this idea of acknowledgement and remembrance is the first of the two-pronged center of the Plant & Sing Festival. The second part, he said, is all about providing an antidote to past oppression through celebration.
“Part of the way to change things going forward is to create farms and communities where coming together joyfully is a normal part of everyday life,” said Mr. Konesni. “That’s one of the reasons we play work songs as part of the festival. It kind of captures what rural arts and culture has been and could be. So after the concerts, which are going to be amazing, we’re going to get together and have a contra dance.”
Contra dancing is a traditional dance form that Mr. Konesni said is now quietly spreading throughout the country in places like Atlanta, St. Louis and along the West Coast, despite being hundreds of years old. “The entire community dances with each other during any one dance, which is great because most of the people in the group will dance with each other…We’ll do it that night on the grounds here at Sylvester Manor under Christmas lights hanging from the trees and Tiki torches; it’ll be a really interesting experience.”
Plant & Sing won’t be just work and music, however, so attendees should prepare themselves for a wide variety of fun activities for the whole family, including early morning yoga, adult pumpkin carving, face-painting, pony rides, local food and a host of literary readings.
“This event is all about taking things that are very traditional about farming and food and putting an interesting spin on them,” said Ms. Folks. “It’s shedding light on different ways that we can move forward through sharing food and celebrating those people who sell and produce locally – like Schmidt’s Market, Wolffer Wines, Southampton Publick House and Captain’s Neck & Co. – so everything that people will consume, buy or enjoy will be local.”
Ms. Folks said the entrance to Plant & Sing will be located at 46 Manhassett Road and should be clearly marked. She said attendees are encouraged to bring a blanket, chair and willingness to have a good time, but asked that coolers and furry friends be left at home for this event.
Tickets for Plant & Sing can be purchased from the Sylvester Manor website: www.sylvestermanor.org.