If you build it, they will come. If Nile Rodgers helps builds it, they’ll come dancing.
Standing in North Fork wine country, in a grassy field with fence and horse completing a scene so bucolic it belongs in a Will Moses painting, you can see Rodgers’ mind turning as he surveys the scene. The music legend—cofounder of Chic, producer of acts from Diana Ross to Madonna, David Bowie to Duran Duran—is looking out at the space he will soon transform into the biggest, baddest dance floor the East End has ever seen.
“Yeah,” he drawls with a cool that could drop the temperature 20 degrees, “this is going to be good.” He has been working for months with the board of All For the East End (AFTEE) to curate its inaugural fundraising event—AFTEE’s Nile Rodgers Dance Party East End on Monday, August 19—and his smile grows slowly as the picture of thousands of revelers dancing and singing along with Chic (and the surprise performers who Rodgers will also bring along) forms before his eyes.
For the moment, though, the Martha Clara Vineyards field is a tabula rasa, not unlike AFTEE itself when it was founded last year by Myron Levine. A board member of WPPB Radio and former board member of Southampton College, Levine envisioned a nonprofit organization (NPO) whose sole focus would be to raise money for and support more than 1,000 registered NPOs across the five East End towns (Riverhead, Shelter Island, Southampton, Southold and East Hampton). He had also been part of All for the Sea, the annual music festival held at Southampton College to raise money for the college’s marine science program, so a concert-type event was a natural for Levine’s organization and its first major fundraiser.
“We started with nothing,” Levine says, “and in one year have raised over $270,000, gotten one of the biggest names in the music business to sign on and help us in every way possible, and lend his good name to AFTEE, is amazing.”
Rodgers, an East End visitor since the 1970s, is the ideal metaphor for what’s happening here, an individual of great talent and resources who, when he partners with others, in music and philanthropy, creates a sum greater than its parts. Not that you still don’t need parts.
“AFTEE is a brand new organization. The last year has been spent putting in place a structure and plan for both the organization and the fundraising concert,” says Kevin O’Connor, Chairman and CEO, Bridgehampton National Bank (BNB), which donated $50,000 to AFTEE, the largest sponsorship in this leading community bank’s history. “It takes time, energy and the help and resources of many people.”
It also takes the support of the community and those it aims to help. “It is a challenge to launch a new effort of this magnitude, but there is strong evidence that the community is responding positively to the idea and the event,” says AFTEE board member Wally Smith, General Manager (Ex Officio) WPPB (88.3 FM). “This is a totally unprecedented idea and effort. It is highly unusual for multiple-purpose nonprofit organizations to collaborate on a joint fundraising project. Our success will set an example that will have national impact on the nonprofit world.”
Of the 5,000 people expected to attend, 1,000 General Admission tickets regularly priced at $149 were designated for residents of the five East End towns for $50, and quickly sold out. “You know, you can eat out at almost any East End restaurant and count on spending $125, on the low side,” says AFTEE Treasurer Bob Edelman, CEO of Dan’s Papers. “If you’re like me, you probably spend upwards of $300 per month in gas. For $300, you can dance the night away in the spectacular VIP tent with great food and wine and a top tier concert to boot. And bottom line, every dollar will go to AFTEE, and every dollar will stay here on the East End to help support all those NPOs that provide services to the needy no matter what the cause.”
It was that kind of inclusive perspective and outreach into the community that got Nile Rodgers Productions on board. “We all make enough money, we do very well, so we thought, let’s see if we can spread this around and build an event around a good cause,” Rodgers says, noting that the exclusivity that often comes at an otherworldly price at some Hamptons events is not part of this formula. “It’s almost the antithesis of doing a high-high-high-end event—let’s have high-end talent, let’s have a great time, and let’s have the spirit be that we’re doing some wonderful stuff for some wonderful people who can maybe feel the benefit of our devotion to the community. We’re conscious of the effect of events like this on people.”
The excitement and buzz are tangible both among fans ready to dance the night away with the man who gave the world “Le Freak” and the AFTEE board members. Of course, those can be one in the same. “Nile is curating, as he says, and producing a fabulous event for us, spanning the history of disco up to the present—with lots of surprises!” says AFTEE Executive Director Mary Morgan. “John Kowalenko of Hampton Event Management is creating an amazing VIP tent, and general admission filled with local food trucks. Barbara Frerichs, one of our board members, has led the silent-auction effort, together with Bridget Quinn. Wally Smith and Bonnie Grice of WPPB will be there live streaming the concert and interviewing the audience. And we are going to have a fun “Facebook Photo Party” sponsored by NST-LI, a network solutions provider, where people can upload photos live to our Facebook page during the concert!”
As the participants and facets of the dance party grew, so did the effort required. Producing more than 60 worldwide festivals and events a year with his company, and having done plenty of charity-related concerts, Rodgers is no stranger to the secret to pulling such a thing off in style. “People don’t realize, doing concerts is not easy—it’s not like just going to a bar and playing,” Rodgers notes. “It’s quite difficult; the technical requirements when you have multiple artists, the needs, are very specific. But you don’t mind the effort, because there’s a dual benefit—you’re raising money, and the people in attendance are having a good time.”
Which, when that crowd fills the field at Martha Clara Vineyards in mere weeks, is what it’s all about. “Dance is in, and it is all about optimism and hope and it brings out the best in people,” says Levine, looking forward to the big night in August and many more to come. “I hope that people have a great time and that they understand that it was organized to introduce AFTEE to the community, and it is just the beginning.”
For tickets and more info, visit aftee.org.