While the declaration by French Vogue last month that Montauk is the “new St. Tropez” seemed somewhat incongruous to me, I wouldn’t be surprised if anyone came out and called it “NOLA East.” When you think about it Montauk and New Orleans have quite a bit in common; lots of great local color, a slew of good restaurants, a rich history involving the fishing industry and both are music Meccas. Even a casual glance at the list of places offering live music makes it clear that Montauk’s music scene has exploded. Or has it? Was Willy Nelson’s appearance at the Surf Lodge a defining moment or just the natural progression of the musical swell that Montauk has been riding for years?
When my conversations with the editorial staff at Dan’s went from funny stories about my cat or my quest for a good egg sandwich to my twice-a-week trips to Montauk to hear live music, they took note. When I rattled off for the Montauk calendar that Nancy Atlas is at Surf Lodge every Wednesday and Joe Delia on Thursdays, Gene Casey has bookings at Zum Schneider and Sloppy Tuna, while Dan Bailey is at the Montauk Yacht Club every Saturday—oh, and Nancy is there about every other Sunday, plus Winston Irie regularly at Swallow East, some Sundays at Navy Beach and Jettykoon holds court at Montauket on Thursdays—they assigned me this article.
My fascination with live Montauk music all started with Nancy Atlas and Gene Casey. These two Dan’s Papers Best of the Best winners were no strangers to me. The real fan in my household was my husband, David. When he moved to Bridgehampton, he spent a good deal of time dancing to the Lone Sharks when he wasn’t somewhere following Nancy Atlas. Last summer, we made a point to see these two local music icons perform and we were hooked.
It was clear by early June that Montauk would be the place to feed our addiction since both Nancy (who also lives there) and Gene (who’s been playing Montauk for over 20 years) have a good number of gigs booked in and around the Village. Once there, it’s hard to ignore that there seems to be live music everywhere. I began to wonder: Is this new phenomenon or is it just new to me? I found myself in the fortunate position of being able to ask a couple of experts. You guessed it—I called Gene and Nancy. Not surprisingly, they had similar things to say about why Montauk’s music scene is hot and why it’s home base (personally and professionally) to such amazing local musical talent.
According to Atlas, Montauk has always had its “fair share of live music by local musicians,” while admitting “I don’t know if it’s due to the salt air or that Montauk has always been a good drinking town, and what goes better with a few beers than live music?” concluding that “maybe everything is just looser here.” Casey credits “a very appreciative local crowd” and a lack of pretension, noting that back when he first started performing out there Montauk was something of the “Wild East once you hit the Napeague Stretch. The locals drank and danced and we played good music,” says Casey of his years spent performing at Nicks On the Beach. “It was all very honest.” Atlas believes that Montauk seems to “embrace and support local music,” noting that Larraine Creegan at the Montauk Chamber has been an advocate of the Music on the Green series for 18 years. July 15 will once again see Nancy Atlas performing on the Green which is free and open to the public.
So it seems fair to conclude that Montauk, like Sag Harbor, and to some extent Bridgehampton, had a flourishing live music scene 15 to 20 years ago. Unlike these two other favorite spots of mine Montauk has kept it going. Casey says, “Montauk is the last place you see this, it’s like the O.K. Corral.” Due to it being a more remote part of the East End, the support of local music comes down to a tight-knit community. “Supporting local talent is supporting an extension of your community,” muses Atlas, “just like you’d rather see your neighbor who runs a charter fishing boat be successful as opposed to the guy who showed up for the summer.” This sense of community radiates from the performers, who often show up at each other’s gigs to sit in or listen. My husband and I find that this makes for a entertaining experience.
Montauk and live music have a long, rich and a bright future—look for another installment of this story soon.