Legends Return to Bay Street Theatre!


Every once in a while, I get a spontaneous thrill when I realize that I live in one of the greatest places in the world – Sag Harbor. This happened recently when I saw that Bay Street Theatre was going to be hosting another installation of the “Legends” series on Friday, September 21 at 8 p.m.
For those unintiated music lovers, the popular “Legends” series is the brainchild of Joe Lauro, who is the founder of Historic Films Archive (based in Greenport). Lauro puts together priceless clips of classic live music performances, drawn from his company’s collection of rare vintage film and television. Projected onto Bay Street’s sizable screen, with the sound pumping through the theater’s excellent speaker system, this raw footage offers up stunning displays of talent and showmanship. The proceeds go to support Bay Street Theatre.
A sampling of some of the treasures that Lauro has unearthed in previous “Legends” events: a dazzling 1969 performance by Ike and Tina Turner from an old Hugh Hefner special; Johnny Cash, circa 1957, doing a spot-on impersonation of Elvis Presley; a video of Sag Harbor’s own Billy Joel playing keyboards in the late ’60s with his early band The Hassles; and an outrageous Ruth Brown singing “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean,” the list goes on and on. While the music is often familiar, especially for aficionados, you seldom get to see these complete performances, much less hear the sound so well reproduced.
The “Legends” night on September 21 promises to be particularly fun, since Lauro has planned it as a preview for the Sag Harbor American Music Festival, which is taking place the following weekend. With this in mind, he has drawn from Historic Film’s deep well of definitive American music clips, coming up with footage of Mississippi John Hurt, Reverend Gary Davis, Woody Guthrie and Bill Monroe, to name just a few. He also has jazz clips from the ’40s featuring Lester Young, Dizzy Gillespie and Billie Holliday on tap, as well as ’60s folk legends like Bob Dylan and the Staple Singers. He’s even throwing in some Sinatra as a tribute to the “Great American Songbook” of popular music. If you like to hear Sinatra sing, wait until he locks his blue eyes on you from Bay Street’s screen – man, that guy knew how to get an audience to pay attention!
After the screened portion of the show, the audience will get to hear even more classic American music as local favorite Mamalee Rose takes the stage for a set. So don’t just bring your love of music, bring your dancing shoes.
Longtime connoisseurs of the “Legends” series might be surprised to find out that the model Lauro developed for Bay Street – creating a sort of virtual concert out of archival footage – has traveled beyond our little burg. In October, Lauro will present a “Legends” tribute to Chuck Berry at none other than the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, OH, as part of a larger event honoring Berry, one of the cornerstones of American music. In fact, this will mark the third time Lauro has created a custom program for the Rock Hall – I guess those Clevelanders know a good thing every bit as much as we Sag Harborites do.
Lauro has several more shows planned for the off-season at Bay Street, though no dates have been set. One show he has been planning for a while actually doesn’t involve music, but rather comedy. Lauro has long wanted to present a sampling of his company’s holdings of classic shtick by Jewish comedians – from early 20th century vaudevillians like Eddie Cantor and Al Jolson to latter-day masters like Jackie Mason and Myron Cohen. He imagines a show entitled “Jewish Humor from the Bowery to the Borscht Belt,” providing plenty of laughs as well as a fascinating historical overview of an immigrant culture that gave rise to an amazing number of funny people. Keep your eyes peeled for this one…
Also on the docket for the coming months is “Legends of Rock, Volume 5.” Lauro’s company is constantly adding more and more amazing footage from the rock era, and he could easily put together a show using just recent acquisitions. I can’t wait!