Sag Harbor American Music Festival

In an age of iPods and ADHD, Kelly Connaughton stakes a claim for live music. For the past two years, this local nonprofit veteran has spearheaded the preparation of the first annual Sag Harbor American Music Festival, an ambitious two-day concert, one that showcases the thriving arts scene that exists beneath the sleepy streets of Sag Harbor, as well as the fraternity of local entrepreneurs that prove themselves the lifeblood of the community

“When you work for a nonprofit, you have to plan an event in such a way that it can go on without you,” said Connaughton, President, Founder, and Co-Artistic Director of the Sag Harbor American Music Festival. “It has to work, even if you can’t be there,” she added, in a voice that even in conversation bears traces of musicality. [expand]

Laura Grenning, John Landes and Kelly Connaughton
Laura Grenning, John Landes and Kelly Connaughton

Connaughton was there for the festival’s inception—an impassioned conversation with co-chair John Landes, owner of the fast-food hotspot Bay Burger—straight through to its impending production, this Friday, September 30, and Saturday, October 1. By merit of grassroots prowess and word-of-mouth, she recruited the kind services of local merchants and business owners, handpicked the talent in a four-hour open call and solicited the participation of renowned performers, from Grammy-nominated Monica Mancini to flugelhorn zeitgeist and jazz legend Randy Brecker.

“I really feel like the vision of the festival is not mine, or the board’s, but the community’s vision. I really stand behind that,” she said.

The festival presents an impressive bill of over 17 acts, celebrating the varied roots of American music, including  jazz, funk, rock-n-roll, R&B and everything in between. Day one marks the inaugural concert and fundraiser at the Bay Street Theatre, featuring Brecker and Mancini in a tribute to her father, the great American composer Henry Mancini. Day two presents a program of local, national and international performers, arranged en plein air throughout the village, at such sponsor venues as The American Hotel, Grenning Gallery, Phao, and The Whaling Museum, among others. (Not to mention free admission for Saturday’s festivities)

“For local people, the summer is when you earn your money. Everyone has more than one job. And there are a lot of cultural things going on around here, but we can’t go to them. It’s not like we don’t want to,” said Connaughton. “I felt it was important to do the festival when local people had time on their hands,” she added, herself a multi-tasking East Ender, juggling a newfound 501(c)(3) with her nonprofit consulting business.

By presenting live music on a pretense-free platform, Connaughton hopes to democratize classic genres of music, and deconstruct perceived “socioeconomic barriers of entry” surrounding instrumental styles.

“Some people have a mental block to jazz, the same way some people have a mental block to symphony orchestras,” she said. “But by offering it free, and having it scattered out and around the village, it makes it completely accessible. That’s the heart of the Sag Harbor American Music Festival.

“I’m thrilled that the festival promotes Sag Harbor as a cultural destination,” she said. “Which it is, I’m not making it up. I’m just kind of…shining a light on it.”

The first annual Sag Harbor Music Festival is Friday, September 30 and Saturday, October. For more information on donations and ticket sales, visit  

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