Sag Harbor American Music Festival This Weekend

The Fairfield Four
The Fairfield Four, Photo: Courtesy Sag Harbor American Music Festival

The Sag Harbor American Music Festival is back for 2015, and will take place September 25, 26 and 27, bringing a huge variety of music to the quaint little village of Sag Harbor. That’s worth a “Hallelujah” all by itself! But don’t stop the rejoicing there. This year, the headlining act, performing Friday, September 25, 8 p.m. at Old Whalers’ Church, 44 Union Street, is the celebrated gospel quartet the Fairfield Four.

The Fairfield Four are known for their soulful and flawless renditions of the classics of the gospel quartet repertoire, and also for the otherworldly low bass voice of Isaac “Dickie” Freeman. Many will recognize the Fairfield Four’s unmistakable sound from their rendition of “Lonesome Valley” which was used in the classic film O Brother, Where Art Thou. Fewer people might be aware that this quartet has been around in some shape or form since 1921. Their virtuosic singing represents generations of refinements to a very intricate sub-genre of the gospel style—a sub-genre that in every way predates the “hard” gospel style made famous by Mahalia Jackson and others.

“It’s classic Jubilee quartet singing,” says Joe Lauro, who is on the board of the Sag Harbor American Music Festival. “Lots of groups like them existed back in the ’20s and earlier, and the style gave birth to a lot of the jazz quartets later on.” This will be a rare opportunity to hear this unique, highly skilled style of singing right in Sag Harbor—be prepared to be blown away.

During the Saturday of festival weekend, a lot of our fantastic local bands and artists play at various spots around the village of Sag Harbor, delivering a huge shot of musical energy. For one glorious day, Sag Harbor takes on a musical party-town character more commonly associated with New Orleans or Beale Street in Memphis. And all of these performances are free, sponsored by local businesses. Local favorites on the bill this year include the HooDoo Loungers playing New Orleans-style party music, the Complete Unknowns playing the music of Bob Dylan, and the Nancy Atlas Project playing original Americana.

Of course, the beloved Sag Harbor Community Band will take part, playing classic American march music and reminding us that American music is a many-faceted and interwoven thing. After all, lots of early jazzers cut their teeth playing the music of John Philip Sousa!

In addition to all of this local talent, the Sag Harbor American Music Festival has also always brought in great performers from elsewhere—national acts—to Sag Harbor to showcase the wide array of distinctly American musical styles. In years past they’ve had the country-blues legend John Hammond Jr., the Louisiana Cajun superstars BeauSoleil featuring Michael Doucet, and jazz bass virtuoso Christian McBride. This year, in addition to the Fairfield Four, the Festival is bringing in the HillBenders to present the wildly popular The Who’s Tommy, a Bluegrass Opry, which takes the popular trend of “bluegrassing” all manner of rock music to its logical extreme—playing the entirety of the Who’s Tommy in a bluegrass style.

“It’s something novel,” notes Lauro, adding that the HillBenders bring a lot of pep and energy to what they do. A huge hit at the 2015 SXSW Festival in Austin, Tommy, a Bluegrass Opry will happen Saturday, September 26 at 9 p.m., Bay Street Theater, 1 Bay Street, Sag Harbor.

The Festival concludes on Sunday, September 27, with a gospel brunch at Harlow East starting at noon and featuring the Ron Crichlow Ensemble. Hailing from Queens, the Ron Crichlow Ensemble was formed to accompany worship at the historic Leverich Memorial Church in East Elmhurst, New York (For reservations to the gospel brunch, contact Harlow East at 631-725-5858).

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