Variety is the spice of life, as the adage has it. On the other hand, when it comes to live music, many people seem to prefer to hear mostly songs that they’ve heard before. Performing musicians often find it hard to present more obscure music, let alone original music, when their audience would rather sing along to “Brown Eyed Girl” again. Therefore, in many live-music venues, variety takes a distant backseat to familiarity, even in a pretty open-minded musical culture like the one on the East End.
Local singer-songwriter Marianne Megna arrived at a great way to challenge this prevailing culture with a concept she calls the East End Opry, which has been happening on Monday nights at FRESH Hamptons in Bridgehampton for almost a year. The shows are curated, and every week features a headliner—usually a local professional—along with a variety of other players offering mini-sets. Music starts at 7 p.m., with the headliner going on at 8 p.m. But what really distinguishes the East End Opry is that all of the music played must be either original or in the public domain. Already, the Opry has featured a wide variety of creative musicians playing full sets of mostly original music they might ordinarily just touch upon. For example, on a recent Monday, Gene Casey of the Lone Sharks presented a showcase of his great original songs. Another night featured guitar god Andy Aledort playing a jam-laden set of his own laid-back material. Both performers packed the house.
“Nobody knew how this was going to go over,” says Megna of her brainchild. “But we have gotten a really positive response, and we’ve been able to have some very eclectic shows and provide really entertaining evenings.”
The idea for the East End Opry evolved from an open mic night Megna was running at FRESH Hamptons. “I started to notice a distinctive sound developing on the East End,” she explains, “and I wanted to get a forum to showcase that.” Open mic nights, where performers are often limited to 10 minutes of stage time, tend to steer performers into playing what they hope will be crowd-pleasers—like, say, “Brown Eyed Girl.” The guidelines of The East End Opry give performers the opportunity to traverse more varied material.
“The format supports original music and people can do what they want to do,” says Randolph Hudson, who plays in the Opry’s house band, which usually includes Hudson on guitar and a roster of other local musicians. The house band is on hand during the East End Opry shows to back up solo performers when needed. They are some of the most highly skilled, best-known players in the Hamptons music scene, capable of picking up new songs at the drop of a hat. So singer-songwriters used to playing solo have the opportunity to try out their songs with a crackerjack band.
In addition to Gene Casey and Andy Aledort, the East End Opry has highlighted the original music of some up-and-comers as well: Raphael Odell Shapiro played a dazzling set of his own urban folk numbers, while Dan Koontz was featured with a set of his own blues-based tunes.
Going into its second year, the East End Opry has established a valuable venue for singer-songwriters to find an audience for their work, which was Megna’s goal in starting it. “My hope with this was to give music a place and musicians a place, and for audiences to come and enjoy it—because I think people sometimes forget what music can do for them. I’m about live music, period.”
Join the The East End Opry Facebook page to get regular updates about who will be playing soon. And come down to FRESH Hamptons, 203 Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike, Bridgehampton, on Monday nights for some “fresh,” local music.