Kelly Dodds: For The Love Of Music And Community

Kelly Dodds, a native Long Islander and East End resident, brings the Sag Harbor American Music Festival back in its ninth year.

The ninth annual Sag Harbor American Music Festival will be held September 26 to 29 this year, featuring dozens of musical choices — from solo acoustic singer-songwriters to full-on bands, from country and rock to Latin and jazz — and almost all of it is free and open to everyone. Venues range from restaurants, galleries, hotels, and stores to the fully set-up Jackson Dodds & Co. stage next to the American Hotel and the Sag Harbor Express stage under a tent at Marine Park.

The whole shebang is the brainchild of Kelly Dodds, a local mother of two young sons, Rowan, six, and Ellis, four. “But I didn’t do it by myself,” she said over coffee last week.

“When we started, I was single and had nothing going on,” she said, with a laugh. “A lot has changed.”

Dodds wanted to do something that expressed her passion for live music “and a love of community.” When Dodds was executive director of the Henry Mancini Institute in Los Angeles, “we did free music for the public — it was an 80-piece orchestra — and we would do one a week for six weeks, so this is a compressed version.”

First there was the idea, which came from Dodds attending the Jam Session at Bay Burger (it’s since moved to Union Cantina and can now be seen on Thursday nights at Paola’s East in East Hampton). She was impressed by the packed crowd. “The music was incredible — really tight — and it was off-season, and that sort of launched me right into it. And Sag Harbor is such a perfect place for this. There are so many beautiful little nooks and crannies,” she said.

She credits John Landes of the Jam Session for being “instrumental” — no pun intended — in helping get the project off the ground.

There may not be an 80-piece orchestra, but the festival does offer a 30-piece percussion ensemble, the massively popular Escola de Samba Boom, at 10 AM on Saturday, September 28, at Windmill Beach at the Long Wharf. All the performances are free, except for three ticketed events on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at Bay Street Theater and the Old Whalers Church featuring The Hoodoo Loungers, Jane Monheit, and The Scofflaws.

And the line-up is extraordinary. Free performances by Joe Delia and The Thieves, Nancy Atlas Project, Caroline Doctorow, Black and Sparrow, The Unsung Heroes, Gene Casey and the Lone Sharks, the Dan Bailey Tribe, and much more can be found over the weekend.

“And we wanted to do it off-season, as well,” Dodds acknowledged. “It’s so great to see all the people, the locals, that you didn’t have a chance to see all summer. It’s super family-friendly, and it’s just so great to get together in the town that we love and celebrate music.”

Another standout is the annual poster, always by artist MaryAnn Lucas, with a different band in front of a different Sag Harbor landmark each year. Past posters have featured Inda Eaton strumming her guitar on the steps of the John Jermain Library; Nancy Atlas Project in front of the Sag Harbor Variety Store; Mama Lee Rose jamming in front of the American Hotel. This year’s artwork features Caroline Doctorow and the Ballad Makers in front of the Customs House. The posters are for sale, along with T-shirts.

Dodds wanted to stress again that the entire event is run by volunteers, including her co-director Kerry Farrell, who was also at the Mancini Institute. “It’s a labor of love, and service to the community,” she said.

The full schedule, posters, and a chance to donate can be found at

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