January in Sag Harbor is synonymous with the Nancy Atlas Fireside Sessions at Bay Street Theater presented by Dan’s Papers. Atlas plays with different special-guest musicians for each of the five scheduled shows—all of them part of an intimate and unique East End tradition that shows no signs of slowing down in 2020. This year’s lineup includes Simon Kirke on January 4; Brian Mitchell and Clark Gayton on January 11; Randi Fishenfeld on January 18; Jonny Rosch on January 24; and Danny Kean on January 25. Atlas is thrilled to continue this annual concert series.
Tell us about Fireside Sessions 2020.
I believe it’s the seventh year, and we’re going about it with our favorites. I kind of change it up every year with different approaches. We’ve done different styles, different sounds like Austin and L.A., but this year we went back to the specific special guests and did a “favorites.” We just thought we’d invite back the people that helped establish it.
You’ve worked with all these people before, right?
I have. This year is a different combo. I haven’t had Simon in a while. Randi hasn’t played in two years. And Brian Mitchell and Clark Gayton is going to be a monster show.
You have the unique experience of working with so many different types of musicians. How has that influenced the Fireside Sessions?
The best music and shows are when you’re prepared but relaxed. I always tell people it should have the illusion of being effortless, but there is an enormous amount of work that goes into these shows. What’s exciting for me is that these people aren’t first-time guests, that we can really explore things. They know my band at this point and we know them really well. The shows are going to be really upbeat and super-fun this year. They’re real, genuine friendships. I feel the artists we’ve selected will be able to embrace their favorite music and songs and they know the band is going to do their absolute best to honor and support them.
When you approach the musicians, they must be excited about coming to the East End.
They really, really are! With the exclusion of Simon Kirke, who is very famous, a lot of these musicians have toured with famous people but are sidemen or women. But they are monster musicians. I have three kids, I’m raising them here, I’ve made this decision not to go on the road, so Fireside Sessions is really bringing the road to our town. It’s bringing these world-class musicians to our sleepy little town in the winter and subjecting us to this phenomenal live music. But yes, they’re very happy!
What are some of your favorite holiday traditions?
I’m such an old-timer during the holidays. I love making cookies. I love the whole process of decorating. I would say, for my family, the consistent tradition that we have is we all put up the Christmas ornaments together, and I tend to collect them if I travel. I collect Christmas ornaments all year round. If I’m in London or New Orleans, for example, I love hand-blown glass ornaments. We leave the cookies out for Santa, we blackmail the children with good behavior. I’m a traditionalist, for sure.
Raising your kids on the East End is a unique experience.
It’s been wonderful. I’ve been happy with it. I love that all the teachers know my children’s names. I feel we’re incredibly fortunate on the East End to supplement that with New York. I also take my kids to see the Rockettes or A Christmas Carol or something like that. I’ve always found that the small-town education mixed with the parenting and worldliness of New York City tends to be a wonderful combination. Do I wish I could travel more? I do, but I find that kids crave consistency. It’s challenging to balance the gypsy blood of being a musician and knowing that your children crave consistency, but that’s the priority.
What are some of your favorite Christmas songs?
I love “Let It Snow,” I often will sing “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” to myself, I love “Walkin’ in a Winter Wonderland.” And I crank up Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.”
What else would you like people to know about the Fireside Sessions?
There has been an ongoing fight for the professional musician in all our towns. We’re just so appreciative to Dan’s Papers and everyone who has ever come out because they really prove that the desire and support is there for the local professional musician. On behalf of our entire band, we’re so deeply appreciative. We get an enormous amount of mail that we literally get people through their winter. That is not lost on us at all. We will always try to raise the bar and leave people smiling.
For tickets and more information on Fireside Sessions, visit baystreet.org.