The Surf Lodge in Montauk is celebrated for their intimate outdoor shows featuring some of the world’s biggest names in music, but the waterfront deck is also home to numerous top-tier local acts, including, most notably, The Nancy Atlas Project. Atlas and her band have owned the stage on Sunset Wednesdays for well over a decade, and fans keep coming back to dance, drink and sing along to the beloved singer-songwriter’s eclectic rock ‘n’ roll tunes.
With her summer Sunset Wednesday shows nearly over for the season, Atlas took some time to discuss her longstanding spot at The Surf Lodge and to reflect on her special brand of musical magic that often attracts larger crowds than even the most well-known performers to grace the iconic hotel and restaurant’s stage.
Atlas’s shows at The Surf Lodge have been a tradition for years, with people bringing their families and kids to stay connected to the local community.
How long have you been performing at The Surf Lodge, and how has your experience changed over the years?
I’ve been there 14 years, that’s my estimate. … The shows started out acoustic and I very quickly realized that the venue and the location—you know how in real estate they say, “location, location, location?”—I realized that the location was just absolutely stunning. So it was very shortly after that, that the band started playing. I think we made it through half the season acoustic and then the whole band came and joined in.
The difference is that the crowds have really grown over the years. It was kind of a slow burn and it’s built into this really almost weekly event. The way we got that was we asked for the worst night of the week. We said, “Give us your off night. What’s the night that nobody comes?” And they were like, “Wednesday!” So we’ve always been kind of the underdog band in that sense and have tried to build things around it.
What’s unique about the way you perform?
Even though I define myself as a songwriter first, I’m also a bandleader and I take it very seriously connecting with the crowd. What’s unique about our shows is that they’re never the same. You can go week after week, after week and you’re never going to see the same show because the element of the audience is the unknown. It’s like the fourth ingredient, if you will. Because that matters and because that’s factored in, and because that energy is deciding the flow of the show, I write set lists but I never stick to them, which isn’t unique.
I know a lot of people who do that. I’m very open to the energy of the night. I’m very open to the energy of each show and each night, and kind of reading that energy and creating where I want to go and where they want to go, and finding that path each time. A little bit of alchemy there. … My guys [in the band], they really let me do that. We’re together 25 years. I flow. I definitely read the room and the crowd, and it’s kind of this ever-changing experience. We’re definitely a family. There’s no two ways about it.
How do you incorporate the East End culture into your music?
One of the great perks of not being tied down to a major record label is that I’m able to write whatever really comes through my being, and sometimes that’s rock ‘n’ roll, and sometimes that’s a Southern ballad and sometimes that’s a sea shanty, you know what I mean?
I’m not pigeonholed into a defining genre or style of music and so I would say I’m able to incorporate the East End into my music because I write about things that have happened, like I have a song called “The Tale of Johnny Load,” which is about Anthony Sosinski and John Aldridge [a Montauk fisherman who famously was thrown off their fishing boat and left alone in the middle of the ocean, as chronicled in their bestselling book A Speck in the Sea]. I have another song called “East End Run,” which I wrote for my father about how things change but the land will always be there for you and the East End will always be there for you.
I definitely find a solace and an energy to write off of the solitude of Montauk and the East End. I always have. I’m not somebody who collaborates with people. I’ve tried it. It’s not my thing. I’m somebody who takes long walks and thinks things out and I take a lot of time on my lyrics. … I really do connect and use the energy of the land to help me in my craft—and I think a lot of people do. … I really feel connected to all of the artists on the East End, even people I don’t know.
What’s your favorite thing about performing at The Surf Lodge?
I have two. … I would say Mariana and Maria, the two waitresses that have been there for many years. So I start my night with two beautiful Brazilian girls who are so stoked to see my band. They’re just the best. They take such great care of us. And the second is, I love when people get… when they come to the Surf Lodge, they feel beautiful and they go out. And it’s wonderful to see people celebrating life and getting dressed up and looking wonderful, and that’s not to say we don’t have a few people who arrive in ripped shorts, and they’re accepted, too. Everyone come as you are, but it’s a celebration of life every Wednesday and it’s wonderful, it really is. It’s rose and cocktails and lobster rolls, and beautiful, gorgeous food—and, God, it’s just great—and rock n roll. What’s not to love?
What do you hope guests take away from your performances at The Surf Lodge?
I hope they understand that there has been an intentional commitment to local, original music. There have been a lot of different sides to The Surf Lodge over the years, but I can only speak about my own experience and it has been wonderful and so artistically supportive from the very, very first day. There are so few places out here that get that, and Jayma [Cardoso, the owner] gets that. Jayma gets that we are artists and that we are here in the community.
She could have anybody she wants play there on any night, and she has chosen to support not only myself but several other musicians that have weekly shows there. … I love The Surf Lodge shows. Nothing is perfect, but it’s pretty damn close.
Check out Nancy Atlas at The Surf Lodge, 183 Edgemere Street, Montauk, Wednesdays from 5:30–8:30 p.m. Call 631-238-5216 for reservations (required) or visit thesurflodge.com for more info.