Band on the Run: Police Chief to Halt Sag Harbor Community Band Tradition

Sag Harbor Community Band
Sag Harbor Community Band

Every Tuesday evening at 8 p.m. in July and August, a crowd of about 300 music lovers walk out onto the middle of Bay Street in front of American Legion Post 388 in Sag Harbor, unfold aluminum chairs and sit down to enjoy an hour-long concert performed for free by a small orchestra known as the Sag Harbor Community Band.

As the concertgoers sit directly on the asphalt near the white center line, a chunk of Bay Street for a hundred yards has to be closed off for that hour. The police oblige by setting up orange traffic cones at either end. They also post a police car at the ends with officers standing adjacent to the car waving traffic up side streets to get around this temporary makeshift concert hall.

This tradition has been going on for more than half a century. The GIs had come home from World War II and Korea. Some of them had been in bands at Pierson High School before the war. In the Army, some had been members of military bands. Others became professional musicians.

In any case, although some were good, others weren’t. But they did try hard, many of them in their military uniforms with their medals gleaming, happily playing trumpets, tubas and trombones there in front of the American Legion hall, with the anti-aircraft gun on the lawn next door.

For openers, they’d ask everyone to stand, stand and the American flag would be raised. Then they’d play the national anthem, and then, perhaps “Some Enchanted Evening” from the Broadway show South Pacific, and then perhaps Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” with the cannon fire announced by the kettledrums at the end.

Families, visitors and friends would cheer and applaud each effort as each selection came to an end.

Over the years, I’ve attended a few of these concerts. For what they are, they are wonderful. We cheer them on. People toot, thump and honk. And we enjoy soda pop and maybe some beer and popcorn sitting in our aluminum chairs watching the traffic have to get around that stretch of Bay Street.

Sag Harbor Community Band Tradition Nearing Its End

Well, the chief of police of Sag Harbor, Austin McGuire, says this year will be the last. If the concert is to be held again next year it will have to be somewhere else. “Putting people in a public street is not a good idea,” he told 27East. “I stand by the fact that it is just not safe.”

Sag Harbor Community Band plays the American Legion Post
Sag Harbor Community Band plays the American Legion PostDan Rattiner

Well, nobody has gotten hurt during the last half century. But what the police chief says goes. This lovely serenade, if it continues, will have to take place somewhere else.

It reminds me of another tradition that has gone by the wayside in the Hamptons. For years and years on the Saturday evening of the Fourth of July holiday 1,000 or more people used to spread out blankets on the sand at Main Beach in East Hampton beginning about 8 p.m. to prepare themselves for the town’s annual fireworks show, blasting into the night sky just after dusk finally fades around 9:45 p.m., courtesy of the East Hampton Fire Department.

The rockets would be launched from a trench in the sand to the east of the pavilion, about 100 yards down from the crowd. People were not allowed to approach that area. They’d be escorted away if they tried. Lots of beer and wine got consumed at that event, and glow strips were sold and put around little kids’ necks — if you could catch one as he or she ran around. And volunteers stepping through the assembled crowd sold soda, chips, pinwheels, balloons and sparklers.

That celebration, which may have been going on for a century every year, came to an end around 2005. The village took note of the fact that the environmentalists were focusing on a particular bird called a piping plover, which had come into reduced circumstances and had now been put on an endangered species list.

There may have been hundreds or even thousands of creatures on endangered species lists. But they were determined to save this one. It’s a skittery little bird that builds nests on our beaches to raise their families — building nests, sitting on eggs, feeding the little chicks when they hatch, instructing them in the ways of the world by teaching them how to catch little bugs to eat, or little flotsam and jetsam that roll ashore on the waves filled with all sorts of protein and other good things to eat.

These birds build nests on the beach every spring. The environmentalists find them and put up snow fences bearing little signs saying you can get life in prison if you sneeze, clap your hands or otherwise disturb these nests — with particular attention given to people who might engage in firing rockets, making a lot of noise and dropping ash everywhere.

Heaven knows what kind of mental anguish little piping plovers might get from the explosions in the sky. They might hurt their pretty little ears.

Can’t have that. So no more Fourth of July celebrations on Main Beach ever again. And so they moved the fireworks display to September. It’s after the plovers have raised their young and left. It’s safe. We won’t be hurting or scaring them anymore.

And so what does it celebrate? The successful revival of our piping plover population? Something like that.

I would like to point out that in Sag Harbor, and in many other towns in our community, the authorities close down Main Street and some of its other roads several times a year for parades and demonstrations and even the arrival of Santa Claus. On those occasions, the police are out, the roads are blocked. And nobody gets hurt. Yet.

What say we get a permit to hold a protest to save the Sag Harbor Community Band concert on Bay Street? Think the streets would be safe for us to march around in?

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