I had a chance to highlight the very best local music stars who have helped shape the Hamptons music scene into a vibrant magnet of creativity.
DAN BAILEY was born and raised in the Hamptons, though he differs from much of the incoming crowds to the East End: “I grew up super poor in a really opulent place,” says the soft-spoken singer/songwriter, whose parents were on welfare and lived with a unique pocket of people who included alternative-healing circles and a community of creative artists. He recalls “peeking over the hedges, seeing mansions and people driving fancy cars.”
The leader of Dan Bailey Tribe, whose music he describes as “soulful island surf funk with intoxicating roots rhythms,” chronicled this dichotomy years ago in the song “Peace of the Sun.” He was frustrated with the idea that some people had more money than they’d ever spend, while others—namely his family—were struggling to survive. “The Hamptons is a place where I come from,” says the opening verse of the song, “where everybody’s running to get their peace of the sun—I think that I better run.”
Only recently did Bailey record this song with Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chili Peppers on the drums. They performed together last month at the Reyka Solstice Party at The Surf Lodge in Montauk, and the pair is set to release a four-song EP. “The Hamptons is a special part of the world. It’s beautiful—the nature, the beaches, the ocean,” he says. “There’s a lot of life out here, and culture and creative energy. There’s a reason why many of the richest people in the world choose to spend their summers here.”
PAUL MAHOS first started establishing himself in the Hamptons in the early ’90s and “just kind of stayed out here because the work was great.” He had just gotten off the road from a years-long tour as a featured player in a production called Elvis: A Musical Celebration. Mahos was emceeing at Hamptons Beach Club when the owner opened a new bar called Dockers Waterside.
“There’s nothing better than performing, entertaining, and having people love it,” says Mahos, who has fronted the band New Life Crisis for 20-plus years since replacing his brother Jerry on vocals. The group has been playing Dockers ever since it opened, and they’ll be there every Tuesday night through Labor Day. They will also be the house band at The Arden in Port Jefferson.
Signed to Tommy Boy Records in 2000, their debut single, “Daylight,” was rerecorded by No Angels and sold more than 3 million copies worldwide. More recently, their material—described as an “original mashup” of dance music and jazz—has been featured on television series and in several major motion pictures.
Over the years, what Mahos has loved most about playing for people in the Hamptons is their willingness to let the band explore a vast soundscape of style. “It was the relationship I’ve had with the Hamptons crowd that allowed me to explore doing Johnny Cash as a dance version, into Elton John’s ‘Rocket Man’ as a dance version, into a completely odd version of ‘Lovesong’ by The Cure, and melding them all together into one cohesive little medley that we do off-the-cuff, like jazz,” Mahos says. “The Hamptons crowd will give you latitude because they want you to go places, and I’m used to doing that.”
CAROLINE DOCTOROW never looked back after coming to the Hamptons 27 years ago and finding a gig at a little bar on Main Street in Sag Harbor. When asked about how receptive the Hamptons community has been to folk music—often broadly labeled as Americana—she responds, “It’s always been an area that’s been very welcoming to me.” Doctorow name-checks the likes of Bob Dylan, Donovan, and Pete Seeger, a native New Yorker who died earlier this year, as lifelong influences.
“When I started playing in the Hamptons, there was a handful of bars that presented live music, and it was a very, very small scene,” recalls Doctorow, whose songs have appeared on the soundtrack to director Sidney Lumet’s 1983 film Daniel, and has been heard in the PBS series Freedom: A History of US. “Over the years, it’s grown beautifully to be thriving like it is now.” Locally, the artist has gravitated toward performing at Suffolk Theater in Riverhead and Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor.
Doctorow has released two retrospective albums in which she interpreted the songs of earlier American folk acts like Richard and Mimi Farina; and, like all her albums, last summer’s Little Lovin’ Darling received national radio play and earned her comparisons to Emmylou Harris. Next month she’ll debut a retrospective collection of material from her first nine studio albums. “The great songwriters of the 1960s are really whom I still go back to,” she says.
WINSTON IRIE says the first time he came to the Hamptons it re minded him of home. Born and raised in Guyana, Irie arrived in New York in 1979, but it wasn’t until 1993 that he “discovered” the Hamptons.
“In the summertime, it’s tropical. It’s an island vibe,” says Irie, who spends the season out here every year. “I love the music, and the people are very appreciative of my talent, so it goes together—the people, the music, and the weather.”
Initially, he played his Caribbean-influenced amalgamation of reggae, gospel, R&B, and rock at places like The Sloppy Tuna and Dancing Crab. These days, he fills out his summer schedule with a calendar of shows throughout the Hamptons at spots like Navy Beach, Solar East, East Hampton Point, Westlake Fish House, and, of course, The Stephen Talkhouse.
“When I’m out here, it’s not about me,” Irie says. “It’s all about the people.” It’s why he’s known for adapting his shows and the band’s lineup of percussion, African drums, bass, and guitar players from one venue to another. As a result, he has never played the same show twice. “I grew in quality instead of quantity,” he explains. World-famous soccer player Pelé has been known to stop by The Talkhouse to see him perform. Lennie Kravitz has come to watch him play in Manhattan, and Irie has performed with David Letterman’s musical director, Paul Schaffer, among other artists.
It’s been quite a musical journey since experiencing the culture shock of coming to America, but then and now, Irie says live music is a give-and-take experience that unites people.
KLYPH BLACK has been playing in the Hamptons since the mid-’70s, when he took over an acoustic set at Snugglers Cove in Amagansett. After a few years, he assembled a tight-knit band that wasn’t too big to play the Cove, but filled out the sound with drums, harmonica, and bass. This is before The Stephen Talkhouse had live bands—when it was just a bar with a jukebox.
In 1988 new ownership took over, and Black started his long-standing relationship (he calls them family) with the famous venue. He was essentially the house band for five years, and when he wasn’t playing live, he mixed sound for those who were—something he still does today. “I’ve been blessed,” he says. “I’m the hardest working unknown in the business.”
From 1996 to 2005, he toured the country with The Zen Tricksters and enjoyed modest success, but what was once an acoustic duo (Black & Sparrow with guitarist John Sparrow) that recorded its first album in 1995 has since evolved into a full-on band project. After several years apart, the two longtime collaborators released a new album called Second Time Around this past February.
“It’s really a lot of fun to hear these songs come to life with a band because we never really did that before,” says Black, who plays The Stephen Talkhouse once a month. He also loves touring, “but those things are hard to do these days.”
Drawn to a life by the ocean, Black moved out to the Hamptons in 2005 but returned to the local music scene in 2009. “The Hamptons music community is pretty strong,” Black says. “Besides the fact that everybody is vying for gigs in the summertime, for the most part all the bands are really, really supportive of each other.”
GENE CASEY is not unlike a lot of other musicians—he wakes up just before noon after a late night performing. He often gets home around 3 AM, especially if his band, The Lone Sharks, played out in Montauk that night. “Three is good,” he quips.
Casey lives on the North Fork, and as he’s quick to point out, the ferries stop running around 1 AM, so he has no choice but to drive all the way around Riverhead on his way back home. “That’s my life,” says Casey, who moved out to the Hamptons in 1988. “A cup of coffee, the music playing, and the windows open.”
Some call Casey’s musical style rockabilly, though he says the term is confusing. Casey prefers a category he coined: rhythm and twang. In other words, vintage rhythm and blues with a rockabilly slant, but without the token post-Stray Cats look of tattoos, pompadours, and wallet chains.
“The goal of my songs is to get that vintage vibe,” he says. The set list is 60 percent classic material and 40 percent originals.
He originally put together The Lone Sharks with the intention of playing out in the Hamptons. Back then, it was a three-month stint during the summer, but in recent years “the Hamptons kind of became this big playground.” In addition to The Stephen Talkhouse and other traditional music venues, Casey and other local artists on the scene now have taken to booking a smaller configuration of his band in an effort to perform at coffeehouses, art galleries, and local wineries, all of which have become popular hangouts for locals and vacationers on the weekends. “Music by nature is a communal experience,” Casey says. “Whatever the name of the band is, it’s all music.”
NANCY ATLAS has been at the center of the local Hamptons music scene since moving to Montauk in 2001. “I absolutely, positively feed off the energy of the land and the raw beauty of that area,” says Atlas, a self-described country mouse who couldn’t be happier than when playing for a crowd. “I definitely get off on live performance and the sweaty naked bliss of performing live in front of a few hundred people.”
The singer spent her childhood summers coming out to the area known as Lazy Point, where her parents owned a cottage—not a mansion, she points out. Since then, the quaint little fishing community has become a summer paradise for hipsters, but Montauk remains “spectacularly beautiful,” Atlas says, which is what keeps her and her family in the Hamptons year-round. “As an artist and a person, it’s essential I get the quiet time and raw beauty of Montauk.”
Best known for her raucous late-night sets on Friday nights at The Stephen Talkhouse, Atlas on her Facebook page describes her music as “original Americana rock with a touch of southern comfort.” Lately the singer-songwriter-turned-mother-of-three has been balancing her personal life and her career. She gave birth to her third child last August and is currently in production on her sixth album; she is also mixing a soon-to-be-released bootleg album of live shows recorded over an eight-week run last winter at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor.
As busy as she is now, Atlas was a “late bloomer” to music, having picked up the acoustic guitar at 21 after studying art overseas at Cambridge University. Five years of playing solo acoustic shows followed, and then Peter Honerkamp, owner of The Stephen Talkhouse, convinced her to put a band together and hired her to play Friday nights.
“That’s how it all started,” Atlas says. She’s still known to rock on stage until 4 AM.
CYNTHIA DANIELS realized the Hamptons was ideal for working, not just relaxing. The two-time Grammy-winning recording engineer and producer, who has been enjoying the oceanside views here since 1988 and has lived here since 1998, says it became clear to her that she needed a studio similar to the ones she was accustomed to using in Manhattan.
After buying the house, she began building makeshift studios, and slowly started bringing work out to the Hamptons from the city. “What was missing out here was a really high-quality studio with beautiful aesthetics and acoustics,” Daniels says, “and someone with experience who could run it.” So she built a bigger house and hired world-famous studio designer John Storyk.
In August of 2011, Daniels opened MonkMusic Studios. Almost immediately, celebrity clients such as Beyoncé, Alec Baldwin, Richard Gere, and Sarah Jessica Parker began scheduling sessions for recording projects. “Everyone likes the head they can be in when they come out to a place like the Hamptons and don’t have to fight the traffic back to Manhattan,” Daniels says. Even local artists like Nancy Atlas, Joe Delia, and Klyph Black have sought out her services. Now, with her three-year-old studio, she can meet just about every music and post-production need other than recording a full orchestra.
Daniels has also started MonkMusic Records and signed East End artists like Jewlee Trudden and her band In Circles, along with renowned electro-acoustic violinist Martha Mooke. “I’ve got an embarrassment of riches with regards to sources of inspiration between me living out here and having a thriving business,” she says. “There’s just nothing else a person could need.”