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The Sag Harbor American Music Festival starts today with nearly day-long concerts scattered around town every day through Sunday. (Photo credit: Wil Weiss)

Just like Madonna says, music makes the people come together.

Starting today, the Sag Harbor American Music Festival kicks off its 12th season with 36 bands playing at over a dozen different venues across the downtown area of the old whaling village. The best part: Nearly every concert that’s scheduled is free.

Continuing through Sunday, October 1, the all-day and well-into-night music festival will feature performances from some of the South Fork’s favorite local musicians on at least three stages located at Marine Park, Steinbeck Park and on Main Street in the alley between the American Hotel and Romany Kramoris Gallery, as well as several restaurants located within the hamlet’s business district.

The stage in the alley just off Main Street between the American Hotel and Romany Kramoris Gallery. (Photo courtesy of Kelly Dodds)

“There’ll be new music hitting about every 30 minutes,” says the festival’s president and co-artistic director Kelly Dodds. “It’s everything from soul to ska to jazz to blues, and rock of course.”

A resident of Sag Harbor since 2009, Dodds, who has a background in the music industry, quickly realized the wealth of musical talent the tiny town possessed. “I immediately thought, ‘there should be a festival!’” After joining forces with fellow community member John Landes, owner of the former Bay Burger and board member of the Jam Session, Inc., local businesses, according to Dodds, came on board donating “way more than expected.”

“We quickly knew it was going to be a non-profit,” she says. That was in 2011, with the first festival featuring 20 acts over the span of one day. “It’s slowly grown organically,” says Dodds.

Starting today from 5 until about 9:30 p.m., it’s “Restaurant Night,” featuring half a dozen performances at local favorites Kidd Squid Brewing Co., K Pasa, Sen , El Tacobar and Sag Pizza. There will be two standalone concerts throughout the festival that are ticketed events. The first is from Amythyst Kiah tomorrow, September 29, at 8 p.m. at the Old Whalers’ Church on Union Street. According to Dodds, the Grammy-nominated singer and guitarist is “highly recommended for true music fans,” blending the styles of rock and blues together effortlessly.

Tickets are $40, before tax, and are available here.

Sag Harbor’s own singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Sara Hartman will perform at Bay Street Theater on Saturday, September 30, at 8 p.m., accompanied by the legendary Joe Delia and Friends. A graduate of Pierson High School, Hartman has toured all over Europe and North America, sharing the stage with Ellie Goulding, Clueso and Kelvin Jones, among many others. She will perform the U.S. debut of her latest album, Start Somewhere Dark, during Saturday’s performance, which she wrote during the pandemic and dedicated to her late mother, Kerrie Sundara. Tickets for Hartman’s concert are $30 and are available here.

“Sara is coming home with a new album,” Dodds says. “We have a great history with her. She’s a supremely talented musician.”

Now in its 12th year, the 2023 Sag Harbor American Music Festival is slated to include over 35 bands. (Photo credit: Wil Weiss)

Saturday’s music starts at 10 a.m. with Escola de Samba Boom playing at the Provisions tent erected at Steinbeck Park. Featured acts throughout the day will include Inda Eaton, Nancy Atlas, Ada Rovatti and Born & Raised. Sunday kicks off with Out East taking the alley stage at 10 a.m.. Music throughout the day will be from Gene Casey and The Lonesharks, Julia King and the Hoo Doo Loungers, among many others.

For a full schedule of music slated throughout the weekend, click here. A driving force that keeps the festival going, according to Dodds, is making music accessible to everyone, noting the potential for limited live music experiences in today’s digital age, especially for younger people.

“The whole village comes alive with music,” she says of the annual music fest. “It’s such a celebratory event, but at the same time we’re really trying to nurture and inspire young, aspiring musicians to follow their dreams. I’m so proud of it.”