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Atlas performing one of her trademark get-on-your-feet shows at Bay Street. (Photo credit: Lori Hawkins)

Local music matters. If you didn’t already believe this with your whole heart, all you need to do is attend just one Nancy Atlas show. It’ll make you a believer, too.

But, for the sake of argument, if you’re going to attend just one show (although, listen, forewarned is forearmed: it’s like potato chips — you can’t have just one), make it one of this January’s always, always spectacular, lightening-in-a-bottle Fireside Sessions at Bay Street Theater. Because, truly, there’s nothing else like it. Nancy will tell you.

For the next four Saturday nights, Fireside Sessions will feature Atlas and her band — Johnny Blood, Brett King, Denny McDermott, Joe Delia and Greg McMullen — will create something new every night featuring a revolving star turn from different musicians, from here and afar. Which means that, pretty much, anything can happen. And does. And it’s wonderful.

Nancy Atlas will take the stage for four weekends in January at Bay Street Theater. (Photo credit: Lori Hawkins)

“I think what’s been cool and intentional is every week it’s completely different. It’s in the bones and the construct of the series,” says Atlas, who was culling and curating the set list for tonight’s performance moments before jumping on the phone with us yesterday. “I try my hardest to put on something that will engage and surprise and truly ignite the people. This is not some local band hashing out; I truly value people’s time. You’re coming to see a show and spending your hard earned money. I’m going to make sure that you’re entertained.”

Fireside Sessions began in a blizzard 10 years ago — a magical evening when the stars aligned and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith showed up and played to a stunned and very stoked audience. Since then, it’s become sacrosanct.

But of course, nothing lasts forever, and while Atlas has no plans to stop the tradition anytime soon, she is well aware of the magic that happens during these four weekends. It’s kind of like the way no one knew what Woodstock was until after it was over and no one could believe that this amazing group of talented people got together in an innocuous field upstate and performed. In other words, get your place for this special series while you can, and while it lasts.

The 2024 line-up is as follows:

  • January, 6, Rockabilly and blues night with Eugene Chrysler and Pamela Betti — you will feel this music in your bones and it’ll get you up on your feet.
  • January 13, Dubbed the Fireside Queen night, Atlas is bringing to the stage voracious violin maven, Randi Fishenfeld (pro tip: she was hand-picked to play with the Big Man himself, Clarence Clemens; she sets those strings on fire!)
  • January 21, Jam night! With secret (shhh!), excellent hometown faves and some starry surprises, too.
  • January 27, get ready for Runaway R&R with ferocious faves, The Realm (Shelter Island shout-out to John Kneeland!)

Atlas was nice enough to take a few minutes to talk with us about her much-loved wintery passion project. Here’s what she had to say:

Atlas brings the heat in her beloved Fireside Sessions. (Photo credit: Phil Merritt)

Southforker: Fireside Sessions started 2014. Why do you still like doing it?

Nancy Atlas: I’m 10 years into this thing now and there have been some of the most amazing musical moments in my career on that stage. From the spontaneity to the camaraderie to the flat-out star factor. We’ve had so many people and musicians – world class musicians – come into this series.

SF: Did you always want to be a musician? Was there a moment when you were like, oh hey, I want fly planes or walk a tight rope?

NA: I was a trained painter in college. I studied fine art since I was 14. I had always written songs and done music on side — in 7th grade, I entered a talent show and performed an original song on piano with five or six other girls singing harmony. It was always there. When I graduated college in ’91, it was the Gulf War and there were no jobs. I was in London and I bought a guitar. Within three weeks, I just knew instinctually I could die for it. Immediately. I came back home [to Long Island] and started playing open mics and never looked back. I was 21. No matter what job you do, it’s hard, so you might as well do something you love.

SF: What keeps you coming back to the Fireside Sessions?

NA: In a word, the trust. Because the audience has learned to trust me. In the beginning, a lot of these people didn’t know who the guests were, but I knew who the guests were. And they are all always world class musicians. I love that they get a chance to be in the spotlight. Like Simon Kirk from Bad Company, Andy Aledort, the side man of Dickey Betts [founding member of the Allman Brothers Band], and Randi Fishenfeld, who is without a doubt the best female musician I’ve ever played with. You won’t be able to comprehend what this woman does on violin! And Clark Gayton, who’s been the trombone player for [Bruce] Springsteen, Sting and [Wynton] Marsalis. He is one of the best in the world, but you wouldn’t know who he was walking down the street. Put the spotlight on someone like that, and people who don’t know him are blown away. 

SF: The ticket price is kind of surprisingly… reasonable. In a land where reasonable is not the norm. What’s the story there?

NA: It’s not because we’re undervaluing the show. It’s because I want everybody to go. Why do it if we can’t come together? That’s the unexpected joy to me in this series. Every one from Sag Harbor and the East End and beyond come out in the dead of winter, smile and catch their breath. I’m humbled by that. And it’s also intentional love to the community and an intentional musical experience. The community here gets ravaged in the summer; they work 70 to 100 hours a week. We’ve always kept the tickets at under $50. I want the waitresses to go.

Nancy Atlas Lightning Round:

SF: Favorite place to get a beer?

NA: Corner Bar!

SF: Favorite place for dinner?

NA: Coche Comedor and The Dock in Montauk.

SF: Favorite place for coffee?

NA: Lefthand.

SF: Favorite historical spot?

NA: The Montauk Lighthouse. 

SF: Favorite gallery or museum

NA: The Parrish. 

SF: Favorite local musician.

NA: Johnny Blood

SF: Favorite place to get inspired?

NA: Shadmoor

SF: Hidden talent?

NA: I can cartoon. I can also throw down as a cook and clam shuck as well

Nancy Atlas’s Fireside Sessions will be at Bay Street in Sag Harbor every Saturday night throughout January at 8 p.m. You can get your tickets here.