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Unsung Singing Hero’s Of The East End

T.J. Clemente

"When the shit hits the fan, our local power rises up, especially in Montauk," said Nancy Atlas. (Photo: T.J. Clemente)

They are the house bands of the East End playing the venues all summer long. Most likely if you have ever been out east, you have witnessed their talents, and the unique sounds of Gene Casey and the Lone Sharks, Nancy Atlas and the Nancy Atlas Project, and Joe Delia. These bands always deliver the goods never having an off night.

Gene Casey. (Photo: T.J. Clemente)

But, this article is to salute them for gigs they play for free, that being the many benefits and fundraisers. Nancy Atlas, founder of the Nancy Atlas Project, explained, "We have done a lot of benefits. I mean ALOT. I got a proclamation from the town (East Hampton) because we have raised over 1 million dollars locally. And, that was about 8 years ago. First off, I would say that my BAND has done this. Not just me. So every time we raise money, it is Johnny Blood, Brett King, Richard Rosch and Neil Surreal donating their time as well. Second, we have done benefits where it was $1,000 a plate. Crazy money. But you never feel that you are really contributing at those events because there is just an enormous amount of money going out to make it happen."

Gene Casey of Gene Casey and the Lone Sharks added, "I've lost count of the fund-raisers, benefits, and charity gigs we've been part of. Bay Street in Sag Harbor hosted a Japan relief show after the earthquake and tsunami, of 2011, and a Haitian benefit a year earlier. Those come to mind because the folks at Bay Street are such pros and make donating services effortless."

Joe Delia when asked about playing benefits said, "You want to do your part and there are so many active people around, so many great efforts being made on the East End. We see them and hear about them. We want to be at them all. Of course, we can't. Sometimes we're just there in the audience, cheering everyone on."

So, I had to ask which ones really stick out? Gene Casey said, "For the last five winters, the Lone Sharks and I have performed at the "Rockin' for the Homeless" event in Riverhead. It's January, it's cold, the holidays have passed, and the thought of being homeless is particularly haunting. But, actually, the most memorable benefit performance I have done is something on a much smaller scale. On the North Fork, Maureen's Haven hosts a weekly dinner in a church basement in Southold wherein a bus of homeless folks are fed, assisted, and entertained. This is all because of a lady named Shirley Darling, who asks a bunch of us to come down and perform for a couple of hours. Instead of performing for a crowd of people paying money to be part of a good cause, on such nights I am playing FOR the recipients of such efforts. It's been humbling, eye opening and has taken what I do as a musician to a level that is very real and immediate."

""You want to do your part and there are so many active people around, so many great efforts being made on the East End," said Joe Delia. (Photo: T.J. Clemente)

Joe Delia also had a specific memory. "I remember, at one of the first local Wounded Warrior events we played [Joe Delia, Klyph Black, Mick Hargreaves, PJ Delia and Walter Noller]. We didn't have a stage, so we were playing on the grass. It was hot and dusty, but it didn't matter—we were face-to-face with warriors in wheelchairs, hearing happy whoops and seeing smiles...right there. It was a powerful afternoon." Joe's wife, PJ Delia, who sings backup added, "When Joe does a benefit in the City—like Stand Up for Heroes or The Toys R Us Gala—you see photographs or hear from one of the people the event is to benefit. When it's an East End event, we know personally who or what it's all for. The person you want to help is someone you know, or it's the park or hamlet you love. Or even, as in the case of the "Jimmy Jam" for Jimmy Lawler, the person you are singing for is at the side of the stage, obviously dying to get on and play!"

When asked what was her most memorable benefit performance, Nancy Atlas replied, "The ones that hit me in the heart are the local families that have lost a house in a fire or with a sick family member or child. Those just stop you in your tracks. You can see the community literally come together and just wrap their arms financially around these people in need. It makes you feel connected and actually believe in humanity. Sometimes that gets lost in all the tourism and traffic. But when the shit hits the fan, our local power rises up, especially in Montauk. I've never seen anything like it. And all we really want in this life is to make a difference. So to see that happen in one night for a family or a person in need, and to be able to be apart of that is very humbling." A personal highlight for me was watching Paul Simon and Nancy Atlas singing, "Me and Julio Down" by the Schoolyard," at a benefit at the Stephen Talkhouse.

So often I have stood in front and watched these bands work hard, usually sweating. They smile, they dedicate songs, and they give it their "A" performance because none of these musicians ever mail it in. Gene Casey proved this point when he said, "Musicians love to play for an appreciative audience and, quite honestly, a well-organized benefit is a pleasure to play. In general, we all do what we can, if we can. A good cause and a sense of contributing make for good karma all around." On why he does it, Joe Delia said, "Look around-waves, blue skies, green fields and long sandy shores. We're surrounded with the best in life out here...and all those blessings just make you want to share. If I can play my piano and sing my songs and help someone, I'm there."

Added: June 3, 2015, 2:45 pm
Appeared In: the arts >> live music view