Music Fest Lights Up Montauk

There will be diverse music for all tastes
James Benard and Jim Turner, local musicians, performed at Navy Beach during last year’s Montauk Music Festival. Carrie Ann Salvi

   An estimated 10,000 people came to the Montauk Music Festival last year to enjoy free, live, original music, a combined effort by organizers and businesses that they said resulted in a win-win-win situation for music lovers, musicians, restaurants, bars, and motels.
    From tonight through Sunday, twice the amount of businesses will welcome 100 musical acts for 250 performances with the only paid event being the $35 opening night party tonight at Gurney’s Inn, which includes passed hors d’oeuvres and a three-hour open bar.
    “Montauk can handle it,” the festival’s founder, Ken Giustino, said on Sunday. The indoor and outdoor music venues are spread out from the harbor area to Main Street as well as at the Lighthouse.
    There will be diverse music for all tastes, including rock, blues, country, jazz, and rhythm and blues, with most performances ranging from 20 to 50 minutes. “About 35 of the 100 selected acts are from the local area,” Mr. Giustino said, and the rest will bring themselves, friends, and family from the tristate area, both coasts, and even other countries.
    Created as a boost for the hamlet’s economy, the festival is a boon to motel owners, many of whom donate rooms for out-of-town bands. In the previously quiet pre-Memorial Day weekend, occupancy has jumped from 20 percent to 100 percent, Mr. Giustino said. Restaurant owners who provide performance space also benefit, he said.
    The Montauk Chamber of Commerce approached Mr. Giustino, known for his work with band promotion, years ago about starting an off-season festival. It took a while, he said, but three years ago, things came together with the help of Lawrence Cooley, an “old dear friend and musician” with a “great ear,” Mr. Giustino said.
    Put in charge of the talent search, Mr. Cooley had the enormous task of choosing 100 bands from 4,000 applicants this year, up from about 600 last year. “I listen to them all,” he said on the phone from Florida on Sunday night, after exiting the stage from a gig of his own. “When I am not playing,” he said, “I spend every day listening.” The bands applied primarily through ReverbNation, a Web site founded by Lou Plaia, who lent his expertise at last year’s festival during a workshop that offered free advice to musicians.
    “A wide spectrum is what we’re looking for,” said Mr. Cooley, “but I pick what I really think is special . . . the bottom line is quality.” Mr. Cooley has a history with a handful of the bands that he’s asked to join the festival, and about 30 to 40 acts return every year. His own four-piece group, the Lawrence Cooley Band, is currently ranked in 11th place in the nation on ReverbNation, he said, after recently releasing a single that he wrote titled “Challenge You.”
    Acts that Mr. Cooley considers “very special” include Trevon, a 15-year-old from Virginia, who will play a few shows on his own and also be featured at the end of Mr. Cooley’s set. He was also really impressed with Bennett, a band from Michigan, with a song titled “Friend” that Mr. Cooley thinks should be “out there in the mainstream. . . . I want to see them blow up,” he said.
    The festival brings new blood to Montauk, Brian Kenny of the Memory Motel said on Sunday. Last year, he had his wedding during the festival, so he could show his family and friends “how special Montauk is.” As a result, many returned other times of the year, he said. The music at the Memory this weekend will include “anything and everything,” he said.
    With a “totally different vibe than a holiday weekend” it is a more appropriate start to the season, said Arden Garbell of 668 Gig Shack. The restaurant he manages has a “core theme of community embracing live music,” he said, and this celebration not only brings a “huge influx of business” but does so at a time when locals can enjoy it. The live music at his restaurant will continue past this weekend, he said, with the Montauk Project scheduled to perform a free show next Friday night.
    In addition to showcasing original music by artists from near and far, the festival will also provide something for local kids such as free musical instruction, an act booked just for the young ones, and student performances that will include the East Hampton High School Jazz Band and Far East Fiddle Club.
    Whether on the green, in a restaurant, or on the water, “wherever you go, you won’t lose out,” said Mr. Cooley. In addition to the full schedule of events, links to the bands are posted on the festival’s Web site, montaukmusicfestival.com.
    With the first two years of the festival requiring a dip into his own pockets, this year, thanks to sponsors, Mr. Giustino expects to break even. “All of the motels on the ocean sold out last year,” he said, but “there are still rooms left, and the weather is looking good.”