For some visitors the only sure-fire way to get a peek behind the high, verdant hedges of the high-rollers is to attend one or more of the season’s gala fund-raisers. From June to Labor Day it seems there are at least two major events per weekend night ranging from basic backyard picnics to raise awareness about medical research or third-world issues to full-on soirees with dance bands, performing acts, and auctions whose lots can run into the tens of thousands of dollars.
Some of the bigger benefits dependably held each year are for Southampton Hospital, the American Cancer Society, Planned Parenthood, Group for the East End, the Nature Conservancy, Parrish Art Museum, the LongHouse Reserve, the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons, the Bay Street Theatre, Fighting Chance (a cancer charity), Guild Hall, and what has become perhaps the most-coveted ticket, for the Byrd Hoffman Watermill Center’s July bacchanalia. A rival on the buzz-meter is Russell Simmons’s Art for Life bash, which has featured such acts as Salt n Peppa. For the truly deep-pocketed, there’s the annual Apollo in the Hamptons event at Ron Perelman’s astonishing and heavily guarded estate, the Creeks, for which tickets are only sold in tables of 10, to see performers such as Usher and the Isley Brothers.
Single-guest prices are rarely under $500 and can easily run to $10,000 for a table seating 8 or 10 guests. Caterers for such events know what they are doing and so the eats and the wine are almost always memorable. What’s nice for visitors is that you don’t need to know anybody to attend — all it takes is a credit card and the desire to help a good cause.
In mid-July there is usually a fireworks show and party to raise money for the Clamshell Foundation, which helps many local charities, and Project MOST, which serves children. In August, the East Hampton Library’s Authors Night draws a huge crowd and is followed by a free festival for kids the following day. Montauk Playhouse and Montauk Village Association Greenery Scenery parties in August are well-attended. One with more of a rock’n’roll feel is the July concert for the Wounded Warrior Project. Super Saturday to benefit the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund in late July is a one-day shop and schmoozefest with discounted clothing and accessories from top designers.
Foodies will love the James Beard Foundation’s tasting at the Wolffer Estate Vineyards and the Great Chef’s Dinner for the Jeff Salaway Scholarship Fund, both in July.
The dress code for most Hamptons events of this sort is what might be called expensive-casual. For some reason the Wall Street guys were all wearing untucked blue-check shirts over jeans and loafers last season. Any of the village boutiques’ staff would be more than happy to help you pick out an outfit for a Saturday bash. Looking to get your swank on on the cheap? Try the East Hampton Ladies Village Improvement Bargain Box for the cast-offs from some of the area’s more impressive closets.
Believe it or not the night-before, preview parties for the various big antiques shows can be worthwhile. The East Hampton Historical Society’s July show under the tents at Mulford Farm is an elegant night with usually very good food.
Toward the end of the season comes the Hampton Classic horse show in Bridgehampton, a gigantic event that is part equestrian competition, part bazaar, part social swirl. Polo games are played elsewhere in Bridgehampton, and a V.I.P. tent there is filled with people more interested in looking at one another than watching the ponies.
Also in August is the Artists-Writers softball game. This began as a backyard idyll among some real artists and writers, but these days the definitions have stretched to include actors such as Alec Baldwin playing for the Artists and then-Governor Bill Clinton for the Writers.
In national election years you can expect summer fund-raisers for the candidates. Mitt Romney was here twice in 2012, John Kerry once in 2004. Don’t expect Barack Obama here though; he’s been more of a Martha’s Vineyard man. President and Mrs. Clinton have for several years rented along the ocean beach in East Hampton Village, but don’t expect to see them on the social scene, as they keep a relatively low profile when they’re here.