Sag Harbor Celebrates its Roots

Sag Harbor has long been a cultural jewel among the towns dotting the East End, a haven for writers, artists and performers seeking solace in a town once know for its working class roots and its spiritual distance from the avarice abounding in other South Fork towns.

This May, for the fourth time, cultural institutions throughout Sag Harbor are celebrating their village with the Sag Harbor Cultural Heritage Festival, this year to be held the weekend of May 3 through May 5.

This year’s theme is “The Stories That Shape Us,” weaving a narrative between 12 member institutions built from the thread of the village’s whaling history, its home to writers such as John Steinbeck, a bevy of new plays to be read at Bay Street Theatre, celebrations of the African American artists and writers who established an enclave known as Eastville in Sag Harbor, and tours of the diverse religious institutions that have helped to make Sag Harbor a melting pot of cultural views from around the world.

“Because we rely on stories to better understand our place in the world and our relationship to other people and other times, we’ve developed myriad ways to tell stories—the written word, theater, movies, art, photography, music, oral history and more,” says Eric Cohen of the John Jermain Memorial Library, one of the festival’s organizers. “For this year’s festival, we’re exploring the many ways Sag Harbor has contributed to and inspired countless stories and storytellers in every medium.”

The festival kicks off on Friday, May 3 with an exhibition titled “Sheet Music Shapes Our Lives” at the Eastville Community Historical Society, 139 Hampton Street, about “the magical relationship music has with our region and our lives.” The exhibition opens at 11 a.m., and from 5 to 6:30 p.m., the public is invited to bring their vinyl records to the historical society for a “Vinyl and Vines” wine-sipping session, while listening to records from the public and the historical society’s collection.

Sag Harbor sunset
Sag Harbor sunset

Bay Street Theatre at 1 Bay Street kicks off its weekend-long New Works Festival of free play readings on Friday, this year called “Title Wave.” Friday’s 7 p.m. reading is Deborah Brevoort’s “My Lord, What a Night,” about the night in 1937 when African American singer Marian Anderson stayed at Albert Einstein’s Princeton home when she was refused accommodations at a hotel, sparking a life-long friendship.

On Saturday, May 4, the theater will host a 2 p.m. reading of Amy Berryman’s “Walden,” in which, in the not-too-distant future, climate change has led to human colonization of other planets. Cassie, a NASA botanist, returns from her year-long deployment in space and is shocked to find her sister, Stella, a former NASA architect, engaged to an Earth Advocate. At 8 p.m. on Saturday, the theater hosts a reading of Jack Canfora’s “Delmonico, about the Beatles’ infatuation with Bob Dylan.

The Title Wave festival concludes on Sunday with a 3 p.m. reading of  Emma Lively & Tyler Beattie’s new musical, “Bliss,” about four princesses who break free from their castle, ready to conquer the world, only to discover that life outside is more complicated than they imagined. 

Saturday’s Sag Harbor Cultural Heritage Festival events include a packed schedule at the John Jermain Memorial Library at 201 Main Street, starting with a literary walking tour by Tony Garro, leaving the library at 10 a.m. Saturday (Rain Date, Sunday, May 5 at 1 p.m.) Magician Allan Zola Kronzek will give an introduction to sleight of hand with cards on Saturday from 11 a.m. to noon.

Singer-Songwriter Rorie Kelly will also perform at the library at 2 p.m., sponsored by the Sag Harbor American Music Festival. 

Audio tours of the elegantly restored library, a pop-up exhibition of Ken Robbins’ East End Photographs (Also on view at the Grenning, Keyes, Nightingale, Booth and The Spur art galleries) and a free comic book (if you come in costume, you’ll get two comic books!) will be available at the library from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday. The library self-guided tour and exhibits will also be held from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday.

Sag Harbor Rain

The Three Village Chamber Players will perform a live concert on period instruments at the Sag Harbor Custom House at 912 Main Street from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, and the Custom House will also be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The Sag Harbor Historical Society’s Annie Cooper Boyd House at 174 Main Street will host a reading of the letters of whaleboat builder William Cooper and his family from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, and an exhibit of historical photos will be on view from 1 to 4 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday.

The Eastville Community Historical Society will host readings and discussions of the poetry of Olivia Ward Bush-Banks from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday, and will host a History Hour Writers Series on Sunday from 1 to 2:30 p.m., inviting writers to use the society’s collection of historical documents to enrich their work. 

Canio’s Books at 290 Main Street is hosting a 5 p.m. talk Saturday by Mary K. Edwards, a Herman Melville scholar and sailer, who will speak about her sailing adventures aboard the Charles W. Morgan, an 1841 whaleship, and what she learned about Herman Melville along the way. 

At 6:30 p.m. Saturday, The Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center, which is in the process of rebuilding the Sag Harbor Cinema destroyed in a 2016 fire, will hold a screening of the 1940 film adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel “The Grapes of Wrath,” starring Henry Fonda, at Pierson High School, 200 Jermain Ave. John Steinbeck lived in Sag Harbor and did much of his writing there in his later years.

Temple Adas Israel at the corner of Atlantic and Elizabeth streets, the oldest synagogue on Long Island, built in 1898, will present a living history of Sag Harbor’s Jewish community on Saturday from 3 to 5 p.m., with video interviews with the families whose ancestors helped found the temple. 

Christ Episcopal Church at 5 Hampton Street will be open for tours from 2 to 4 p.m. on Saturday and from noon to 2 p.m. on Sunday. The church will host a lecture by Rev. Karen Campbell on the history of its building on Sunday at 1 p.m., followed by an organ recital by organist and choir director Daniel Koontz at 1:30 p.m.

The First Presbyterian “Old Whalers” Church at 44 Union Street will also hold an organ recital by musical director Walter Klauss at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, in the midst of an afternoon of tours from 12:15 to 3:15 p.m.

The Sag Harbor Whaling Museum at 200 Main Street gets into the action on Sunday, with a 2 p.m. talk by Irish artist and historian Peter Murray about the actor and former Sag Harbor resident Hurd Hatfield, most famously known for his starring role in 1945’s “The Picture of Dorian Grey.”

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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