Once upon a time in 1988, Gene Casey was a singer, songwriter and guitarist who’d just come to Sag Harbor to take a summer job on a construction crew, after struggling to make it as a musician in Manhattan. He wasn’t really a handy carpenter and he didn’t think he’d be here long.
But one June night, he stopped in at Tim Burke’s Burke’s Roadhouse on North Sea Road, which no longer exists, and saw that there was a band playing. He quickly fished up the name “The Lone Sharks,” asked Mr. Burke if he and his friends could play there too, and they were offered a gig on the spot. This Saturday night, at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, The Lone Sharks will be celebrating a tradition that began that night 25 years ago.
“We didn’t have much together. It was just like a big party,” he said of that first show. “At first it was kind of bizarre. We got all of our friends there. I like to say that not much has really changed in terms of our intention or goal, which is to really enjoy what we’re doing and have fun, to try to play the music as best we could.”
“Naming a band is a real pain,” he added. “You have to do it. You have to come up with something. You want it to be a great name, but usually they’ve been taken. I was trying to merge a western image, the word ‘lone,’ with the Hamptons aquatic motif of the shark. But to this day, people are still spelling it “loan” and it’s a real drag. Sometimes I call people up and say I’m with the Lone Sharks and there’s a weird silence on the other end.”
While that weird silence might be on the other end of the line when he’s calling outside of the East End, there’s little confusion about what the Lone Sharks stand for to concert-goers here: a solid, rocking, foot-stomping good time.
From Greenport to Montauk, the band has become known for its rockabilly chops, its deep-rooted knowledge of country swing and early rock ‘n roll, and its prowess at making sure everyone who comes to a gig has a good time. The line-up has changed many times over the years, but is currently Chris Ripley on drums, Paul Scher on saxophone and Tony Palumbo on upright bass, with some former band members, whom Mr. Casey calls part of the extended Lone Sharks family, sitting in on occasion.
“Our original fan base was very much local working people for many years,” said Mr. Casey. “We ended up playing big Hamptons-type events. I don’t know if it was because they thought it was cool to have a local band there, but we ended up mingling with the rich and the beautiful. It’s strange, but that’s the Hamptons.”
“I came out to work a summer job on a construction crew. I thought it was temporary, but I developed roots,” he added. “Back then, Sag Harbor was really just a ghost town after Labor Day. It was just this huge black and white difference. It was a challenge to get gigs in the winter at all, but we kind of felt it was still an artist colony vibe. I was very romantic about how John Steinbeck was there and there were just fishermen and regular people. I felt very comfortable there at the time, but it changed to the point where it was literally impossible to live.”
Mr. Casey has been living on the North Fork, in Greenport and Southold, for the better part of a decade now, and has been doing more solo shows in recent years, showcasing the songwriting he had originally set out to do when he began playing in New York in the 1980s.
“Greenport has more of the vibe Sag Harbor had at that point,” he said. “It’s different, but it’s real. Our first North Fork gig — back then it was like going to another country — was at what’s now the Grateful Delicatessen in Southold. It was called “The Quiet Man” then, in the early ’90s. It wasn’t really until 2002 that playing up here became a feasible and regular thing. Now with the wineries, it’s a constant thing. In the summer, I’m constantly going back and forth on the ferries. I drive around all the time because I missed the last ferry.”
After a Mardi Gras concert at Bay Street Theatre earlier this year, Mr. Casey got to talking with the theater’s managing director, Gary Hygom, who suggested The Lone Sharks hold their silver anniversary show there.
“I didn’t want to do it in a bar,” said Mr. Casey. “Bay Street can be arranged so it’s set up with a dance floor, and Sag Harbor is where I lived for 20 years. I still have a lot of friends down there, and it’s still kind of a sentimental headquarters of where the band started.”
Mr. Casey said he plans to open Saturday’s show with a set of original songs that are an integral part of the band’s current repertoire, and then to “keep the party going and keep people dancing.” His brother, Vincent Casey, who played bass with the original line-up, and original guitarist Phil Giuliano will likely sit in on a few numbers, and the band is asking fans to send them archival concert footage to have on display at the show.
“We don’t have platinum records and number one hits to brag about, but I’m happy we keep it going,” he said. “We’ve kept the standard pretty high, as high as we can manage. We’ve had a couple offers to tour in Europe, where there’s still an appreciation and a scene and audience for American roots music, which is, ironically, hard to find in our own country. I would love to be able to do it, but it’s hard when we have guys with careers and families in the band.”
The concert will be Saturday, Sept. 14, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance or $25 at the door. Bay Street Theatre’s box office phone number is 631.725.9500.