Point of View: Great South Bay Music Festival
Any time I get a chance to hear a concert featuring music royalty, I go filled with anticipation and overwhelming emotion, remembering the days I had first experienced their greatness as a youngster. I have yet to attend one where I haven’t cried at least once, as colorful memories of sunny, tie-dyed, dancing days flooded back and I’m removed from the complicated life of a grown-up to a simpler time, when the most I had to think about was which band was up next.
It’s in that spirit that I have gone to the Great South Bay Music Festival, produced by Jim Faith and his team, for the last 12 years at Patchogue’s Shorefront Park. From the first year, when the crowds were small and there was even a tent with seats where you could sing along to traditional Irish ditties, to this year’s crowd, sold-out performances, beautiful people in full hippie regalia complete with flowy summer dresses, headbands, aging parents donning their original love beads and peace signs alongside their enlightened kids, who knew enough not to miss out on a chance to experience the Titans of music: Dickey Betts, Jorma and Little Feat.
Seeing Dickey Betts again, founding member of the iconic Allman Brothers Band and one of the most influential guitar players of all time, was truly the proverbial “blast from the past.” The first time I saw him was at the Watkins Glen Summer Jam 45 years ago. Touted to be the next Woodstock, my best friend Terri called me and said a bunch of her neighborhood friends were driving upstate and would I like to go. Never a person who says no to an invitation, the 19-year-old me borrowed my brother’s Boy Scout sleeping bag and took a spot in the overcrowded Chevy Nova with pretty much nothing else — no food, no money, no water, no tickets, just wanderlust. When we finally got to the venue featuring the main jamming bands of all time — the Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers and The Band — traffic was backed up for miles, the entrance nowhere in sight. Terri and I jumped out and walked the rest of the way with hundreds of others. In true form, the bands alternately jammed nonstop throughout the day and night, legendary guitar riffs wafting along the breeze for the entire three days. People gave us food; we slept around a huge bonfire to stay warm during the rainy bits and got back to work on Monday morning with tales of our adventure. How we got back? I don’t remember. But I do remember the music! Seeing Betts, hearing “Blue Sky,” took me right back to that moment, as music always does if you let it.
I have to applaud the Faiths, who, year after year, “bring it” to Patchogue and bring us with them on their journey. “The Great South Bay Music Festival is inspired by the concerts that I experienced and loved as a young boy and aspiring musician in Brooklyn. Central Park on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, families on blankets dotting the lawn…all ethnicities enjoying a myriad of styles of music…,” states Jim Faith in the festival program.
His vision has not only brought together friends, neighbors, families and fans from all over for four days of endless top-notch music on three stages perfectly coordinated so you don’t miss a beat, he has also brought in great food vendors including Patchogue’s own Bobbique and That Meetball Place. He wisely booked bands ranging from those in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, to some of the most popular local bands like Miles to Dayton, Kerry Kearney, Cassandra House, Quarter Horse, Grammy winner Andy Falco and rising star Pete Mancini, to the relatively unknown (to me) bands whose music I was fortunate to get to know over the festival weekend, like Papadosio, whose bio in the program reads, “falling somewhere between rock, jazz and electronic mayhem … we find space rock.” I want to be in their space!
And I want to be at next year’s Great South Bay Music Festival. Having seen John Sebastian, the Zombies, Stephen Stills and David Bromberg perform there over the years, I’ve thought, ‘how could they possibly top this year’s headliner?’ So, here’s my wish list: Paul McCartney. OK, the crowds may be too big to book him. I’d love to see Three Dog Night, whose new music is just as fantastic as the tunes I grew up singing along to in junior high. It’s life affirming to get to relive those times through music, which is always a constant in our lives, accompanying us through memorable moments, good times and bad. The continuum. The universal language that has the power to bring us all together under a beautiful blue sky.
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