Nancy Atlas, world traveler. It’s a great moniker for a girl with financial ambitions in a time when “global” and “free trade” were not political millstones. But there were other issues: the 1991 recession. Growing up in Commack in the wake of such hometown celebrities as Rosie O’Donnell, Atlas studied abroad at Cambridge University and Richmond College in England before moving on to Florence, Italy, to study art and music.
“There were no jobs in finance,” says Atlas, whose passion, it turns out, is songwriting and playing with great musicians. So she moved back to Long Island — “There’s something about being next to the greatest city in the world and the stability of being suburban,” she says — and formed a band, the Nancy Atlas Project. Another life circumstance led to January’s “Fireside Sessions” concert series opening its fourth annual edition Saturday night at Bay Street Theater.
“I was at home in August breast-feeding,” Atlas says. (She and her husband, Tom, have three children — sons Cash and Levon and daughter Tallulah.) “Of course, I wouldn’t miss that time with my daughter for anything, but it was prime concert season” on the East End. Atlas and her family live in Montauk.
DEAD OF WINTER
By the time she was ready to play again, it was December. “How am I going to muster something in the dead of winter?” she asked herself. She called a friend, Gary Hygom, producing director at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, which was looking for ways to fill seats in, yes, the dead of winter.
“We’ve worked with so many great sidemen,” Atlas says, recalling opening gigs with Elvis Costello and Jimmy Buffett, among others, at Stephen Talkhouse. “I thought it’d be a great idea to celebrate them.” But opening night, January 2014, a blizzard threatened the concert, featuring Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. But nearly all the 300 people who bought tickets showed up. And the “dead of winter” Bay Street series has sold out ever since. (As of this writing, tickets remain for all four concerts.)
Saturday’s guest artist is trombonist Clark Gayton, who’s played with Prince, Sting and Bruce Springsteen. He’s followed on Jan. 14 by Danny Kean, known for his funky keyboard stylings, and on Jan. 21 by Randi Fishenfeld and her “insanely epic violin.”
“We’re still working on Jan. 28,” says Atlas, coyly dropping a name and then adding, “It’s not a done deal yet.”
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The concerts are a mix of covers favored by the guest artists as well as Atlas’ original songs influenced by artists ranging from Tom Petty to Lucinda Williams to Bob Dylan.
“It’s a celebration of great sidemen,” says Atlas, “plus our band on top of that. We rehearse all week, rock out on Saturday night, take Sunday off, and then work all the next week with our next guest artist.”
A great way to celebrate the dead of winter.
WHAT “Fireside Sessions With Nancy Atlas”
WHEN | WHERE Saturdays through January. Upcoming: Clark Gayton and the Nancy Atlas Project, 8 p.m. Saturday, Bay Street Theater, Long Wharf, Sag Harbor
TICKETS $25; 631-725-9500, baystreet.org
WHAT Sonny Landreth, slide guitar artist from the Mississippi Delta, brings his current national tour behind his “Bound by the Blues” album to Bay Shore for one night only. The album marks a return to Landreth’s musical roots in blues vocals and guitar riffs after diversions into a fusion of jazz and classical music on his last two recordings, most recently “Elemental Journey” in 2012.
WHEN | WHERE 7 p.m. Saturday, YMCA Boulton Center, 37 W. Main St., Bay Shore
TICKETS $40-$45; 866-811-4111, boultoncenter.org