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Montauk music festival to be held at historic lighthouse

A music festival will be held on the

A music festival will be held on the grounds of the Montauk Lighthouse, says Greg Donohue, a member of the Montauk Historical Society, seen here on Sept. 8, 2017. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

A music festival takes place on the Montauk Point Lighthouse grounds for the first time Saturday as the Montauk Historical Society seeks to raise money to maintain the 221-year-old landmark for at least another hundred years.

The inaugural Great Eastern Music Festival features a day of performances by bluegrass, Americana and roots artists in the “natural amphitheater” created by the changing elevations of Turtle Hill, on which the lighthouse was built, organizers said.

“You have a site here that’s really unparalleled,” said Greg Donohue, a historical society board member. “We have something going for ourselves that could be major for funding and major for fun.”

Organizers said they want to use the 2,000-person-capacity festival, which they hope will become an annual event, to eventually raise money for long-term projects at the state’s oldest lighthouse.

The cost of day-to-day lighthouse operations are covered by ticket sales from about 100,000 yearly visitors to the structure, but there is limited funding for long-term capital projects, which are necessary to maintain national landmarks, Donohue said.

“That is a distinction we’re really proud of,” he said of the lighthouse’s national landmark status. “We have the fiduciary commitment and responsibility to take care of the lighthouse.”

The Montauk Historical Society recently paid an engineering firm $88,000 to evaluate what lighthouse maintenance will be required for the next 100 years, Donohue said. The society is also working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to plan sea wall upgrades, which could cost $24 million and be funded by state and federal superstorm Sandy recovery funding, he said.

The festival is the first major musical fundraiser for the lighthouse since about 1990, when Paul Simon held a benefit concert for the lighthouse’s bluff restoration at a nearby ranch.

Simon, who has a house in Montauk, declined to perform at the festival after being the first artist asked, Donohue said. Simon did not respond to a request for comment.

Festival organizers said they hope to break even in the first year by taking in about $100,000. Their production costs have included building a larger permanent stage on Turtle Hill to replace a smaller one that was used for movie screenings and smaller concerts.

The Huntington Lighthouse Music Festival, held each Labor Day weekend, has become a major fundraiser for that facility, with attendees arriving by boats, kayaks or canoes. Bands play from the roof of that lighthouse. This year’s Huntington festival was canceled because of repair work being done on the structure.

The Montauk event will also work to raise awareness about environmental issues, including the dangers of plastics dumped in the oceans, said festival manager Bill Ayasse. Organizers are asking food and craft vendors to be “low-plastic” by not bringing straws and by using refillable metal cups instead of disposable plastic ones, he said.

Sarah Jarosz, a two-time Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter, said the festival’s goals and the lighthouse views will make the event “pretty spectacular.”

“It’s cool to have a real purpose and a real reason like that for such a unique landmark, and I think it’ll add to the spirit of the event itself,” she said.

The Great Eastern Music Festival

  • More than 15 musical groups performing on two stages on the Montauk Lighthouse grounds.
  • Headliners include The Dustbowl Revival, Sarah Jarosz, Seldom Scene and Sam Outlaw.
  • Tickets: $65 for general admission, $25 for children ages 6-12, and free 6 and younger. Tickets can be purchased at
  • Hours: Gates open at 9 a.m. The festival goes from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
  • Parking: Montauk Point State Park. Shuttle buses will be available from Camp Hero State Park, Gosman’s Dock and the Montauk School.

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