On Friday, September 25th, the Sands Point Preserve Conservancy hosted its very first Sunset Concert, featuring a double-bill of well-known singer-songwriters, Suzanne Vega and Duncan Sheik. The weather was perfect – Mother Nature cooperated on a grand scale, providing a crisp fall evening perfect for sitting outside.
The lucky folks who purchased VIP tickets were treated to an open bar and delicious buffet dinner inside the historic Hempstead House prior to the actual concert, as well as a dessert and coffee reception afterwards.
The concert itself began a little after 5 pm. A large tented stage was erected on the Preserve’s majestic Great Lawn, and concertgoers brought blankets and folding chairs to sit on. Attendees brought picnics and sandwiches – one adventurous group even brought a vat of soup! The audience was a wonderful mix of ages, from children to seniors, as well as a mix of musical tastes. Everyone clearly loved being out on the Great Lawn under the setting sun, on a perfect fall evening.
The first performer was Duncan Sheik. Sheik first burst into the music scene with his pop hit, “Barely Breathing,” in the mid 1990’s. Since then, he’s become involved in writing music for Broadway shows, most notably the successful musical, Spring Awakening. Sheik was joined onstage by drummer Doug Yowell and keyboard player, Jason Hart. Sheik himself played guitar. His performance was varied and covered his solo work, his Broadway compositions, and even a haunting rendition of Depeche Mode’s “Stripped.” He began with the catchy pop song “Avalanche,” complete with Hart’s hypnotizing keyboard line, and then launched into “Circling,” which was slightly reminiscent of Peter Gabriel. He performed two numbers from his recent Broadway show, American Psycho, “Selling Out,” and his final song, “This is Not an Exit.”
But perhaps the most memorable part of his performance was his collaboration with Long Island University music students on “I Don’t Do Sadness” from Spring Awakening. Sheik was joined by several college string players, who had auditioned the week before to take part in this performance. He was also joined by LIU student Taylor Bass, who sang the female vocal part of “I Don’t Do Sadness.” Bass was superb – professional and confident on the stage. [As part of a partnership with LIU, Sheik did a master class with music students the day after this concert.] Naturally, and to the great joy of attendees, Sheik performed his hit single “Barely Breathing.” The only negative thing that could be said about his performance was that it was perhaps too short!
After a brief intermission during which the audience strolled the Great Lawn and watched the sun sinking over the Long Island Sound, Suzanne Vega took the stage. Vega’s first album was released over 30 years ago, and she has been making music steadily since. Vega is a superb singer-songwriter whose lyrics are poetic and beautifully crafted. She took the stage in a black jacket and iconic top hat, accompanied by her superb guitarist, Gerry Leonard, and launched into a peppy version of “Fat Man & Dancing Girl.” This was followed by a striking rendition of her 1985 single, “Marlene on the Wall” which she explained was written about finding comfort by looking at a Marlene Dietrich poster that she had in her apartment at the time.
One of the best moments came during her rendition of “Small Blue Thing” when, as the last rays of sun disappeared in the evening sky, she sang the lyrics “scattering like light, scattering like light.” Vega treated the audience to three songs from her soon to be released (mid-October) CD and play of the same name, Lover, Beloved, written about the author, Carson McCullers. She was joined by keyboard player Jason Hart and drummer Doug Yowell for a number of her songs. To the delight of the audience, Vega performed her biggest hits, “Luka,” “Tom’s Diner,” and “Left of Center” (from the Pretty in Pink soundtrack). One of her most powerful performances was the 2014 hard-hitting “I Never Wear White,” splendidly done.
It would be remiss to review Suzanne Vega and not specifically mention her long-time collaborator and guitarist, Gerry Leonard. Leonard, who also worked with David Bowie among many others, is an astounding musician who can coax the most incredible sounds out of his guitar. His solo during Vega’s “Jacob and the Angel” was nothing short of transcendent. He is one of the most tasteful guitarists I’ve ever heard.
Vega closed with her two biggest hits, “Luka” and “Tom’s Diner” which audience members could be heard humming as they headed to their cars. “I’m so honored to be performing at your first sunset concert,” said Vega to the adoring crowd, “I hope this will become an annual tradition, and I hope to return again.” The audience echoed her sentiment. All in all, a spectacular evening.
Venue: Sands Point Preserve Conservancy
Location: Sands Point, NY