November 20, 2015 Ethan Hawke Makes a Grand Impression at Bay Street Theater Sag Harbor, NY 11-7-15
The East End of Long Island has long been known as a cultural hot spot in New York with it’s variety of food, wine, art, and music. While the bulk of the area’s action takes place in the late Spring and Summer months when New Yorkers come out to kick back enjoy the beaches, shop, and relax, there still remains to be interesting events in the Fall and Winter season. That could never be more true than in the hamlet of Sag Harbor at the Bay Street Theater where rare musical performances have been taking place in the months of October and November. Dubbed the Portraits Series, the new experiment produced and curated by the singer/songwriter Taylor Barton pairs the exceptional guitarist G.E. Smith with a list of legendary painters, actors, writers, and musicians together on stage. Smith, known for his work with everyone from Bob Dylan to Hall & Oates, also served as music director for Saturday Night Live as a list of his many credits. A treat within itself to have Smith grace the stage of the Bay Street Theater, the colloberations make the Portraits Series an intriguing reason for many to hope back in their cars to retrieve from New York City to the South Fork. Kicking things off on October 17th with Dan Rizzie, Ralph Gibson and Carter Burwell, October 30th saw an extremely special appearance from Pink Floyd’s Roger Water. Then lastly, the third and final date of the Portrait Series took place on a brisk Saturday night of November 7th when actor/writer/director Ethan Hawke made the trip out to perform with G.E. Smith and band.
Turning forty-five years old one day prior to the performance, Hawke is most recognized in the mainstream for his extensive and diverse film resume dating back to when he was only fifteen performing in 1985’s Sci-fi children’s favorite Explorers. Growing up in the arts, Hawke continued his career as a film actor and went onto big things with roles in 1989’s Dead Poets Society, 1991’s White Fang, 2001’s Training Day, 2009’s Daybreakers to name a few. Compelling enough, those who look beneath the surface would know Hawke does his share of writing and directing as well. In Fact, Hawke has even published a list of novels, including his latest, Rules for a Knight released on November 10th, which many are calling beautiful and unique. If all his creative endeavors are not inspiring enough, Hawke has long had a love for music; dabbled in playing guitar, and even writing some of his own songs. Somewhat a surprise to the masses, Hawke made the decision to make his live performance debut at Bay Street Theater to an sold out crowd. Relativity in the dark of what to expect from the evening, anticipation and curiosity was elevated from the moment spectators stepped through the theater doors and took their seats.
Introduced by Taylor Barton, she and her husband G.E. Smith spoke briefly of times on tour with Bob Dylan almost three decades ago when they met. A relaxed atmosphere, Barton then introduced Hawke explaining how upon her meeting him at a young age she knew he was a deep and old soul. Joined by a band that included Josh Dion on drums, Dana Lyn on violin, and Fred Cash Jr. on bass, Smith stood stage left as Hawke walked out wearing a baseball cap, along with casual attire, to a round of applause. Seeming relatively loose, Hawke took his acoustic guitar and the performance took off from there as the band performed the Folk Country song “Blue Wing.” Originally performed by Tom Russell, and later by Dave Alvin, Hawke immediately gave the room an idea where the performance was going. By the time he went into Willie Nelson’s “Always Now,” it was beyond the shadow of a doubt his musical tastes lay within the Country Folk Rock realm. Taking time to converse with the audience between each and every song, Hawke went onto to express his love for these genres. Confessing a great deal of his musical inspiration derived from his childhood growing up in Texas prior to relocated to New York in his teenage years, he moved on into Townes Van Zandt songs “Pancho and Lefty” and “Marie,” a self-proclaimed all-time favorite of Hawke.
At this point, Hawke was completely settled in the performance, comfortable with his surrounding musicians as he and Smith fed off one another joking around. Keeping the atmosphere light, Hawke’s personable approach made the set that much more inviting as everyone wondered where he would go next. That would lead into a magnificent story of Hawke’s experience working with the great Kris Kristofferson on his 2001 directed film Chelsea Walls. A long time admire of Kristofferson’s music and overall body of work in the arts, Hawke explained how his directoral exchange played out with Kristofferson, and no less, had the entire audience laughing. A perfect segue, Hawke and company played the Kristofferson 1970 song “Just The Other Side Of Nowhere” having everyone completely engaged with his passionate approach to singing. Speaking of Hawke’s musical affection, there was no denying many were wondering if perhaps he had an original songs to mix into the set. That wonder was met when Hawke introduced the next song as one he wrote for his wife, naturally naming it “Ryan’s Song.” A mellow Folk song with storytelling lyrics, Hawke channeled his inner Dylan voice while keeping a keen sense of humor in the words sung. Creating the feeling as if one was watching him sitting on his living room sofa performing the song in front of his wife and children, it was one of the biggest highlights of the night. Immediately greeted by a roar of cheers, Hawke express his love for his wife who sat among the audience in support of her husband.
Having covered a great deal thus far, Hawke still had some more tunes to offer which included a wonderful rendition of Waylon Jennings’ “The Wurlitzer Prize (I Don’t Want to Get Over You).” Taking the time to exit the stage briefly, the crowd demanded an encore and with that, Hawke, Lyn, as well as Smith came out once more. With Lyn on violin, Smith taking a seat on a bar stool stroking a ukulele, and Hawke on acoustic guitar they performed Steve Earle’s “Tom Ames’ Prayer.” A highly textured song, the mellow mood would soon pick up for a upbeating rocking classic “So High.” A traditional song, it has been performed by many, including Elvis Presley, and was a grand way to end the show with the audience on their feet and tapping their toes.
To say the evening was one full of surprises would be an understatement. Seeing it was Hawke’s first ever live musical performance, no one had a clue of what to expect, but departed the Bay Street Theater clamoring of how exceptional his set truly was. Oozing charisma, sprinkling in a sense of humor, and showing the chops of a quality vocalist/guitarist, Hawke was nothing less than spectacular. Those who made the trip out to be one of the fortunate few to witness the entertainer’s gig will have plenty to talk about for a while. Now the question remains will Hawke be diving into music more in the future. As someone who has always done what he felt was right for him as a creator, hopes are he will not make this a one time exploration. Perhaps he will bring his talents back out to Sag Harbor sooner than later.Photo credit: Michael Heller