It’s never been easy to make a living as a musician, but the North Fork has seen an explosion of possibilities for performers in recent years. Supportive venues and wineries that entertain visitors with live music have made the area a place to go to hear new music. That’s been good for well-established acts as well as bands just getting their feet wet performing original material.
Gene Casey of Greenport has gotten used to having a following as front man for The Lone Sharks, a rockabilly band that has been together since 1988. With his Gretsch hollow body guitar, black suit and hat and his deep baritone, he’s become a fixture on the music scene here.
Until two years ago, Mr. Casey had a day job at Historic Films in Greenport but he was able to quit and become a full-time musician. “Sitting at a desk was taking away time and opportunities,” he said. “I was actually turning down work as a musician.
“When I was a kid, I wanted to be a guitar player or a center fielder for the Yankees,” he said. “I’ve sacrificed a lot of things to not grow up.”
This year, in addition to his work with The Lone Sharks, Mr. Casey began taking solo gigs and performing in a trio with a violinist and a drummer. He frequently plays at the Old Mill Inn in Mattituck. Having a smaller band does enable him to play smaller venues but it took some getting used to.
“I’m so used to having a backbeat and a foil. I’m more comfortable with that,” he said.
Mr. Casey, now 50, has been in the business long enough to see the way the industry has changed, from the time 18-year-olds were allowed to drink in bars to the all-ages atmosphere at North Fork wineries.
“Unfortunately or not, drinking and music have a relationship,” he said. “Up here, with the wineries, there are more places you can do that now.”
Latin band Mambo Loco has become a sensation on the East End. Wherever the band plays — and in the summer it plays nearly every night — an entourage of fans comes to see them. They frequently play outdoor venues for crowds that number in the hundreds.
The group’s keyboard player, Bill Smith of Riverhead, believes Mambo Loco’s success comes from a confluence of people who want to dance, Latino East Enders who remember the heyday of salsa music in the 1970s and ’80s. The beachy feel of the music is another attraction. The group plays regularly at Peconic Bay Winery in Cutchogue and at the summer concert series at Mitchell Park in Greenport.
“Mitchell Park is the epitome of a great gig for us,” Mr. Smith said. “There’s such a diverse population in the audience and everyone seems to really enjoy it a lot. The story for music out here is that it is a resort area. We work every night of the week during the summer. The fall’s OK. The spring’s OK, but the winter is dead.”
Until he was in his mid-30s, Mr. Smith was a full-time musician touring the world with The Skatilites, one of the first ska groups — a Jamaican genre dating from the 1950s. Then he decided to raise a family here. Now in his mid-40s, he works a full-time job in Manhattan and plays music at night.
“Very few people make it out here just playing music. Struggling to pay the mortgage is as good as it gets,” he said.
Members of The Contractors, a North Fork cover band, all knew the grind of playing material that isn’t their own. Some have regrouped as Lesus Mor, a band that plays all-original music influenced by classic rock.
The group has seen what they consider a revolution in acceptance of live music on the North Fork.
“Four Doors Down in Mattituck has done an excellent job of promoting original music. They really encourage people,” said Lesus Mor’s keyboard player, Gregg Schweitzer, at the band’s rehearsal in Cutchogue Saturday night.
“People from the city have been coming out here more full time. That helps to up the volume,” said Ashley Foster, a singer with the band.
All the band members are keenly aware of the noise controversy that the boom in live music has recently brought to Southold. They said they’ve heard people at venues far up the island talking about Southold’s planned noise ordinance, but that has done little to deter the audience for live music.
Lesus Mor is planning a double-bill show with The Black Petals, another local classic rock band, at Four Doors Down in January.
Maribeth Mundell, an opera singer turned rock vocalist, is the one member of the band who is working full time as a musician.
“I do a lot of piecework. I teach voice and dance. A lot of times people are just looking for someone to go into the studio with them,” she said.
The Black Petals, an original North Fork band influenced by psychedelic rock, blues and country music, hasn’t found the local music scene quite so inviting. The group, which formed two years ago, plays in New York City and at The Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett.
The group’s albums are available through iTunes and Amazon.com and they have their own website and a profile on ReverbNation, a site where many other local bands post tour dates and samples of their music.
“Now, on the Internet, you really have a chance to promote yourself, but you’re like a speck of sand on the beach because so many other bands are using this resource,” said their guitarist, Brian Brooks of Southold. “We all have day jobs. We’re all really family men. But we’d be ready in a shot to do what we can with our music if the money’s there.”