Everyone knows that Nancy Atlas is a serious rocker. But there’s more to this mistress of music than meets the ear. And the eye too.
After attending one of her sold-out summer shows at the Surf Lodge, winter Fireside Sessions at Bay Street Theater or annual free Concerts in the Park at Agawam Park, courtesy the Southampton Cultural Center, it’s easy to see that Ms. Atlas is a serious crowd drawer. What might not be so evident at first glance is that the stage commanding Montauk-based Nancy Atlas Project singer, songwriter and guitarist has another deep well of creativity of a totally different sort—a background in fine art.
After graduating from high school in Commack, New York, the young woman headed across the pond to follow her dream attend art classes at Cambridge University in England and Richmond College in London and Florence. After college, instead of taking the pre-planned advertising route she had assumed she would follow, Ms. Atlas opted to pursue a career in music. After plunking down 60 quid for a guitar. She’s never looked back.
She doesn’t get the time during her hectic summer touring season to do much more with her art than draw cartoons for her kids or lazily trace tour maps of Europe on rainy days, she reports. But the busy pro-musician, wife and mother of three has still got a special place in her heart, and her Montauk home, for her first love.
An “art history major at heart,” Atlas is an avid collector. Art fills the beachside house—a short walk to the beach and town—that she shares with her family. Her favorites pieces? Works by East End-based artists and friends Paton Miller, Randall Rosenthal and Eric Ernst. It’s a tough choice, she says, but the one that strikes the most resonant chord for her is the Ernst, which was custom-made for her.
“I love when there is a local party on the beach. It is as good as it gets with lobsters, clams and crabs that were probably caught that day, boiling away with sweet corn and live music flowing”
A strong supporter of her fellow creative types of all stripes, Ms. Atlas—who has played with everyone from Elvis Costello; Lucinda Williams; Toots and the Maytals; Jimmy Buffett; and Crosby, Stills and Nash—recently released a new album, “Cut & Run,” with her band mates of 21 years Johnny Blood, Brett King, Richard Rosch and Neil Surreal. Other talents and local music makers Clark Gayton, Inda Eaton, Annie Morgan Rosch, Barrett Rehm Gerdes, Thomas Bradley Muse and G.E. Smith were also featured on the CD, as was friend and frequent collaborator-slash-stage sharer Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Other things most cherished are not objects at all but instead time with her family and friends, and the joys that can be found nearby, says the performer. Even better when those things are combined, she reports.
“I love when there is a local party on the beach. It is as good as it gets with lobsters, clams and crabs that were probably caught that day, boiling away with sweet corn and live music flowing,” she says. “Kids running around and scruffy old guys cooking in cut-off sleeves on their giant custom welded grills. Anyone can do rose and salmon pants but this is where the real stuff goes down.”
Of course there’s also her home away from home. On the stage and jamming with her pals, she adds. “Playing at the Surf Lodge on a Wednesday with kids running around, everyone tan and a light southwest wind blowing. Fireworks and bonfires don’t hurt either.”