Sag Harbor Community Band left with no practice space

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For more than 50 years straight, the Sag Harbor Community Band has held weekly rehearsals inside the village’s American Legion Post. But with a restaurant at the post expanding its hours after Memorial Day, the band of local musicians must find a new place to practice and store its equipment for the summer.

In a brief April 17 letter, Legion Commander Robert Browngardt told the band that it would need to remove its equipment and discontinue Tuesday night rehearsals in the ballroom effective June 3, when the Dockside Bar & Grill, which operates out of the Legion building, begins opening seven days a week. The band will be permitted to practice again in the fall, when Dockside is closed on Tuesdays.

“We’ve been sort of eating it for years,” said Stacy Sheehan, co-owner of Dockside, explaining that the rehearsals create a problem at the restaurant on Tuesday nights.

The restaurant has operated out of the Legion, which is located just across from the marina on Bay Street, for seven years and uses the barroom and a curtained-off section of the ballroom, as well as the front patio for outdoor tables. The Sag Harbor Community Band practices in the rear of the building, just beyond the thin curtain that divides the ballroom.

Though some members of the band are upset about the move, the band’s president, David Lee, an 80-year-old Sag Harbor resident and snare drum player, downplayed the situation during a break from practice on Tuesday evening. He said he had no ill will toward the owners of Dockside or the Legion.

“We’ll miss five rehearsals,” Mr. Lee said, being sure to also note the generosity of the Legion for

allowing five decades of rent-free rehearsals. “They have been wonderful landlords,” he added.

But not everyone agrees. “The owners are more concerned about profit than conserving a family-friendly, 100-year-old tradition in Sag Harbor,” wrote Christina Schaefer, a 23-year-old member of the Community Band, in a letter of complaint last week. The Southampton resident and music teacher for the Sachem School District said she was confused by the sudden change in policy.

From Memorial Day until Labor Day, the band will move its rehearsals to Pierson High School, according to Mr. Lee, who said he came to an agreement on Tuesday with Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Kathryn Holden to use the space. As for storing equipment, Mr. Lee said the band will use some of its $300,000 endowment from late charter member Ralph Springer to buy a storage shed and place it behind the Legion.

Between the Fourth of July and Labor Day, the band plays weekly concerts on the patio in front of the Legion Hall and adjacent to the Dockside’s patio set for outdoor dining. It will still be permitted to do so, according to David Pharaoh, former Legion Commander and current member of the organization’s board of directors, but the Legion is not budging on the new practice and storage policies. “It makes sense,” he said. “Without being mean or cold, things change.”

Ms. Sheehan said that in years past noisy rehearsals made it unpleasant for diners, so much so that she was unable to use the back section of the restaurant on Tuesdays, making approximately 30 percent of its tables unusable.

“Two things can’t be happening at the hall at the same time,” Ms. Sheehan said, explaining that while she feels bad about kicking out the band, she pays rent to the Legion, and, “anything that interferes with the restaurant is a conflict of interest.”

Dockside is popular for its outside tables and waterfront view, but on a rainy Tuesday night seating is limited to the few tables in the bar. “Even in the barroom you can hear it,” Ms. Sheehan said of the band’s practice in the ballroom. “It’s not a band concert, it’s a rehearsal.”

“It upset a lot of the younger people,” Ms. Schaefer said of the new policies on Monday, adding that many older members of the 40-member band are also concerned, though they are more reserved. “It’s definitely a burden for these older people,” she explained. “They don’t want to admit it.”

“I don’t know what they expect us to do,” Mr. Pharaoh said on Monday. “It’s not just the girls [from Dockside]—the Legion is for this too,” Mr. Pharaoh said, explaining that the rent paid by the restaurant allows the Legion to maintain its post. He added that the band’s instruments and equipment take up a 
good amount of much-needed storage space. “Most Legions are closing down because they can’t afford to stay open,” he said.

Mr. Pharaoh went on to note that the Sag Harbor Community Band is mostly made up of people from out of town, so village loyalty is no longer a real issue. “It’s Sag Harbor now basically in name only,” he said.

Ms. Shaefer admitted that many band members are not from Sag Harbor but added that they are mostly locals from East Hampton and Southampton, with only a handful of members from the city.

Everything seems to be settled for the moment between the three involved parties, but the future of the Sag Harbor Community Band at the Legion does not appear to be set in stone, and the recent changes could be a harbinger of things to come.

While sympathetic to the band, Ms. Sheehan noted that she pays to heat and air-condition rehearsals. “Nothing’s free anymore,” she said.

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