After a two-year hiatus, “the only event where live bands play from the rooftop of a working lighthouse in the world” returns half a mile from dry land in the Huntington Bay.
The Huntington Lighthouse Preservation Society‘s Musicfest, first held in 2006, has been green-lighted for Saturday, Sept 4. The unique event draws over 1,000 boats from across the island and Connecticut, according to Pamela Setchell, the preservation society’s president.
“It’s a bit of a cult following and people are anxious for it this year because we didnt have it the last two years,” Setchell said. “This is the comeback.”
Boaters can drop anchor in front of the fully working lighthouse to enjoy the performances of groups covering, among other bands and styles, Jimmy Buffett, Santana and Motown.
their biggest money-maker
Musicfest, now in its 14th year, has grown with each passing year. For Setchell, she needs the event to stay in the black.
She said it is the preservation society’s biggest fundraiser, and this year, the society has been down in sponsorship.
They seek donations from the community and sponsorships from local companies, the largest of whom will have their names on banners strung across the lighthouse.
“Some of our businesses that donated a lot of money were completely closed last year and will be sitting this year out,” she said “It’s a beloved event, but it’s also very expensive to put on.”
The musicfest costs in the ballpark of $50,000, and these funds need to be raised before the event can be announced. Insurance, stipends for bands and sound equipment are just a few of the items on the historical society’s list if expenses to host the concert.
“It just grew exponentially,” Setchell said. “It’s become a big event… with a tremendous amount of anxiety.”
‘live by the tides, die by the tides’
Powering musicfest is a daunting task, one that Donald Davidson and his company, HDH Davidson Inc. has been responsible for since 2006.
“When we got him on a boat and took him to the lighthouse he thought we were nuts,” Setchell said of Davidson
After using all the equipment from his company and borrowing — and repairing — generators from friends for the first two years, as there is no electricity at the lighthouse, he said the sound was not powerful enough.
Now, the preservation society rents a $500,000 concert level sound system to send sound waves across the water.
“Every year it has gotten bigger and bigger and the sound has gotten better and better,” Davidson said.
Getting the lighthouse concert-ready is another challenge. The show can’t go on without drums, amplifiers and other sound equipment, none of which are on hand at a working lighthouse.
Davidson and his crew load boats to send the equipment to the destination, a task made more difficult before he learned about mother nature and her command of the sea.
“The first year we did it we knew nothing about tides,” he said. “So we just showed up in the morning and thought ‘wow we have to go all the way down this steep ramp to put our equipment on the dock to get it into this boat?’ Both times we landed there at low tide.”
Davidson later learned to load and unload at high tide, which he said is not ever when you want it to be.”
“You have to live by the tides, die by the tides.”
While it might be a challenge, Davidson said putting on the seemingly impossible show defines his career. “You would think the stress isnt worth it, the aggravation isnt worth it, the month of preparing isnt worth it,” he said. “And yet we absolutely live for it.”
Davidson, whose Grateful Dead cover band, Jambaritos, performs as a soundcheck the evening before the big day, tells all the bands on the bill it “this is the coolest gig you’ll ever play.”
“And then they come out on roof and they look out at those boats and they go ‘oh my God, this is the coolest gig ive ever played.”
“It used to be just a soundcheck to make sure the PA worked for first thing Saturday morning.” “I’m actually in GD band.”