Keep on Rocking in the Lighthouse
Every year, thousands show up at the Huntington Lighthouse Music Festival by boat, kayak, canoe, SUP, and dinghy on the Saturday before Labor Day. Everyone on the water surrounding the lighthouse is just looking to have fun, while behind the scenes, a dedicated group of volunteers makes sure that the only music festival held on top of a working lighthouse in the middle of the water sails along smoothly.
Planning for the next Huntington Lighthouse Music Festival (Musicfest) starts almost as soon as the last note rings out over the water. Well, after that final note, the transport of all the equipment back to shore, the tallying of the funds raised to support the preservation of the lighthouse, the celebrating by all the volunteers, and of course, the extensive napping by everyone involved.
The Musicfest’s main organizers are quick to share the credit for the event’s success with more than 40 volunteers, influential community members, maritime officials and entrepreneurs, and student assistants. If you polled those people, however, it’s likely that most would deflect the praise back onto five people who make up the heart of the operation: Pamela Setchell, Monica Stoller, Donald Davidson, MJ Maione, and Frank DeLuca.
If you’re lucky, and it’s not too close to the date of the Musicfest, you can catch up with Setchell, Stoller, Davidson, and Maione and ask about the work that went into the seven previous Musicfests, and the planning taking place for this year’s event on August 30. Then sit back and enjoy the answers that flow from this enthusiastic and hard-working bunch!
Setchell, a professional photographer, has been with the Huntington Lighthouse Preservation Society (started by childhood friends) for 21 years. She says, “I sailed and spent my childhood on the water and spent a lot of time boating around the neglected lighthouse. We used to imagine what it looked like, and dream of what it might have been like to live there. I thought we were lucky to have our very own lighthouse here in Huntington, and couldn’t understand why it was left to fall apart.”
The Huntington Lighthouse Preservation Society (HLPS), formed to rescue and restore the Huntington Lighthouse, works relentlessly to raise funds, especially to replenish the battered and bruised riprap that surrounds the lighthouse. So the idea to put on a show was proposed as another way to raise money… and then the Musicfest took on a life of its own.
A healthcare manager for a furniture company, Stoller had also loved lighthouses since childhood, despite living in the middle of Ohio. She met Setchell, started volunteering, and is now the Chairperson of the MusicFest.She says, “The Musicfest has given us much-needed visibility,and the ability to do something for the community like this concert is extremely rewarding for all of us.”
Stoller’s instincts told her that a concert in the middle of the water on a lighthouse that doesn’t have electricity needed a pro like Davidson, whose business provides sound, lighting, video, and music services to live performances and events. He relates how it all began: “Monica called me one night from the middle of a meeting of the HLPS and said ‘Donald, you need to get involved with the music here — we need major help!’ She told me that they were going to have a ‘little concert’ and I needed to come see the site. I should have had a clue that something was up when she said to meet her at Gold Star Battalion Beach, then proceeded to shepherd me onto an open boat to the lighthouse. On the way she kept saying, ‘I know you can do this Donald…it will be great!’”
Reality began to dawn on Davidson when the boat arrived at the lighthouse. “I saw the dock, the ramp, and the ladder up to the lighthouse. Then they showed me the spiral staircase to the top, and said they wanted to do the concert ‘up there!’ Well, I’m always up for a challenge so I said, ‘Why not!’”
Maione, responsible for the Musicfest’s Teens on the Water community service/fundraising volunteers, arrived via a different route. “I actually was one of the boaters to the MusicFest and observed it the year before I got involved,” the retired teacher relates.“The next year my sailboat was moored next to the lighthouse launch, where I met a group of volunteers who shared their experiences with me.”
The performers that sing and play at the Musicfest don’t just materialize at the top of the lighthouse, though if you gave the organizers a magic wand, that’s exactly what all of them would wish to happen. Along with playing with his own band, Freeride, Davidson oversees the transport of the band’s equipment from the shore to the lighthouse and up that spiral staircase(the Musicfest lineup usually features nine different groups),then makes sure that everything is set up properly before operating the soundboard. He’s learned a few lessons the hard way. He relates, “We placed items too close to the edge of the dock — I learned electronics don’t float!” He also recalls the time when “a case of gear goes off the dock at the lighthouse and one of our volunteers immediately strips down to his skivvies and dives in after it.” Stoller adds, “In year two, when the music was over, everyone asked what to do. Donald told them to wrap up the generators and all the electrical cables, only to discover how dark it gets on the water 10 minutes later! We had no work lights or lamps, and no generators, so we loaded the equipment onto the boat with small flashlights and no other lighting!”
Mother Nature isn’t on the program, but she’s definitely a featured performer. Out on the water, consulting the tides should be a given, but it was definitely part of the learning curve. Stoller recalls a story from the first year of the Musicfest. “Donald assembles every bit of equipment he owns, and we arrive the morning of the fest with no knowledge of tides and what that means. No one really thought of the tides and having to schlep the equipment down the ramp to the boat.” Though tide charts should have been a part of the next year’s planning, Davidson readily admits they forgot again. “After a 14-hour day of insanity, we arrive back at Gold Star Beach to discover the horror of a low tide and a boat of really large equipment (and a climb straight up 15 feet).”
Setchell shudders at the mention of storms. On the date of the second Musicfest, it was raining hard at 5:00 am and the event had to be postponed. After notifying the media and updating the website, Setchell says, “We had to figure out how to tell everyone, so we hung signs on the lighthouse made with black spray paint on white shower curtains— I can still see myself making the signs in the parking lot of West Shore Marina and then getting on the boat and going out there to hang them up that morning.”
When Hurricane Emille was nearing the area, the U.S. Coast Guard asked the organizers to delay the event. Setchell says, “They feared most boats would be destroyed after the storm and who would come? We delayed by a day due to high winds.”
Maione has had her battles with winds as well. She remembers efforts to hold down the sponsors’ banners on top of the lighthouse during winds of 25 miles per hour.“Oh, that was fun!” she says sarcastically,adding that gusts also blew down a tent.
Setchell, Stoller, Davidson, and Maione put in a lot of hours working on the MusicFest.Setchell estimates her involvement at over 300 hours yearly, while Davidson says that as the show approaches, he spends “about 200 hours a week!” All put in the time out of love and devotion for the Huntington Lighthouse, yet each feels that they get back more than they give. Maione has high praise for the teenage volunteers, citing the Teens on the Water program as an invaluable asset — last year they raised $25,000.
The showman in Davidson celebrates the sheer spectacle of the Musicfest. He most enjoys“listening to the great bands and realizing that we once again pulled off one of the greatest events on Long Island!
PAM Setchell shares the triumphant feeling of her co-planners. “The Musicfest is truly a cathartic experience! It’s a ton of work and anxiety, but it’s insanely exciting and rewarding the day it all comes together,” she enthuses.“Seeing the hundreds of happy faces out there on the water is totally exhilarating — it’s a day you will never forget!”
Visit these sites for more information and to donate to the Huntington Lighthouse: http://www.lighthousemusicfest.com/ and http://huntingtonlighthouse.org/.
The 2015 Musicfest is September 5.
CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS: http://boatingtimesli.com/NY/huntington-lighthouse-musicfest/
By Lita Smith-Mines
Read more about what goes on behind the scenes at the Musicfest
Monica Stoller shares stories from earlier Musicfests:
The musicians showed up with a LOT of equipment, things like cymbals, drums, etc… and everything had to be carried up the small spiral staircase to the roof. The first year we didn’t know to provide the backline for the bands.
A music speaker actually goes on fire, but we turn it all lower.As the next act is acoustic, we should be fine.But it wasn’t fine at all, as the fire is actually a large one. Donald Davidson sees it smoking and goes over with a screwdriver to take the back off. As he pulls out the electronic panel, the thing bursts into flame and the entire back of the speaker was melted and kind of dripping. I asked Donald, “Are we OK?” He says, “Of course,” which I knew was true because we are ALWAYS OK!
About year three or four, we finally started to rent very large and expensive gear, much of which was in huge road cases too big for a boat. We then were smart enough to beg Mike at Seatow, the Huntington Harbormaster, and some others with flat boats to help us load the equipment onto the lighthouse a few days before. Once we had a very expensive piece of equipment —too large for any of the boats — wrapped in blankets hanging off the back of the Sea Tow boat!
MJ Maione talks about the Teens on the Water Program:
I recruit, train, and implement the program using teens from the area that are looking for Community Service credit, are boat savvy, and want to help us fundraise the day of the Musicfest. I organize a meeting about a month before MusicFest to meet with all of the teens and their parents to go over who is doing what, who is driving what, and how things will work. I have developed a “zone system” that tells me where everyone is in the water and what times they are in their specified areas. On the day of the Musicfest, I am on the dock stocking the boats, directing the teens, and coordinating the entire program. It is a BIG job that day –— but worth it!
Donald Davidson’s nightmares?
Tides, winds, and weather.
Pamela Setchell’s dream?
I’d have Billy Joel, Jimmy Buffet, Stevie Wonder, and ZiggyMarley play in the lighthouse. (No slight to our amazing bands!)
Note: Frank DeLuca was not available to be interviewed. Per Setchell, “He is responsible for the monumental job of supplying flawless electrical power to energize the event. This is all supplied by an intricate combination of generators and a massive amount of custom cords that are perched on top of a platform built on the rocks. It’s a huge job that comes with tons of anxiety the week before and the day of the event. He always pulls it off perfectly!”
DeLuca has his ownMusicFest dream, says Setchell: “Having a huge generator with a backup generator that can just power the whole entire Musicfest. It would be able to be wheeled up into the lighthouse and sit somewhere where you can’t hear it!”