By Kitty Merrill
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The Montauk Playhouse Community Center Foundation got the money, and Willie had the time. Country music icon Willie Nelson performed at the Surf Lodge in Montauk on Sunday night, drawing an estimated crowd of 500 to the venue proper as pedestrians lined the surrounding streets, and hundreds more fans formed a flotilla of kayaks, rowboats and surfboards in Fort Pond.
Maureen Rutkowski can't help it if she was still in love with Nelson, the folks at Surf Lodge and the community on Monday morning. At one point on Sunday, as she snapped panoramic pictures with her iPhone, Rutkowski took in the sight – the sun setting, Nelson playing, the people on boats and a catamaran – "I was getting emotional, saying,' This is what this community is all about.'"
Project manager for the foundation, Rutkowski estimated the event will bring in over $20,000 when the final tally is completed.
Originally touted as a free concert, within days of the announcement on the Surf Lodge website, the event morphed into a de facto playhouse fundraiser. For a $100 donation concertgoers were guaranteed access. Within 24 hours, however, the Surf Lodge announced the donation option was sold out. "It blew me away, how quickly it went," Rutkowski enthused.
By Saturday morning, the Surf Lodge website reported there were no more general admission spots available either, with organizers asking those who didn't already have tickets to stay away. "Due to our overwhelming capacity for the Willie Nelson performance, we cannot honor general admittance on Sunday, June 9th," the Lodge's website said. "In respect of our community, we ask that you do not try to get access to the Surf Lodge on Sunday, June 9th." . . . and so it was "Cryin' Time" for those who hadn't acted with haste.
But not for savvy locals who found their way to see, or hear, Nelson and buddy Jimmy Buffet. Music lovers simply stood along Edgemere Road, set up lawn chairs in the grass on Industrial Road, or paddled across Fort Pond for front row floating.
Surf Lodge has had its bumpy times with town code enforcement and locals who complain of the nightspot's popularity. For East Hampton Town Police Chief Ed Ecker, when it comes to the Surf Lodge, he might say traffic safety is "always on my mind."
"Everything went so smooth," Chief Ecker reflected Monday morning. There were no arrests, no noise complaints, and no road closures, though some feared the event would precipitate traffic travail. The Lodge emptied its parking lot to allow concertgoers to line up there, rather than along Edgemere Road, as can happen on busy Saturday nights at the club.
Nelson, his hair in signature braids wore a T-shirt, plus a red, white, and blue mesh scarf, and jeans. He threw red bandanas to women in the crowd. They weren't all the girls he's loved before.
A guest at Gurney's Inn, the aged singer performed two Hank Williams song, as well as Patsy Cline's hit "Crazy," (which he wrote) during a set that lasted just over an hour. Local legend Jimmy Buffet was on hand and sang "Happy Birthday" to Nelson, who turned 80 this year.
With the crowd on the deck swaying and waving their arms, Nelson closed with "God, I've Seen The Light." He left the stage as fans in the flotilla banged their paddles on the pond, hollering, "Willie! Willie! Willie!"
But there was no encore. Nelson, his entourage, and band drove off in a huge tour bus decorated with the mural of a cowboy. The bus headed down Edgemere and turned left onto Industrial Road . . . on the road again, and driving off . . . into the sunset, of course.