The buzz surrounding Ernie & The Band’s Ernie at the Movies show on December 27th described it as nothing short of magical, revitalizing, unifying, and time-warping. Established in 2017, the Long Island-based four-piece jam band continues to make waves through their original tunes and modernized covers, while constantly surprising audiences and exceeding expectations by organizing collaborations with local entities, such as this event.

Hosted at local family-owned and operated community treasure the Sayville Theater on Long Island, the night began as a traditional movie-going experience. Like any other movie premiere (and many concerts, for that matter), fans were lined up outside the building hours before the show started. Once doors opened, they walked into the 1911-established movie theater—which was later rebuilt in 1951—clad with classic marble details and movie posters, filled with the aroma of freshly popped popcorn, and followed a red velvet staircase leading up to the first theater. But the traditional movie-going experience stopped there.

Within the 1950s building suddenly existed every decade after, not only in the theater’s long history, but in the very production and design of the event created by Ernie & The Band’s percussionist Brady Wilkins, guitarist/vocalist John Witt, bassist/vocalist Rob Seck, drummer/vocalist Nick Balzano, and photographer/audio engineer Jon Presto. With a makeshift sample bar provided by local Blue Point Brewery situated in the first row of matinee seats, a small but mighty merch table right above the orchestra pit, and a huge live projection of vivid colors and shapes on the big screen created by multidimensional light artist Steve Pavlovsky and his Liquid Light Lab, the audience was instantly transported with a mixture of ’60s and ’70s psychedelic rock, ’80s inspired wardrobe, ’90s and ’00s art, and the capabilities of today’s digital world.

The show began promptly at 8 p.m. with 15 minutes of crowd-pleasing video shorts that featured the band and parodied familiar films and tropes. Decades were spanned here as well, ranging from an E.T. parody to a short thriller that featured drummer Nick Balzano as the antagonist “Stickman.” They also parodied series like Robot Chicken and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, with a final shot of the band arriving at the theater doors and walking in, which cut to black just as the band took the stage to thunderous applause.

After introductions by the MC, and a moment to thank their special guest and retired band member, keyboardist Alex Diachok, Ernie & The Band jumped straight into their first song of the evening “Dead Man Walking”. This was followed by the crowd-favorite, “Summertime”, which featured a Grateful Dead “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” tease by guitarist John Witt that had the entire theater on its feet. Every note played was underscored by the hypnotic colors and shapes projected onto the screen and the band’s all-white clothing (a choice that added yet another dimension to the production); born from it all was a living expression of music, art, and the human spirit that remains indescribable, but was palpable to everyone in the room that night.

Ernie & The Band debuted two originals: “Aisle 8” and “A Thousand Faces”, which were met with great anticipation and enthusiasm from the audience. They also debuted their cover of The Who’s “Eminence Front” which, combined with more strategically-placed teases of Phish, the Grateful Dead, and even the Pirates of the Caribbean theme, brought back some familiarity to the audience among the new originals, creating a balanced and exhilarating setlist.

The untethered energy that they brought to the stage was contagious, and their willingness to get a little silly was refreshing, often incorporating inside jokes into their lyrics, such as the fan favorite, “Uncle Rob”. A friend of the band even came dressed as a pirate and joined them onstage during the Pirates tease—an unexpected cameo that had the whole theater laughing and dancing along.

Hands-down the most memorable and impressive part of the night was simply observing the community Ernie & The Band had built over six short years, which was highlighted during their penultimate song, “Who’s Ernie”, which offered a moment of reflection during the peak of the night’s energy where they explained that we, the audience, were Ernie, and they were just The Band; that Ernie was all of us. They ended the night by returning full circle to their opening song, “Dead Man Walking” with a (literally) showstopping final note that struck right as the lights went out.

Ernie at the Movies was a unifying adventure of sound and sight, spanning decades of art and influence, and bringing together people of all ages and backgrounds to simply, as the band put it, “Feel Free”. The event also served as the perfect end to a successful year for the band, which saw them open for The Expendables on the Main Stage at Blue Point Brewery’s Shakedown on Main event, play Great South Bay Music Festival, and mount their first summer tour. Heading into 2024, Ernie & The Band have a brand new EP in the works and are starting plans for a summer tour (and if we’re lucky, another Ernie at the Movies), with winter getdowns listed below. Scroll down for a gallery of Ernie at the Movies images courtesy of photographer Kevin Cole along with the evening’s setlist.


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Ernie & The Band 2024 Tour Dates

1.13.24 – Stella Blues – New Haven, CT
1.27.24 – Blue Point Brew Pub – Patchogue, NY
2.2.24 – Long Island Glass – Holtsville, NY
2.10.24 – The Warehouse – Amityville, NY
2.18.24 – Winter Jamboree East – Patchogue, NY
3.3.24 – 89 North Music Venue – Patchogue, NY