Under the White Tents: Hamptons’ Charity Circuit

From Watermill Center to Longhouse Reserve to MAD, these are Hamptons must-attend annual benefits.

Hamptons’ Charity Circuit Tabula Rasa in Watermill
Photograph by Chole Bellemer

Considered the premier event of the Hamptons summer, The Watermill Center Summer Benefit, now in its 26th incarnation, surely bedazzled the over 1,000 guests.

The evening traditionally kicks off with a two-hour cocktail party which is like no other cocktail party. It’s an immersive theater with over 25 artist installations and performances and a wander through an enchanted forest as the sun is low in the sky, creating beautiful light and shadows in the woods on this 10 acre-property, formerly Shinnecock ancestral land in Water Mill.

I walked up the torchlit steps towards the entrance house where I would embark on a walk through the woods with art performers along a circuitous path. Atop the roof of a small entrance house several red-feathered creatures were perched and created atonal animal sounds on their daxophones (wooden electronic instruments).

The entrance set the surreal and sometimes ominous tone. Naked people with their bodies wrapped like mummies in Saran Wrap lay near trees on the ground. Men and women enclosed in Plexiglass containers sat naked and silent on a thick bed of sea sand within. A giant insect, half human performer and half sculpture, moved threateningly in black dirt pit. All the while a cacophony of sounds from the different performances hung in the air and merged into a soundscape that continued to reverberate with staccato, drumming and animal sounds.

Hamptons Charity Circuit Yoga Dancers
Photograph by Laura Brichta

As I walked along the path, I saw inspiring and amusing sights as well. Dancers scattered in the woods performed graceful yoga positions. A series of trompe l’oeil people held up canvases with only their pant legs were evident. Two men in camouflage in a makeshift military camp created electronic music (I later found out they were known Belgian musicians). A large Plexiglass case held a couple in a full-size bed making flirting pre-coital conversation.

Bars were scattered throughout the grounds and in the main auction tent which held hundreds of art works. Gin & Tonics and Vodka & Tonics–made with Ketel One and Tanqueray No. TEN supplied by Diageo–and Fever Tree tonics seemed to be the choice of the party. Mouton Rothschild sponsored the Mouton Cadet brand of red and white wines. (To the shock of several guests, no rosé was served.) Water was in heavy demand with a choice of Acqua Panna Natural Spring Water, S. Pellegrino Natural Mineral Water and Perrier Sparkling Natural Mineral Water.

The event honored philanthropist Katharine Rayner and renowned contemporary artist, Carrie Mae Weems. Among the notable attendees were Isabella Rosselini, Simon de Pury, (who conducted the auction), Hilary Geary Ross and Wilbur Ross, Luann de Lesseps, Nicole Miller, Peter Marino and, of course, Robert Wilson.

Hamptons Charity Circuit Roof Dancers
Photograph by Maria Baranova

The performances were innovative befitting the legendary theater director Robert Wilson, who founded Watermill in 1992 as a hotbed of creativity in the arts bringing together art, performance, theatre and design. With a $1500 admission for the contributor’s tickets for the entire evening including dinner and $650 for the two hours cocktail, the benefit raised 1.7 million for funding the year-round artist residency and education programs.

Hamptons-Charity Circuit Long house
Photograph by Patrick McMullan / PMC

Path with rose peddles Longhouse Reserve, the 16-acre garden strewn with sculptures in East Hampton, holds another must-attend annual benefit of the Hamptons season. The setting couldn’t be more stunning with acres of gardens, a large lily pond, manicured tall trees and a great lawn where the cocktail party unfolds. Here too the cocktail portion of the evening is lively with performances and decorations according to the party’s theme.

This year’s theme was La Vie en Rose and that meant the property was strewn with roses. Entering the splendid garden, I walked the long path passing sculptures gardens to the museum. The path was flanked with pink and red rose petals, 100’s of them carpeted the way. Then entering the main garden, I saw another display of floating roses this time in the long architectural pond.

Artist Julian Schnabel was the honoree—along with Donna Karan. Two of Schnabel’s monumental sculptures were installed in the Longhouse, one in the garden and one on the big lawn. I spoke with Schnabel, commenting on his recent film Eternity’s Gate, the story of Vincent Van Gogh played by Willem Dafoe, and asked him about his sculpture.

Long house reserve Hamptons
Photograph by Patrick McMullan / PMC

Hovering near us was a 20-foot totem, which was made of plaster over burlap. I asked him to speak about the oversized presence. “You’re the journalist, it’s up to you to figure it out,” he responded. It was entitled Gradiva from the German novella by Wilhelm Jensen. In his statement for the catalogue he explained that she was “a modern 20th century mythological figure, the woman who walks. Sprung out of the imagination of a fictional character, she may be considered unreal twice over”.

The event features a silent auction with 94 lots included works by Basquiat, Dale Chihuly, Horst P. Horst, Andy Warhol, Ai Weiwei and Robert Wilson. Longhouse founder and Artistic Director, Jack Lenor Larsen, also had furniture pieces in the auction. Three hundred guests–out of the 500 who came for the cocktail portion–stayed on for dinner, which was served in a tent with festive chandeliers and where Laurie Anderson performed. The evening raised $800,000.

Hamptons-Charity Circuit-Long-House-Reserve
Photograph by Richard Lewin

On a sunny afternoon in East Hampton, the fancy garden hats were out in force for the Museum of Arts and Design party on the great lawn of the home of Michele Cohen, Chair of the Board of Directors of MAD and her husband, Martin Cohen, Chairman of Guild Hall. And so too were the art people from Longhouse Reserve with Jack Lenor Larsen making an appearance, as well as board members of Longhouse, whom I had seen the previous weekend for their gala fundraiser. People sipped Veuve Clicquot and Whispering Angel rosé and enjoyed passed hors d’oeuvres.

Chris Scoates, the recently appointed museum director, gave a sense of the three-year plans for MAD’s exhibitions. In September they’ll be opening The World of Anna Sui, the pop culture fashion designer who was an icon of her namesake rock & roll romantic label starting in the early 90’s. Scoates is excited about glass art so we should be seeing more of those works. MAD has just concluded a well-attended exhibition, Too Fast to Live Too Young to Die, featuring punk graphics.

Photograph by Matthew Ramey

Entering Guild Hall’s exhibition opening its Summer Gala, guests were met with a room full of golden circle sculptures in different sizes suspended from the ceiling, an animated scene which tempted one to jump through the hoops. Swiss-born artist Ugo Rondinone, whose projects around the world have a connection to the sun—his painting are referred to as Suns—presented Sun Sculptures, vine branches bent into large circles, cast in bronze and gilded. In an exhibition entitled Sunny Days, the ten circles were given a temporal designation: the sun at 2:15, at 7:30, at 11:30 and so on.

The evening honored longtime Trustee and Museum Committee Chair, Michael Lynne, in memoriam. Lynne—who owned Bedell Cellars winery in Cutchogue on the North Fork and who was the Co-CEO of New Line Cinema and made The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Austin Powers, Sex and the City, Nightmare on Elm Street as well as many others—passed away in March. At the exhibition viewing and at the cocktail party following, Bedell Cellars white and rosé was served. The Suffolk Symphonic Choir of the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra lead the crowd into the dinner at Mulford Farm.

Dan's Taste of Summer

Once again this year Dan’s Hamptons Media linked up with Out East Real Estate Marketplace to orchestrate some of the summers most exciting culinary events with top chefs from the Hamptons, North Fork and New York. The dizzying line-up started in June through the first week of August included Dan’s Rosé Soirée, Dan’s Chefs of the North Fork, Dan’s GrillHampton, Dan’s Taste of Two Forks, and Dan’s Corona MonTaco.

For this wine writer the highlight was Dan’s Rosé Soirée, held at the Southampton Arts Center under a large tent, with its over 30 rosés to sample, both local and world rosés. Provence rosés were heavily represented with Chateau D’Esclans as one of the platinum sponsors and Chateau de Berne brought its new pale pink Inspiration. D’Esclans was serving its next generation of Whispering Angel (which swept the Hamptons in the last half dozen years) called The Palm by Whispering Angel. Blending Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah, The Palm sports a pale pink color, has expressive aromatics, is fruity and crisp. I was delighted to discover several rosés which were new to me. One was a sparkling wine, a Crémant de Loire called Volage Brut Rosé Savage, made by renowned winemaker Patrick Léon out of Cabernet Franc, the grape of the Loire. It’s refreshing and lovely with low dosage, only three grams of sugar. A South African wine from the Western Cape, Boschendal The Rose Garden Rosé, a blend of Merlot, Shiraz and Pinotage, displayed cherry, strawberry and watermelon notes and a slight saline finish. Alié Frescobaldi was another outstanding rosé from the renown Frescobaldi family of Tuscany. With tropical and floral aromas and flavors of peach, berries and grapefruit, Alié is a lovely blend of red and white grapes, Syrah and Vermentino.

Chefs of the Hamptons

Of course, the Hamptons and North Fork were well represented with the best rosés from Macari Vineyards, Clovis Point, Jamesport Vineyards, and Wölffer Estate. Wölffer brought along its new rosé from Argentina: Finca Wölffer Rosé Mendoza, which is a fuller bodied rosé that’s very fragrant made from Malbec and Torrontés. But one brand, Hampton Water, which should be from the Hamptons, is instead from the South of France. Hampton Water is Bon Jovi’s brand in partnership with his son Jesse Bongiovi. Made by a talented biodynamic winemaker Gérard Betrand, the rosé, a blend of Mediterranean grapes—Grenache, Cinsault and Mouvedre—is beautifully balanced with a refreshing acidity.

All this rosé under one tent was a summer kick-off pleasure and there were also tasty appetizers from Kingfish Oyster Bar, Jing Fong, Calissa and Union Cantina. A month later I had several more wine discoveries and a lot more food at Dan’s GrillHampton held at Fairview Farm at Mecox at its traditional home on Horsemill Lane in Bridgehampton under an enormous tent.

1980s band hamptons summer

Dan’s GrillHampton is a meat-fest, a true meat lover’s delight. And it comes with all the bells and whistles like a celebrity host, David Burtka, who has a celebrated cookbook and Food Network special “Life’s a Party with David Burtka” (and incidentally is the husband of Neil Patrick Harris); and live music with an amazing band, the Back to the Eighties Show with Jessie’s Girl. Teams of restaurants from the Hamptons/North Fork vs. New York competed and were judged. Great food from Smokin’ Wolf BBQ, Speedy Romeo, Shake Shack, Pig Beach, Gurney’s Montauk Resort, Hill Country Barbecue and so many more. And wine and cocktails made with Woodford Reserve, Tito’s and Zacapa Rum were plentiful.

Hayground Hamptons Summer

Master French chef Éric Ripert was featured at the annual benefit for Hayground School, along with ten other chefs among them Christian Mir of Stone Creek Inn, Jason Weiner of Almond and Colin Ambrose of Estia's. The cocktail hour preceding the dinner (this year’s menu: mini braised port tostadas, grilled octopus and cherry meringue pie) is always a spirited affair held under a small white tent. Guests washed down freshly shucked oysters from Fishers Island Oyster Farm with Chateau D’Esclans Whispering Angel.

FORK IT Alzheimer’s

FORK IT Alzheimer’s

The inaugural Fork It Alzheimer’s event brought together 200 guests to the Bridgehampton farm of Daryl and Irwin Simon to benefit the Alzheimer's Association. The Simons have had their families affected by the disease and hosted this event to raise funds for advanced research.

Two decorated white tents were set up on the huge farm property, one for the cocktail hour and one for the dinner. At the cocktail hour guests sipped Marchesi Fumanelli Terso Bianco and Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2016 and had a chance to speak with researchers in from Chicago headquarters to hear about the most recent happenings.

Rebecca Edelmayer, Director of Scientific Engagement for the Alzheimer’s Association, told me about the wealth of research happening right now. “We’ve seen research flourish because of an increase in funding from both government and philanthropic sources,” she said. The budget for the National Institute of Health is now to $2.4 billion a year which goes to researchers around the country to study Alzheimer’s and dementia science.

FORK IT Alzheimer’s

“We’re also conducting a landmark clinical trial in the United States called the U.S. POINTER study, which will investigate the how lifestyle intervention can play a role,” Edelmayer went on. “Incorporating healthy lifestyle habits may actually decrease your risk for developing cognitive decline. We’re looking at a multi-domain lifestyle intervention including better nutrition management and a focus on cardiovascular health factors, exercise and social and cognitive stimulation.”

Guests sat down at long tables and feasted on a farm-to-table dinner with fresh vegetables and produce from local farms. After dinner, Harry Johns, CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association, gave an upbeat speech on great strides being made and invited the group to attend the Manhattan gala on October 22nd at the Rainbow Room. Guests danced to a DJ with instrument accompaniment until late in the evening.


Summer fundraisers in the Manhattan can be equally exciting (and culturally enriching) especially when Maestro Iván Fischer comes to town bringing his Budapest Festival Orchestra to Lincoln Center (as part of the Mostly Mozart Festival). The Budapest orchestra is rated among the top ten in the world.

The sold-out audience gave back raves of appreciation with standing ovations. The beautiful soprano Jeanine De Bique, dressed in a bright red gown, stunned the crowd with her performance singing to Handel’s oratorios. Disserratevi, o porte d'Averno, De Bique did a breathtaking soprano coloratura. In the surprise encore, the women of his orchestra sang a rarely performed work by Dvořák.

Following the concert, the Friends of the Budapest Festival Orchestra were treated to a Champagne reception at Lincoln Restaurant. H.E. Shaikha Paula Al-Sabah of Kuwait, Susan Gutfreund, Mary McFadden and Sylvia Hemingway were among the guests. In another surprise Fischer took out a trumpet and suddenly Wynton Marsalis performed a short number while Fischer sang along in a duet. Fischer asked that his supporters consider coming to the Vicenza Opera Festival in Italy premiering a new L'Orfeo at the beautiful Teatro Olimpico. Well, it’s an idea to consider.

Greenwich Polo Club

Polo Players In a little break from the Hamptons one weekend, I went North to Greenwich, attending the debut of a new tournament called The American Cup in which American polo players compete on six teams, including the team of Altaris with American polo star Nic Roldan. Rodan is the leading American polo player with an 8-goal handicap rating and the youngest player to win the U.S. Open Polo title at age 15.

CTC&G is active at Greenwich Polo this year at the CTC&G Players’ Lounge at Greenwich Polo Club and the Grand Opening of The CTC&G Polo Pub by Apex Projects with Studio Bartolotta, serving Fernet-Branca cocktails. The Branca Bar, located under the grandstand, was designed by award-winning architect Studio Bartolotta and luxury builder Apex Projects. All onsite bars at Greenwich Polo Club (including Branca Bar) are run by world-class cocktail caterer The Cup Bearer.

Greenwich Polo Fernet BrancaWhy a polo pub serving Fernet-Branca? I soon found out that the Italian amaro, Fernet-Branca, happens to be the drink of choice of polo players worldwide. Argentina, from where so many of the top polo players hail, is Fernet-Branca’s largest market consuming basically 30% of its exports. The winners for each polo match are given a bottle of Fernet-Branca. Tomas Garcia del Rio, an Argentinean player with an 8-goal handicap and who has played at Greenwich Polo, drank Fernet and Cola from his trophy last year (pictured above). During The American Cup season six of the top teams in high-goal polo competed: White Birch, Postage Stamp Farm, Faraway Polo, The Island House, Reelay and Altaris. If exciting horsemanship is your thing, there is still time to catch the final matches on August 25, Sept. 1 and Sept. 8.


Garden Party

One of the Hamptons season’s final charity events—The Lang Lang International Music Foundation to educate children throughout the world– took place in the spectacular garden of Chris Burch’s Southampton manse. Guests sipped Dom Perignon Champagne and walked through the grounds in full bloom with hydrangeas and weeping birch trees. The “Young Scholars”—Maxim Lando, Chelsea Guo and Clayton Stephenson— aged 14—16, performed breathtaking piano numbers to a seated audience of 150 guests. In an impromptu finale Chris Burch (yes, ex-husband of Tory) took the stage as the teenage musicians played Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" and Burch led the audience in a singalong.