It’s official: No more Blues Festival

03/15/2011 8:20 PM |

There will be no Riverhead Blues Festival this year.

At least not the weekend summer event that has been held in the Peconic River parking lot for the past 12 years.

Vail-Leavitt Music Hall, which has run the event as a fundraiser for the music hall since 2006, announced this week that it will not hold an outdoor Blues Festival and will instead hold a series of in-house fundraising events .

Vail-Leavitt president Robert Barta announced the move in a press release that is running in its entirety as an “Equal Time” piece in this week’s News-Review.

In it, he blames what he perceives as the festival’s detractors for its demise.

The decision comes a year after the Chamber of Commerce and Business Improvement District made a move, backed by Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter, to take over control of the festival. At one time last year, both the Chamber and Vail-Leavitt had submitted competing applications to run the same festival at the same time in the same location. Vail-Leavitt eventually retained control of the event.

But this year, Mr. Barta said Vail-Leavitt would explore the possibility of moving the festival to another location in order to avoid a repeat of last year. Mattituck’s Strawberry Fields and the Suffolk Community College campus in Northampton were among the sites considered, but in the end, they ruled out holding the event.

BID board member Tony Coates said the board had adopted a resolution earlier this year stating that the BID would not seek to file a competing application to run the Blues Festival.

And Chamber of Commerce president Janine Nebons told the News-Review in January that the chamber also had no interest in running the Blues Festival this year.

“There was no competing application this year,” Mr. Coates said. “They had a completely fair playing field and they chose to discontinue the fair.”

He also charged that the Vail-Leavitt group had opposed the town’s efforts to make it submit financial reports on the festival.

“It seems a little irrational to kill a long-standing, treasured downtown event because [Mr. Barta] is so thin-skinned that he didn’t like the fact that we questioned his financial reporting,” Mr. Coates said.

He added that he believes the Blues Festival was “running out of gas” and had declining attendance and revenues.

Mr. Barta addressed the finance issue in his release, saying the 2010 festival had a net profit of $6,771.

“Our board’s primary concern is the continuing mission of the Music Hall to the community, and attempting to run the festival at the parking lot site this year posed unnecessary risk in such an environment of politically motivated hostility,” he wrote.

Mr. Coates said the BID “will be hanging our hats” on a proposed Mardi Gras-themed event this summer, instead of the Blues Festival

tgannon@timesreview.com

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