Articles by

Jennett Meriden Russell

12/13/10 11:44am

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The main living room of the Goodale's home with an 'Angel' Christmas tree overlooking Reeves Bay in Flanders.

Dhonna Goodale typically starts putting up the Christmas displays at her Flanders home at the end of September. Even with a small army of five to six people to help she’s not usually finished decorating until the end of November.

And that’s for a reason.

Elaborate displays around the home include no less than five life-size Santas, a giant winking moose, enough poinsettia plants to fill a greenhouse, an immense wreath and angels, angels and more angels.

“I love angels,” Ms. Goodale beamed during a recent tour of her home. “They make me happy.”

While it takes two months to put up all her Christmas displays, it takes Ms. Goodale even longer to take them down. She tends to leave her holiday exhibits up until the middle of March and doesn’t hold her Christmas party until late January.

“I do it that way because I don’t want to compete with all those other parties,” she said proudly. “I work too hard on these displays and I want people to come and take it all in.”

Among those wondrous and elaborate bits of eye candy – there’s also lots of real candy – are no less than four themed Christmas trees, which include a money tree and a boys’ tree dedicated to her two sons, Jesse, 12, and Jared, 10.

The boys’ tree is bedazzled with tiny elves, huge Hershey candy bars, oversized caramel corn, bubble gum, a rocking horse and a sleigh. Ms. Goodale also has an admittedly self-indulgent girl’s tree, which features Barbie dolls, clothes, candy and credit cards.
“What more does a girl need?” Ms. Goodale chuckled, noting that she had never had a Barbie doll until she married her husband, Bobby. “My mother would always buy me cheap Barbie knockoffs,” she added, “so when I got married, the first thing I did was buy myself a real Barbie.”

But the grandest and most touching of Ms. Goodale’s trees, which sits in a stately upper floor living room overlooking Reeve’s Bay, is her “angel tree.” Standing roughly eight feet tall, the tree is a tight, intricate, Victorian puzzle of ornate angel dolls and dazzling poinsettia leaves.

It takes Ms. Goodale roughly a month to construct the elaborate tree, which features photos of her recently deceased mother-in-law, Mary Goodale, 92, and her late dog Spot, being held by separate angels. Despite her heartache, Ms. Goodale forged on with her yearly tradition of decking her halls.

“Decorating makes me feel good,” she said. “After my mother-in-law passed away – a woman who treated me like she’d given birth to me – I just threw myself into it.”

Ms. Goodale has been assembling her quirky Christmas collection of ornaments and displays since she married Mr. Goodale 16 years ago.

Mr. Goodale lovingly shakes his head when he looks at all the displays covering his massive home, which had been a small cottage when he lived in it as a bachelor years ago. Lightly admitting that he would never have expanded his home nor ever decorated it if he hadn’t gotten married, Mr. Goodale smiles when he looks at what has become his wife’s dream home.

“It’s her house, she just allows me to live here as long as I pay the bills,” Mr. Goodale chuckled. “But I love it. She’s made the house into a very special place, especially at this time of year.”

Mr. Goodale adds that he is somewhat confused as to why his spouse would go to all the trouble of putting up so many decorations each year at their isolated home.

“Who the heck is going to see it?” Mr. Goodale shrugs with a smile.

“I am!” Ms. Goodale responds boldly. “I like looking at it. It makes me happy.”

The two-story home is a giant labyrinth of rooms, each with its own theme and personality. An avid shopper, Ms. Goodale said she has furnished most the house mostly with items found at Home Goods/T.J. Maxx.

But she admits she’s not above doing some occasional dumpster diving to rescue a unique item, which the registered mortician and make-up artist lovingly restores.

“I’m a dumpster diva,” she laughed heartily.

The house also features a modest movie theater, complete with cushy theater style seats, a stately library, various living rooms, most with well-stocked bars, a recreation room, which features a 1950s style juke box, slot machines, an arcade style pac-man game, a pool table, a bar, a Cadillac love seat, complete with taillights that light up, and dozens of security cameras to keep an eye on it all.

“When we have our parties, roughly a thousand of our closest friends, things have gotten stolen,” Ms. Goodale said, noting that those parties, which often include close friends such as divas Patty LaBelle and Roberta Flack, also have undercover detectives as guests.

The Goodales host their yearly by-invitation-only Christmas party as a way of saying thank-you to people who help out with their yearly scholarship drive in honor of her sister, Tara, who was murdered seven years ago at the age of 25 by her jealous husband.

The fundraiser consists of a massive summer party in their backyard, which offers a full basketball court, a small golf course, a giant chess game and live music from some of the entertainment world’s hottest performers.

“This whole holiday season is all about the birth of Jesus,” Ms. Goodale said. “It’s not about fitting Jesus or God conveniently into your life. We only use God when we need him, but for me it’s a way of life.”

12/06/10 3:46pm

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Eric Thompson of South Fork Supply on Speonk-Old Riverhead Road points a newly installed chimney

With the housing market rocked off its foundation, many East Enders are fixing up rather than upgrading to a new house. And as the wisest of the three little pigs might say, there’s nothing like brick or stone to give a home concrete appeal.

Local masons Chris Mohr of Mohr’s Landscaping and Masonry in Cutchogue and Eric Thompson of E W’s Southfork Mason Supply of Speonk, say brick and stone are durable materials that never need to be painted, never rot and provide excellent insulation.

“There’s nothing like weathered brick or stone to give a home or business a unique look,” Mr. Mohr said. “I did it at my shop. We veneered it with stones and Long Island quarry rock and it makes the foundation look like it’s an old stone foundation.”
Bricks and stone come in many sizes, textures, and colors and can be laid in a variety of patterns. Adding stone or brick to a typical two-story house takes four to five days for each wall, said Mr. Thompson.

It can cost as much as $55 a square foot for solid brick. Stone can reach $55 a square foot. Brick or stone veneers are both less expensive and lighter weight alternatives.

“It costs roughly $18 to $20 a square foot for split brick veneers,” Mr. Thompson said. “Stone veneers run between $20 and $25 a square foot and they’re only about six to 10 pounds a square foot. There are just some places, like an existing chimney, that can’t handle the weight of full stones.”

Brick and stone sidings are usually applied to a wood-framed wall over building paper, according to Mr. Thompson. They’re held in place with mortar, a mixture of cement, sand, lime, and water.

Mr. Thompson said that the mortar that holds the bricks or stones together can be finished, or tooled, in a number of ways, including concave, flush with the bricks, extruded between the bricks, raked, or V-joined.

“There are different applications,” he said. “We custom make all kinds of things.”

While bricks and mortar are solid, durable materials, they are also porous. Masons generally recommend that homeowners consider regularly applying a clear water-repellent coating to preserve the brick, especially to prepare for spells of freezing and thawing during the winter.

New manufactured faux bricks and stones do not need as much maintenance as their real counterparts, manufacturers claim. A simple hosing down every year usually takes care of keeping the faux stones clean.

Faux bricks and stones are also lighter in weight than even split stone or bricks. The faux rocks are typically a mixture of cement, natural aggregates and iron oxide pigments poured into molds made from real stones.

The result is a durable and fireproof material that looks realistic and can be fashioned into colors and patterns that don’t exist in nature, according to Mr. Mohr. Veneers come in a broad palette of colors and styles, in individual units or in panels from 1/2 inch to four inches thick. Like solid brick, they’re applied over wood framing, Mr. Mohr explained, but a gluey compound and wire mesh are used to fix them in place rather than cement.

Like solid brick and stone, faux brick and stone can last the life of a home, Mr. Mohr added.

“There are so many composite products out on the market, but some of the faux rocks can get expensive,” he said, adding that faux brick or stone sidings can range from $25 to $55 a square foot, depending on the product.

“Personally, I like working with the real rock,” Mr. Mohr added. “I think at the end of the day, real stone looks nicer, but that’s just my opinion.”

Both real and faux bricks and stone need to be fastened to walls with specialized ties and clips, said Mr. Thompson. Solid, dependable mortar and properly tooled joints are key to keeping a house weather tight and safe, he said.

“You see these walls that fall down in Manhattan,” Mr. Thompson said. “It’s because the ties that hold them up have given way. So if you’re doing a masonry building, say you have a cinder block wall and then you’re going to do a stone or a brick veneer in front of it, it’s good to put those same wall ties into the joints of the block wall first and then you can incorporate them into the joints of the facing over it.”

Mr. Thompson and Mr. Mohr both said that stone and brick offer many esthetic possibilities for home and business owners alike.

Mr. Mohr said that he specializes in making steps and walkways out of bluestone and Pennsylvania wallstone for a compelling entryway. Mr. Thompson’s projects include giving an average home a regal look with granite walls, a slate roof and stone columns.

But homeowners don’t have to go to extremes to improve the look of their properties, Mr. Mohr added. Simply adding stone or brick to the foundation of a house could sharply improve it’s look without knocking a homeowner’s bank account off its footing.
Both masons agree that when it comes to improving the look and value of a house, there’s not a more rock-solid choice than brick or stone.

“We custom make all kinds of things out of stone,” Mr. Thompson said. “We can do custom engraving, kitchen countertop work, stone columns, there are all kinds of different things. It’s crazy! It just depends on what you want.”

12/06/10 9:07am

JENNETT MERIDEN RUSSELL | Santa Claus makes his way down Main Street during the Riverhead Lions Club annual Christmas parade

Hundreds of people braved bitter cold temperatures Sunday to see Santa and the Riverhead Lions Club annual Christmas Parade trundle down Main Street in Riverhead.

Lasting about a half-hour,  the parade featured a showing of fire departments, ambulance companies, clubs, classic cars, farmers, dignitaries, kids and even a pirate or two from Riverhead and surrounding areas. The parade was followed by a kids meet and greet with Santa on the Riverhead Town show mobile in the parking lot next to the Peconic River.

During post parade ceremonies, Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter presented Santa with a key to the town.

“This is a very special day and a very special time of the year,” Mr. Walter said. “And Santa Claus, for those of us who don’t have chimneys, we present the key to the Town of Riverhead to you, so you can get in and give all the good boys and girls, moms and dads, presents.”

Riverhead Lions Club President Robert Kozakiewicz said he was pleased by the turnout and recalled that as a child, he had regularly attended the parade and waited in line to see Santa Claus after the march.

“There was a nice showing, we had a lot of participants in the parade,” said Mr. Kozakiewicz, who has been Lions Club president for more than a decade. “We’ve been doing this event since we were chartered, about 50 – 60 years, and I know from my days as a young man, I remember coming down here and standing on that line, waiting for Santa. The Lions were kind enough to send me to camp one year, so, I’ve known the Lions for quite a while and the juxtaposition to president is great. It was a wonderful transition.”

Among those to meet Santa was 6-year-old Jayme Seal. While most kids greeted Santa and quickly moved on to getting candy in a large box next to the jolly old elf, the little Riverhead resident spent several minutes hugging and chatting with the king of Christmas to make sure that her holiday present wishes were filed properly.

“I asked Santa for a video doll,” Jayme said, with no explanation of just exactly what a “video doll” was. Even so, she felt certain that the man in red still got the order right. “And, Santa said I could get anything.”

Participating in the parade was Aysha Ozyilmaz. The 16-year-old Riverhead resident is a member of the Riverhead Key Club Maritime Pirates.

Dressed in full pirate garb, Aysha noted that the Key Club would be hosting a Pirates Christmas Show, starring the Maritime Pirates, on Thursday, December 16, at Pulaski Street Elementary School at 6:30 p.m.; show time is 7:30 p.m.

Aysha said being a Maritime Pirate and participating in the parade was a matter of community involvement, which she said warmed her heart — despite the freezing cold temperatures.

“It was cold! Very cold, but seeing the kid’s smiles really made my day,” Aysha said. “It’s all about community spirit and making the kids smile.”

12/01/10 10:07am

JENNETT MERIDEN RUSSELL PHOTO | A federally funded program that provides free fuel oil and other heating help to low-income households throughout New York is in a heap of trouble. Known as the New York State Home Energy Assistance Program, or HEAP, the program is being chilled by a lack of federal funding.

A federally funded program that provides free fuel oil and other heating help to low-income households throughout New York is in a heap of trouble. Known as the New York State Home Energy Assistance Program, or HEAP, the program is being chilled by a lack of federal funding.

Last season, the state received $549 million in federal funding for HEAP. This year, that’s down by more than half ­— 62 percent, in fact — to $207 million, according to Gregory Blass, commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Social Services.

The number, which Mr. Blass said is 75 percent of what the federal government promised New York in HEAP aid this heating season, should go up a bit. He said he expected that the state will see another $70 million through the heating season, as well as an additional $59 million in contingency funds from the feds, bringing the total to $336 million in HEAP aid for the 2010-11 winter. But that’s still 38 percent less than last season.

Those cold-hard numbers are especially bad news considering the number of those in need of HEAP aid is rising even as funding shrinks, Mr. Blass said.

Roughly 44,000 Suffolk County residents applied for HEAP last season. Mr. Blass said it was impossible to calculate a total for this year because there are more people who would not normally look for help and applications are rapidly on the rise.

“It’s just spiraling out of control,” Mr. Blass said. “People who think the recession is over should look at the lines in our offices.”

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. “This is the same difficulty we’re having with not enough shelters for people who are homeless. It’s the same frustration at not having sufficient supplies in our food pantries. We’re just having a very serious strain on limited resources.”

The current season’s HEAP aid will likely last only until February and that’s only if the state receives all the money from the feds for HEAP, according to Mr. Blass.

Locally, there is a glimmer of warmth amid the chilling news about HEAP. Linda Ortiz, director of Community Action of Southold Town, which helps hundreds of low-income people in crisis each year, said several North Fork oil delivery companies are helping local residents facing hard times.

Burt’s Reliable and Falkowski-Smith Plumbing, Heating and Fuels, both in Southold, as well as Hands Fuel Company in Orient have donated fuel oil and services, according to Ms. Ortiz.

John Romanelli, president of Burt’s Reliable, said it’s all about being a good neighbor.

“It’s a small community and in years past I’ve had local customers of mine donate money and oil to CAST to help pay for deliveries in the wintertime,” Mr. Romanelli said. “How much we donate varies from year to year. One year we had a very generous customer donate a thousand gallons and we matched him along the way — for every 100 gallons he put in, we put in 100 gallons. It’s just what this community does.”

HEAP was created in 1981 after the federal government consolidated a number of temporary energy assistance programs that were set up because of an oil embargo at the time by OPEC, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. The embargo led to fuel shortages and spiking prices.

Now, under the Low Income Energy Assistance Program, the federal government annually allocates funds on a state-by-state basis to assist eligible households. To qualify for HEAP, applicants must have an income below a specified maximum.

For example, a single individual cannot make more than $2,129 a month to qualify. A household of four cannot make more than $4,049 a month, while a family of 10 must make less than $5,896.

The program usually makes payments directly to the client’s utility company. Because the HEAP program provides support on a first-come, first-served basis, it’s important to apply as early as possible, because some states provide no further support once federal funding has run out, noted Suffolk County Legislator Edward Romaine.

“Here’s the problem with HEAP,” Mr. Romaine said. “Lots of people qualify, but there’s a limited amount money, so the fact that you qualify doesn’t mean you’re going to get it.”

People looking to receive HEAP benefits must apply for the program each year. To apply for a benefit, residents must go in person to the county Department of Social Services office in Riverhead.

Those who receive food stamps, temporary assistance or supplemental security income are also eligible for HEAP aid. People living in government subsidized housing or a group home setting with heat included in their rent are also eligible.
HEAP benefits are broken down into two categories: regular and emergency. Under the HEAP regular benefit, low-income New Yorkers are assisted with the cost of heating their homes. HEAP emergency benefits help out low-income New Yorkers who are facing a heat or heat-related energy emergency, such as a broken oil or gas burner or severely low home fuel reserves.

Regular HEAP benefits are based on income, the primary heating source and the presence of a household member under age 6, age 60 or older or permanently disabled.

Emergency HEAP benefits are based on income, available resources, the number of household members and the primary fuel type. In order to qualify for emergency HEAP, an applicant’s electric or gas heat has to have been shut off or be scheduled for shut off by a provider.

Both HEAP programs became effective for the winter of 2010-11 on Nov. 1, and thousands of Suffolk County residents have already signed up for the program, according to Mr. Romaine.

Those who have broken heating equipment, are out of fuel or are in danger of running out of fuel also qualify for emergency HEAP aid. Approved applicants can receive up to $600, depending on the nature of the emergency.
HEAP Heating Equipment Repair and Replacement funds are available to help eligible low-income homeowners repair or replace furnaces, boilers and other heating components necessary to keep the home’s primary heating source functional.

Benefit amounts up to $6,000 are based on the actual cost incurred to replace or repair furnaces, boilers and/or other essential heating equipment necessary to keep the primary heating source in the applicant’s home operational.
Among those who have benefited from HEAP aid is Katria Nieves, who ironically makes a living helping people facing tough times. The 25-year-old social worker is an office manager with CAST.

The Mattituck resident, who makes $12.50 an hour, qualified for HEAP aid last year. Ms. Nieves still has a $500 credit from last winter that she can apply this season, so she said she won’t be applying for more HEAP aid. That will give someone else a chance to receive a HEAP of helping, she said.

“I’ve been on my own for a couple of years,” said Ms. Nieves. “To be able to have the HEAP program at my hands is really a great, great, great help.”

To learn more about HEAP, call 853-8820 or the HEAP emergency services hotline at 854-9100 or 866-494-6873. Those who are over age 60 or disabled should contact the Suffolk County Office for the Aging at 853-8326. Applicants can also complete a HEAP pre-screening online at

11/22/10 9:13pm

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Once a month, Calverton National Cemetery holds a No One in Attendance or NOA ceremony for service members whose funerals were not attended by either friends or relatives. The ceremonies are held at 10 a.m. on the second Wednesday of each month at the cemetery.

Bob Elrose signed up to serve in the Vietnam War for one reason.

“I’m an American,” the 63-year-old Riverhead resident said, plainly.

It is that same patriotic spirit that has made the former Marine sergeant join a special group of veterans who regularly attend funerals of fellow soldiers buried at Calverton National Cemetery.

Once a month, the cemetery holds a No One in Attendance or NOA ceremony for service members whose funerals were not attended by either friends or relatives. The ceremonies are held at 10 a.m. on the second Wednesday of each month at the cemetery.

“Unlike the reception we [Vietnam veterans] got when we came home, I feel that someone should go to these funerals,” said Mr. Elrose, who is a member of the Vietnam Veterans, Chapter 11 and the Patriot Guard Riders, a motorcycle organization made up mostly of Vietnam veterans that regularly attends ceremonies for U.S. soldiers of any age. “Some of these veterans just outlive their family and friends and there is no one there for them and now there is; we’re now their family, and the group seems to be growing as word gets out.”

Calverton Administrative Supervisor Nanette Furio said the cemetery handles roughly 6,000 – 6,500 burials a year. The overall number of veterans being buried at Calverton has caused the cemetery to increase their land space to accommodate all the burials of soldiers with or without those living to remember them.

The cemetery conducts about 20 NOA services each month, according to Ms. Furio. NOA ceremonies are held in Calverton’s committal area, where funeral services are held for all soldiers of any rank and branch of service.

Roughly 50 people turn out each month for NOA ceremonies, Ms. Furio said. The services consist of a eulogy, the reading of the decedent’s names, ranks and branch of service, guest speakers and the playing of TAPS by a lone bugler.

Each branch of service takes turns attending NOA ceremonies. Members of the Vietnam Patriot Guard and Patriot Guard Riders are also in regular attendance at the ceremonies, which are open to the public.

The idea for the NOA ceremonies came five years ago, when Calverton employees began to notice that some veterans were being buried without a service or even anyone to show up for the burials.

“We began to realize that so many veterans were not receiving military honors at their committal service,” Ms. Furio explained. “That first month in 2005 we had 14 veterans to honor and we’ve had as many as 40 a month. We just want to make sure that every veteran is remembered and that no one is forgotten and we’re really hoping to get the word out there so that more people attend so that each one of them will be given the proper military honors and respect they deserve for serving our country.”

Louis DiLeo is the official bugler for the NOA services. The Seaford resident is Chief Bugler for the New York State Military Officers Honor Guard.

While he feels deeply privileged to play TAPS at the NOA ceremonies, Mr. DiLeo can’t help but feel sad, he said, that the veterans being honored are without close friends and loved ones to share in their remembrance.

“The fact that they did put on the uniform, the fact that they did serve their country, and to go out there and honor these soldiers, sailors, airmen, whoever they are, is a great privilege,” Mr. DiLeo said. “It’s sad that no one they know is there. We don’t know why, nor necessarily do we want to know it, but it is a sad thing, whether they’re indigent or just estranged from their families, whatever the reason, the flag is on their coffin and they deserve that respect from all of us.”

11/22/10 8:35pm

COURTESY PHOTO | Riverhead's own Teddy Charles was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame this weekend.

Riverhead’s own Teddy Charles, a jazz vibraphonist, has joined the ranks of Tony Bennett, Simon & Garfunkel, Billy Joel, Louis Armstrong and a register of other notable talents to be recognized in the Long Island Music Hall of Fame.

The 82-year-old musician, who is captain of the Skipjack Pilgrim out of Greenport, still regularly plays gigs around the region. He was among nearly 20 performers to be honored last Tuesday during the Third Annual Long Island Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony, which was held at Oheka Castle in Huntington.

Roughly 300 people turned out for the star-studded event, which saw the likes of rock icon Joan Jett, a 2006 Long Island Music Hall of Fame inductee, Felix Cavaliere of The Rascals and Lee Rocker of the Stray Cats, and Eddie Money in the audience.
Mr. Charles said he was shocked and delighted by his hall of fame induction. He was also pleased that money raised from the event would go to scholarships for young Long Island musicians.

“Needless to say, it’s a great honor,” Mr. Charles said. “I didn’t even know anybody knew that I existed out here. I’ve played a couple of blues festivals and did a couple of great jazz concerts at the Vail Leavitt Music Hall, but never got much press.”
Born Theodore Charles Cohen in Chicopee Falls, Mass., Mr. Charles said he began playing jazz at the age of 14, noting that he’d been inspired by jazz legend and vibraphonist Lionel Hampton.

Having studied at the Juilliard School of Music as a percussionist, he went on to make work as a professional vibraphonist, writing, arranging and producing records. He noted that during World War II, most skilled musicians had found themselves drafted and serving in the military, leaving a large gap for younger musicians to slip into.

“So, they’d hire young guys like us, who weren’t really very good,” Mr. Charles said, noting that he played for servicemen being shipped overseas at Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts. “We also played a local ginmill, I’ll never forget, called the Wigwam Café. It was in Springfield. We called it ‘the bucket of blood,’ because there were so many fights there.”

Mr. Charles eventually left Massachusetts and became one of many jazz musicians who hung out at an apartment building at 821 Sixth Avenue in New York City known as the Jazz Loft. There he met Hall Overton, an American composer, jazz pianist, and music teacher.

Mr. Overton became Mr. Charles’ mentor and soon the young musician found session work with musicians and singers as varied as jazz legend Miles Davis and 1950’s pop icon Dion. The vibraphonist noted that he often gets asked about what it was like to work with Mr. Davis.

“Miles Davis and Charlie Mingus were both close friends and it was fun to play with them,” Mr. Charles said. “But, Miles was a little weird. He was sort of a nature boy.”

Mr. Charles has several albums to his credit, including “Live at the Verona Jazz Festival,” “Dances with Bulls” and “52nd Street Burnin.’” As for his plans for the future, Mr. Charles has a simple creed.

“I’ll just keep going as long as I can,” he said.

Other musicians inducted last Tuesday include Eric B. and Rakim, Lou Reed, John Zorn, Dream Theater (John Petrucci and John Myung), The Shangri-Las (Mary Weiss and Betty Weiss), Bob Gruen, Denis McNamara, Michael “Eppy” Epstein (for My Father’s Place), Roy Haynes, Stanley Drucker, Oscar Brand, Carole and Paula (TV’s The Magic Garden), Steve Martin (The Agency Group), Donnie McClurkin, Al Kooper and Eddie Palmieri.

11/15/10 9:26pm

JENNETT MERIDEN RUSSELL | Paula Rose, 26, of Rocky Point, accompanied by Mike Klatt of Clarendon, NY, took first place in the first annual Long Island's Got County music contest at the in The Inn and Spa at East Wind in Wading River on Saturday.

Paula Rose has never thought of herself as much of a songbird, but apparently somebody thinks she can sing because the 26-year-old Rocky Point resident won first place Saturday night in the first annual Long Island’s Got Country contest.
Roughly 600 people and 20 contestants turned out for the hayseed hoedown, which was held at The Inn and Spa at East Wind in Wading River. The show was the brainchild of Peter Castelli and Dennis Feldman, co-owners of SSLI Productions of Smithtown, which also provides music talent contests at schools across the region.
“This is just so amazing, I’ve never won anything before,” said Ms Rose, who was accompanied on guitar by Clarendon, NY native Mike Platt during her rendition of country music star Jennifer Nettles’ “Stay.” The win came one day before Ms. Rose planned to audition for NBC-TV’s national talent show – “America’s Got Talent.”
“I guess I’ll sing ‘Stay’ again for them,” Ms. Rose beamed. “We’ll see what comes next.”
Long Island’s Got Country was hosted by WALK radio afternoon drive time personality K.T. Mills. The sinewy D.J. bought a stylish black cowgirl outfit, complete with matching boots, just for the country music gig.
Ms. Mills credited Mr. Castelli and Mr. Feldman for creating a venue that appeals to a large, but unrecognized Long Island contingent – country music fans.
“This is a niche that’s underserved – there’s a lot of country music fans out there,” Ms. Mills said. “We want to make it more than just a guilty pleasure. We want to make it an outlet where they can come and enjoy the music, because country music is just like a little piece of life – it’s about heartache and heartbreak, good guys and bad girls and the biggest lesson of all is to get up with your bootstraps when life knocks you down and keep hanging in there.”
Most contestants sang along to karaoke country music and kept their performances relatively tame, except for third place Long Island’s Got Country winner, Billy Gagnon. Performing “Save a Horse – Ride a Cowboy,” a country music grinder by Big Kenny and John Rich, otherwise known as “Big & Rich,” Mr. Gagnon hopped off the stage during his performance and leapt onto a nearby table, much to the chagrin and delight of the roughly ten people seated at the table.
“Everybody else was just being kind of monotone and working the stage and I figured I wanted to try and stand out somehow,” said the wiry 40-year-old Huntington resident, who has been singing country music since he was a young boy. “I play guitar and I write my own songs, but I don’t have a band and I don’t really perform. I basically just wrote a song or two for my girlfriend and I’m happy just to do that.”
Mr. Gagnon’s girlfriend, Barbara Keen of Babylon, said she fell in love with her tall drink of water after seeing him perform karaoke at local bars. She noted she was delighted by her boyfriend’s performance and antics and did not feel at all uncomfortable about her significant other shaking his buff bootie in front of an audience.
“He’s a showman,” Ms. Keen giggled. “The first time I saw him sing karaoke I was quite surprised by his talent and I’ve enjoyed it ever since.”