BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Robert Ross of NYC at the 2012 Blues Festival in June.
This year’s Riverhead Blues Festival will likely be held in September to avoid conflicting with other events, according to Bob Barta, the president of Vail-Leavitt Music Hall, which has held the event as a fundraiser since 2006.
The festival had traditionally been held in July until last year, when it was moved to June and lost $8,720, according to Vail-Leavitt officials.
“We had originally planned to have it at the end of June, but then there were all sorts of conflicting events being planned then, so we decided we were going to reschedule it, and right now, we’re looking at dates in September,” Mr. Barta said. “It will be after Labor Day, and the idea will be to try and do it at a time when there aren’t such a hugh number of events going on at the same time.”
A September festival also figures to have cooler weather, Mr. Barta said.
Last year marked the return of the Blues Festival after a one year hiatus in 2011. The Riverhead Chamber of Commerce and Business Improvement District were involved in dispute over who would run the festival in 2010.
“Last year, the big thing was that we unwittingly set ourselves up against the Strawberry Festival,” Mr. Barta said, alluding to the fact that the 2012 Blues Festival took place at the same time as the popular Mattituck festival. “That was really one of the biggest problems on our point.”
He said they are being careful to pick a date that doesn’t conflict with other popular events.
“There have always been issues with trying to not conflict with other big festivals like the Great South Bay Festival in Patchogue, which would limit certain acts from being available,” he said.
While town officials have said the Riverfront parking lot in downtown Riverhead might not be available for big events much longer once the Summerwind apartments open, Mr. Barta says Vail-Leavitt is hoping to have the Blues Festival there this year.
“We’ve been having discussions with representatives from the town about trying to have one last shot back in some version of the back parking lot,” Mr. Barta said. “We’re trying to see if that is workable. We started looking at other locations, but we have a preference for the back parking lot because it allows us to showcase the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall, and it allows us to showcase the riverfront. We’d like to have it back there.”
Business Improvement District president Ray Pickersgill said the BID is hoping to hold its concerts in the Riverfront lot as well this summer, with the stage placed along the riverfront, so the audience faces the river. When Summerwind opens, the residents in the 52 apartment units will be permitted to use the riverfront lot as their parking lot.
The Town Board has a public hearing scheduled on a proposal to establish a three-hour parking limit in a section of the lot between Tweed’s and Cody’s BBQ.
Mr. Barta says Vail-Leavitt hasn’t determined exactly where in the back parking lot the festival would be located.
Mr. Barta said holding the event in September will help give them time to dig out of the financial hole.
“We’ve partly dug out already,” he said. “This coming month, we thought we were on a track to be completely dug out by the summer, but as it worked out, our bookings for April were a bit light.”
He said they’ve gotten a little more than halfway out of the hole, and they plan to hold some fundraising events to act as kickoff events for the season and to give them “a boost” as they head toward the Blues Festival.
In past years, the Blues Festival would already have been scheduled by this time, but no application has been submitted to the town for the event yet this year.
Mr. Barta says Vail-Leavitt still plans to make the festival a two-day weekend event and still plans to charge admission, although a price hasn’t been determined.
The BID originally ran the festival as a free event before facing a huge debt in 2005. Vail-Leavitt took over the event in 2006 as a fundraiser for its non-profit organization and began charging an admission fee.