Riverhead by land and sea

07/22/2010 12:00 AM |

Rocking the riverfront
John Haseth, guitar player for the Pamela Betti Band, took the stage Saturday afternoon at the 12th Riverhead Blues and Music Festival. Ms. Betti, with the microphone, performs next to him. While the music and weather were good this year, attendance was down, at about 5,000. See story, page 3.

Riverhead Blues and Music Festival organizers attributed lower attendance at the annual event last weekend to the heat wave and to confusion that lingered after a controversy over who would run this year’s festival.

An estimated 5,000 people turned out for the two-day event on the Peconic River, about 2,000 less than attended in 2009, according to Bob Barta, president of the Council for Vail-Leavitt Music Hall, which oversees the festival.

“I feel we were affected by a lot of the negative publicity around some of the contentious things,” Mr. Barta said.

Vail-Leavitt and the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Business Improvement District, had filed competing permit applications in Town Hall in April to run the event, with Supervisor Sean Walter advocating for chamber control.

Eventually the groups and Mr. Walter hammered out a deal that allowed Vail-Leavitt to maintain control of the festival it had run since 2006, with the chamber helping to find corporate sponsorships, run some booths and share in some of the proceeds.

The Chamber of Commerce ultimately decided not to be involved in the festival.

During the standoff, which lasted for several weeks, the fate of the festival was in doubt, which Mr. Barta said caused problems with booking bands and might have prompted people to make other plans.

“The uncertainty really had a damaging effect,” he said.

In addition, Mr. Barta said the controversy limited the amount of time Vail-Leavitt could spend raising funds to support the event. He also noted that the number of carnival attractions was down from the previous year.

Although Riverhead Chamber officials declined to participate in the end, president Robert Lanieri said that if his organization had been involved, attendance numbers might have been better.

“I think if the three parties had got together … we could have had a more successful event,” he said.

Despite the setbacks, Mr. Barta said the music was better than ever.

“From a musical and performance level, everything went very well,” Mr. Barta said. “I wish that more people had been there to appreciate some of the really great performers.”

He said some of his personal favorites were Rosie Ledet and the Zydeco Playboys and the Joe Krown Trio, with an honorable mention for the Pamela Betti Band.

“They were all dressed up,” he said. “They just looked great. She’s a real blues diva.”

Neither the hot weather nor the controversy previously surrounding the festival seemed to bother the revelers who made it to the Peconic riverfront Saturday afternoon. Many were camped out in the parking lot behind Main Street’s south side, soaking up the sun and enjoying a few beers.

“I’ve been coming for six years; the bands have been good all the time,” said Pete Burger of Queens. “It’s a good time.”

Kelly Gutmann of Sound Beach said she came to the festival for “the music, the weather, the friends and enjoying the atmosphere.”

“They have vendors, good music, it’s not the kind of music you would get at other festivals,” said Lauren Perazzo, also of Sound Beach. “It’s a fun summer day,”

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