NOFO rocked Southold! In a good way

You should have been there.

No, really, you should have been at the NOFO Rock and Folk Fest Saturday and Sunday at Peconic Bay Winery in Cutchogue.

The former Joan Giger Walker and I were there for about four hours both days, and we didn’t see too many familiar faces in the house. And that’s because of, I suspect, the dire warnings about traffic gridlock, crowd control and noise pollution that flowed from Southold Town government’s overreaction to the event.

The bottom line: NOFO was an unqualified success on an artistic and sociological basis, and it deserves to achieve Second Annual status in 2011. Having said that, I have some doubts that the underwriters of the event — mostly Peconic Bay owners Ursula and Paul Lowerre — will want to cover the sort of red ink that undoubtedly flowed from this year’s event. I’ve had some personal experience promoting concerts on the East End, so I have an idea of what it costs to engage the services of performers like Richie Havens, Mountain and Jorma Kaukonen. They don’t come cheap (unless you’re comparing them to the likes of U2), and I imagine the losses from NOFO will be measured in the upper five figures, at least.

One reason the two-day concert was so expensive to produce was because it was so well organized. The performances themselves ran like Swiss clockwork, the staging was highly professional, the security force was impressive (if a little excessive, given the comparatively low attendance), and parking and traffic control went without a hitch.

If there was a negative, it was the reported hit taken by local businesses in Cutchogue that experienced a decline in customers presumably frightened away by the aforementioned “dire warnings,” although such was not the case elsewhere in town, particularly Greenport, where the trickle-down economic impact from NOFO and the 1,800 lacrosse players and their entourages who attended the jamboree at Greenport High School generated what looked like near-record street traffic all weekend.

Responsibility for the dip in economic activity in Cutchogue must be shared by the two Southold Town supervisors — one former, one current — who played a role in this drama.

The former supe, Josh Horton, brought some of this on himself with his fast and loose use of crowd estimates ranging from 800 to 15,000, depending on the audience he was addressing. I never bought the story that it all came about because of a typo. It seems logical that organizers would have hyped the numbers to attract vendors, although many of the vendors who did participate won’t be returning next year, I predict, based on the few paying customers who drifted over to the vending zone ¬­– with the obvious exception of those seeking beer and wine.

As it turned out, Josh’s original crowd estimate was pretty much on the money. In an e-mail he sent to me on Monday, he wrote, “The NOFO drew exactly as we had planned and conveyed in our permit application to the town. (Which for the record stated exactly this: Application wording: ‘Expected attendance at any given time.’ NOFO’s answer: ‘600 – 800 attendees at any given time.'”

According to Josh, 1,200 concertgoers came through the gates on Saturday, and another 1,400 on Sunday. Based on my personal observations, the estimate of “800 attendees at any given time” seems accurate.

The current supe, Scott Russell, went out of his way to give NOFO a hard time, and there are lots of theories as to why, beginning with the fact that there apparently was little love lost between the two men before this all began. Add to that Scott’s belief that Josh used his insider’s knowledge to attempt an end run through the Town Hall bureaucracy, and Josh’s ultimately successful tactic to seek a court injunction after reaching what the town thought was a gentlemen’s agreement. (Honestly, I don’t see how NOFO ever could have agreed to the conditions the town sought on parking, concert hours and police overtime.)

There also was a rumor making its way around the concert site to the effect that Scott Russell had been leaning on vendors not to participate in NOFO, even going so far as to threaten cutting off business from the town if they did. I find it hard to believe that he would be so heavy handed, although he has not responded to my e-mail asking if there’s any truth to the rumor.

But enough about battling supervisors! Let’s talk about the concert itself. The highlights, for me at least, were Devan Allman and his band, The Honey Tribe; the Subdudes; and our former Hackensack (N.J.) High School classmate Leslie West (formerly Les Weinstein) and his two bands, West-Bruce Jr.-Laing and Mountain.

Devan Allman is the son of Allman Brothers Band founder and front man Greg Allman, and he is ready to replace his daddy as the Allmans’ lead singer at a moment’s notice. Devan’s voice is at least as good as Greg’s, and he plays the guitar almost as well as his late uncle, Dwayne Allman. (Almost.) If you like the blues and/or southern rock, check out The Honey Tribe the next time they’re in the metro New York area. (Actually, they had another gig in the city just last night.)

Joan and I have seen the Subdudes live and in person three times in as many years, and we have Greenport-based songwriter Hugh Prestwood to thank for introducing us to the band. (Ironically, Hugh’s annual Wine Press summer concert also was Saturday night, causing us to miss it for the first time in years.) I think of The Band (yes, The Band) when I think of the Subdudes, mostly because both groups had/have four strong singers capable of creating intricate harmonies.

Leslie West and Mountain rocked the house, as expected, even though he will be eligible to collect Social Security payments when he turns 65 this fall. There were few signs of his advanced years when he was cranking it up on stage for more than an hour, but he appeared unable to stand up out of his La-Z-Boy recliner when we visited him in his trailer after the performance. The old man was spent. Still, he regaled us with memories from his sophomore year in high school, when he admitted to routinely playing hooky in order to practice his guitar-playing at home. A half a century later, all that practice appears to have paid off.

Leslie/Les may or may not still be touring if/when NOFO 2011, but I agree with what Josh Horton said in his e-mail to me: “I hope that we are able to continue this festival and mark 2010 in the great history of our town as the year a great cultural music event was born.”