We’re quite sure there’s no saving the Blues Festival, the granddaddy of all Riverhead’s summer events. It has drawn anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 visitors downtown annually, many of them Long Islanders who learned for the first time that Riverhead was actually built along a river.
There was no greater showcase for the town. Boaters would come from across the East End to tie up along the Peconic River boardwalk days before the weekend event to get a prime spot. The grass in the riverfront park was always plush and manicured. Despite the presence of alcohol, disorderly conduct was never a big issue.
Rain or shine, the Riverhead Blues Festival was a guaranteed good time for East Enders and all those who made the trek from afar. How could it not be? Music was in the air.
But behind the veneer, egos were at war in downtown Riverhead. Have no doubt, all the recent problems that have led to the festival’s apparent demise here stem from the enmity between Vail-Leavitt Music Hall treasurer and local radio station owner Vince Tria and Business Improvement District president and salon owner Ray Pickersgill. Aside from their personal animosity, each man has his faction, and their differences are irreconcilable. So much for the festival being all about the music and boosting downtown Riverhead.
This is more like “High School Musical.” As a middle school teacher would say to seventh-graders after breaking up a fight, it really doesn’t matter who started it, or who is ending it. You’ve ruined something for the attendees, performers and business people who benefitted because you couldn’t put your differences aside like adults and work on behalf of the community you both love so much.
That’s not to say some good can’t come out of all this. Mr. Tria and the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall board have reached out to Southold Town officials to explore the possibility of holding a music festival at Strawberry Fields in Mattituck. We imagine such an event could be quite successful and help fill the coffers at the nonprofit music hall to keep it up and running.
And Mr. Pickersgill is already working on bringing a Mardi Gras-themed music event downtown this August as part of a bolstered lineup of summer events that, according to some business owners, helped boost sales in the struggling downtown last summer. Such an event could help ease the pain of losing the Blues Festival.
Of course, no one is rooting for these men to fail, because Riverhead needs them both. But they both need to grow up.