Riverhead Blues Festival organizers issue statement canceling event, slamming detractors

JOHN NEELY FILE PHOTO | Performers at least year's festival.
JOHN NEELY FILE PHOTO | Performers at least year's festival.

The organizers of the Riverhead Blues & Music Festival announced Monday they are canceling the popular downtown event indefinitely.

Below is a statement issued by Robert Barta, president of the Council for the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall, in its entirety.

“After much speculation by local media outlets, it is my duty to inform the public that the Council for the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall has voted not to file a Chapter 90 application for the purpose of running the Riverhead Blues & Music Festival at its traditional location this year.

While this announcement will undoubtedly bring some gloating from both long-time detractors and opportunistic naysayers, the decision was made solely to reduce financial risks to the Music Hall had we attempted to produce it traditionally in the present environment.

The festival will continue this year as a series of in-house fundraising events. These will allow us to continue our mission of programming for the community while maintaining control of our organization’s integrity. During the past year, I have honestly and truthfully represented the Vail-Leavitt’s interests in a positive spirit of community cooperation. Along the way, two particular men issued personal attacks against me and my organization which I now wish to address.

The council is a non-profit charitable 501(c)3 corporation and has made its financial reports available online for years before such organizations were legally required to this year. This fact was specifically misstated on the pseudo-journalistic blog of Anthony Coates. False implications of “missing armbands” and computer crashes among others in his comments seemed intended to publicly smear our credibility. His writing style is often personalized and denigrating, referencing his targets with a false air of familiarity. Lacking any originality beyond creativity with facts, Mr. Coates usually opens his statements with references to the “lol” acronym or chuckling to himself but I, for one, am not amused. Such a pattern of behavior and deliberate fabrications are serious and concerning from the man who is now credited as our town supervisor’s “political conscience.”

Ray Pickersgill’s comments blamed the Vail-Leavitt for lack of advance event publicity while ignoring his own central role in last year’s well-publicized delay. I note that his Business Improvement District’s events were approved with more than the mere two months time which we were granted. Most recently, Mr. Pickersgill used a very personalized writing style oddly similar to Mr. Coates’ to insult and degrade me with repeated phrases like “write this down” and “you don’t get it.” Clearly, he demonstrates a different understanding of cooperation, leadership and professionalism than I do. While Mr. Pickersgill sometimes offers disclaimers with his commentary, I make and made all my statements as a business leader and educator, U.S. citizen and town resident.

Mr. Pickersgill and Mr. Coates each cited the festival’s “failure” as they misrepresented facts over the past year. While Vail-Leavitt never agreed in writing to the financial disclosure form Mr. Coates proposed to me in the supervisor’s office, I present here the requested statement in response to Councilman James Wooten’s recent civil and reasoned comments in a News-Review editorial letter:

Income sources:
Ticket sales $53,308
Vendor fees­ $21,350
Contributions $1,000
Other revenues $3,345
Total Revenues $79,003

Entertainers $27,950
Advertising $5,426
Insurance $4,620
Labor expenses $3,100
Permits & Fees $200
Other expenses $30,936
Total Expenses $ 72,232


Mr. Wooten, in his letter, also described his genuine concerns over the need for an admission fee and what the BID may have spent to support the event. Vail-Leavitt and the festival received exactly $0 of financial support from the BID over each of the past two years. As seen above, our admission fee was necessary in order to provide more extensive live entertainment than any other event and still financially benefit the Music Hall.

The cost of services from the town was used as an argument against support of the blues festival, but I haven’t read where Mr. Pickersgill takes responsibility for in-kind expenses for the BID’s events this year. Those free events will require the very same overtime and in-kind support afforded the Blues & Music festival, but for many more days and tax dollars. Medical and ambulance services were (despite Mr. Pickersgill’s phony claim) paid for by the Vail-Leavitt. More importantly, the benefits of the Vail-Leavitt to both our business and non-business communities extended well beyond the days of the actual event.

The town services acted as once-a-year support offered to maintain the Music Hall as a local treasure while it serves as a venue for events such as Riverhead Idol, charitable fundraisers, public meetings and debates (and inaugural ceremonies) at no charge throughout the year.

The Vail-Leavitt’s budget for the current fiscal year is extremely frugal, approximately $37,000 in total. Our board’s primary concern is the continuing mission of the Music Hall to the community and attempting to run the festival at the parking lot site this year posed unnecessary risk in such an environment of politically motivated hostility. We ask that concerned community members show their support for the Vail-Leavitt by coming to our events, making a tax-deductible contribution or volunteering time. Contact us at 727-5782 or www.vail-leavitt.org and be part of Riverhead’s most unique cultural and historic organization as we move forward to meet our continuing challenges.”