The Arts

Nile Rodgers confident Riverhead music festival will be a success

Concert goers enjoy the party at last year's music festival. (Credit: Carrie Miller, file)
Concert goers enjoy the party at last year’s music festival. (Credit: Carrie Miller, file)

Musician and producer Nile Rodgers is overwhelmed with enthusiasm as he remembers the first show he produced on the North Fork two years ago.

It was the “All For The East End” concert, a one-day event held at Martha Clara Vineyards in 2013, which that raised about $70,000 for various East End charities and drew some 5,000 people.

“I do festivals all the time and people told me they had never had a more pleasant time ever than on the North Fork and I’m talking big-name agencies,” said Mr. Rodgers, a Westport, Conn., resident who frequently boats to the North Fork. “The local food, the people, everything, so I thought to myself, Nile, let me build this and get it right.”

Mr. Rodgers is preparing to do it all over again this August with the FOLD (Freak Out Let’s Dance) Festival in Riverhead. The two-day music festival will again take place at Martha Clara Vineyards and feature dozens of performers, including headliners like Pharrell Williams and Beck. The name of the festival comes from two of the biggest songs produced by Mr. Rodgers — “Freak Out” by Chic in 1978 and “Let’s Dance” by David Bowie in 1983.

“We learned from our mistakes,” he said of the 2013 event. “The biggest thing I think we got wrong was someone said the line for the beer was too long. That’s your biggest complaint? If that’s the biggest complaint, we can fix that.”

New to concert producing, maybe, but Mr. Rodgers is no stranger to the music scene. He co-founded the band Chic in 1976, which rode the disco craze with chart-topping songs like “Le Freak,” “I Want Your Love” and “Good Times.”

He’s also had a successful producing career with partner and fellow Chic member Bernard Edwards, working with the likes of Diana Ross, David Bowie, Madonna, Duran Duran and Earth Wind & Fire. He’s won numerous Grammy Awards and has since reunited with Chic, now touring regularly.

Now he has convinced some of the biggest artists of today to come to the North Fork to perform at the beginning of the busy summer concert season. The talent roster for FOLD boasts some major names in music including Duran Duran, Q-Tip, Keith Urban, Janelle Monáe and Chaka Khan.

“I had to think things out very carefully and make sure I dotted all my I’s and T’s,” he said. “This is the first gig for [some of] them this year, after that they’re hopping a plane. Pharrell said, ‘This is the day I can do it.’ Beck said, ‘This is the day I can do it.’ Duran Duran said, ‘You’ve done so much for us,’ so they canceled their vacation to do the concert.”

Working in collaboration with Mr. Rodgers are veteran concert promoters Michael Ostin and Peter Herman.

“I am thrilled to co-produce the Freak Out Festival with Nile and Michael Ostin,” Mr. Herman said. “Additionally I have the great pleasure to be working with the awesome Town of Riverhead and be part of this culturally cool environment.”

So how do North Fork residents feel about the upcoming concert?

Valerie and Robert Hubbard, whose Jamesport property abuts Martha Clara, are already unhappy with the increased noise and activity at Martha Clara on regular weekends and are worried about the traffic and noise of the August concert.

“We’re neighbors, so it’s a sticky situation,” Ms. Hubbard said. “We received invitations to the first concert two years ago, but that was a benefit concert, this doesn’t seem like a benefit concert. It would be a great event for Jones Beach, but not a rural farm. I don’t think I want that in my backyard, I don’t think a rural vineyard should have a Boardy Barn atmosphere.”

Others, like Angela Tondo of Southold, had warmer feelings about the show, which is certainly the biggest concert to happen in her backyard. Tondo purchased four tickets for her 18-year-old son, who attended the 2013 concert.

“He went and he really enjoyed it so I bought tickets for him and his friends,” she said. “I think he’ll be really excited about it.”

Town officials are confident the police department will make sure traffic flows smoothly when an expected 10,000 ticket holders descend on Riverhead each day.

“We’re working on it, but I think we will be able to handle it,” said Riverhead Town Police Chief David Hegermiller.

Nile Rodgers Productions in February presented the Riverhead Town Board with a plan to have one entrance lane on Sound Avenue and four entrance lanes on Herricks Lane, including a VIP entrance, which would serve as a handicapped entrance as well.

They also said they plan to have shuttles to the concert from several locations. A permit for the event was issued in February.

In 2003, Riverhead Town was sued after it denied a permit for a proposed music festival called Field Day, which was to be held at EPCAL. The town denied that permit because it was unable to supply enough police protection.

But Chief Hegermiller says that’s not the case here.

“This one has much fewer people and it’s not an overnight concert like Field Day was supposed to be,” he said.

Last week, Martha Clara winemaker and general manager Juan Micieli-Martinez said the logistics for the event had been discussed at length and organizers had been working with a firm to control traffic flow during the festival. “It’s not some haphazard event,” Micieli-Martinez said. “There is a lot of strategic planning.”

Mr. Rodgers has high hopes for the FOLD Festival.

“Obviously this is not to get rich. I want to show people that once you start something artistic, it can turn into something fun. These are the people I make records with, this is my family. You’re going to see some special things that will never happen again.”

The FOLD (Freak Out Let’s Dance) Festival will take place Tuesday and Wednesday, Aug. 4 and 5, at Martha Clara Vineyards. Tickets range from $137 for general admission to $999 for Ultra VIP.

For concert information and to purchase tickets, visit

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With Vera Chinese and Tim Gannon