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08/06/13 10:00am
08/06/2013 10:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO  |  Gene Casey and the Lone Sharks at last year's Blues Festival.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Gene Casey and the Lone Sharks at last year’s Blues Festival.

The Riverhead Blues Festival may be headed to a new home.

Bob Barta, president of the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall in downtown Riverhead, said theater officials are looking into moving the once-annual festival into Southampton Town for 2014.

“We’re working in sort of a rough proposal stage,” Mr. Barta said. “My goal is trying to make the whole thing well-organized enough that the town will be fine with it.”

The festival, which is the non-profit theater’s largest fundraising event, was cancelled this year. In 2012, the Vail-Leavitt lost more than $8,700 on the festival after it was moved from its usual July date into June.

Plans to hold smaller events inside the theater in lieu of the blues festival this fall have also been nixed.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Gary Utah on vocals and percussion performing with the Bobby Nathan band and Joanne and Bobby Nathan (far left) at 2012's Riverhead Blues and Music Festival.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Gary Utah on vocals and percussion performing with the Bobby Nathan band and Joanne and Bobby Nathan (far left) in 2012.

“You don’t have the summer traffic and the summer crowd around,” Mr. Barta said. “I felt like it was too much of a gamble for this year.

“We’re still going to have a bunch of self-produced events and stuff like that, but it’s not going to be on that kind of scale and we can’t afford the risk of bringing in these high-profile acts,” he added.

Holding the Blues Festival inside the historic theater would also not be cost effective, he said, noting that the festival “would have to be charging Westhampton [Performing Arts Center] prices” to break even in the small theater.

Mr. Barta said theater officials are scoping out “a couple of possible locations” within Southampton Town, but declined to name any specifically. He said organizers are most concerned about minimizing the festival’s impact on local traffic and parking.

“You need the space,” he said. “Southampton has a couple of very large public beaches and parks where they hold outdoor events.”

The Vail-Leavitt board is also looking into adding more acts and other forms of entertainment to the festival.

“It’s a new location, there’s an opportunity for a new identity,” he said. “It can be a music festival and event for the benefit of the Vail-Leavitt.”

Mr. Barta said that though other nearby town’s have large outdoor gathering spaces, there were no options left in Riverhead Town; holding the event at the Enterprise Park at Calverton would have raised environmental concerns and having the festival in a municipal park like Stotzky would interrupt sports and other events.

“I don’t want to displace somebody else,” he said.

But though the Blues Festival may head to a nearby town, it wouldn’t move too far from the theater, Mr. Barta said.

“We don’t want to go way out of the way, because then it puts a strain on us,” he said. “We’re all volunteers … You can only lean on people so much.”

The Vail-Leavitt board plans to meet Friday to discuss next year’s festival, though Mr. Barta said board members plan to have a proposal prepared before submitting an application to Southampton Town for a permit.

“Our goal is to show some professionalism by having the whole thing ready,” he said.

Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst could not immediately be reached for comment.

[email protected]

03/30/13 10:00am
03/30/2013 10:00 AM
Downtown Riverhead, Blues & Music Festival, Vail-Leavitt

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Robert Ross of NYC at the 2012 Blues Festival in June.

This year’s Riverhead Blues Festival will likely be held in September to avoid conflicting with other events, according to Bob Barta, the president of Vail-Leavitt Music Hall, which has held the event as a fundraiser since 2006.

The festival had traditionally been held in July until last year, when it was moved to June and lost $8,720, according to Vail-Leavitt officials.

“We had originally planned to have it at the end of June, but then there were all sorts of conflicting events being planned then, so we decided we were going to reschedule it, and right now, we’re looking at dates in September,” Mr. Barta said. “It will be after Labor Day, and the idea will be to try and do it at a time when there aren’t such a hugh number of events going on at the same time.”

A September festival also figures to have cooler weather, Mr. Barta said.

Last year marked the return of the Blues Festival after a one year hiatus in 2011. The Riverhead Chamber of Commerce and Business Improvement District were involved in dispute over who would run the festival in 2010.

“Last year, the big thing was that we unwittingly set ourselves up against the Strawberry Festival,” Mr. Barta said, alluding to the fact that the 2012 Blues Festival took place at the same time as the popular Mattituck festival. “That was really one of the biggest problems on our point.”

He said they are being careful to pick a date that doesn’t conflict with other popular events.

“There have always been issues with trying to not conflict with other big festivals like the Great South Bay Festival in Patchogue, which would limit certain acts from being available,” he said.

While town officials have said the Riverfront parking lot in downtown Riverhead might not be available for big events much longer once the Summerwind apartments open, Mr. Barta says Vail-Leavitt is hoping to have the Blues Festival there this year.

“We’ve been having discussions with representatives from the town about trying to have one last shot back in some version of the back parking lot,” Mr. Barta said. “We’re trying to see if that is workable. We started looking at other locations, but we have a preference for the back parking lot because it allows us to showcase the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall, and it allows us to showcase the riverfront. We’d like to have it back there.”

Business Improvement District president Ray Pickersgill said the BID is hoping to hold its concerts in the Riverfront lot as well this summer, with the stage placed along the riverfront, so the audience faces the river. When Summerwind opens, the residents in the 52 apartment units will be permitted to use the riverfront lot as their parking lot.

The Town Board has a public hearing scheduled on a proposal to establish a three-hour parking limit in a section of the lot between Tweed’s and Cody’s BBQ.

Mr. Barta says Vail-Leavitt hasn’t determined exactly where in the back parking lot the festival would be located.

Mr. Barta said holding the event in September will help give them time to dig out of the financial hole.

“We’ve partly dug out already,” he said. “This coming month, we thought we were on a track to be completely dug out by the summer, but as it worked out, our bookings for April were a bit light.”

He said they’ve gotten a little more than halfway out of the hole, and they plan to hold some fundraising events to act as kickoff events for the season and to give them “a boost” as they head toward the Blues Festival.

In past years, the Blues Festival would already have been scheduled by this time, but no application has been submitted to the town for the event yet this year.

Mr. Barta says Vail-Leavitt still plans to make the festival a two-day weekend event and still plans to charge admission, although a price hasn’t been determined.

The BID originally ran the festival as a free event before facing a huge debt in 2005. Vail-Leavitt took over the event in 2006 as a fundraiser for its non-profit organization and began charging an admission fee.

[email protected]

09/07/12 10:00am
09/07/2012 10:00 AM
Downtown Riverhead, Blues & Music Festival, Vail-Leavitt

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Robert Ross of NYC prepares to take the stage Saturday at the 2012 Riverhead Blues & Music Festival in June.

Organizers of the Riverhead Blues & Music Festival are drawing up plans to hold next year’s installment of the popular event in a new location in Riverhead.

The two-day festival will still be held downtown, but because of expected parking problems along the customary riverfront location south of East Main Street, officials with the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall — which sponsors the event — are eying the north side of the road.

The treasurer of the Vail-Leavitt nonprofit group, Vince Tria, told the News-Review Thursday that the group’s board of directors has approved moving the group’s chief fundraiser the new site.

The festival is expected to be held June 29 and June 30, Mr. Tria said.

The plans call to put the main stage behind the former Woolworth building, with it facing northwest out into the parking lot that extends north along East Avenue, with temporary fencing running along East Avenue, Mr. Tria said.

“And right to the west we’ll have as many as 80 parking spots,” he said. “I counted them. Some people will be able to park right behind Barth’s Pharmacy and Haiku and the new Mexican restaurant there, Blue Agave.

“The town just needs us to file some design plans” with a special events permit application, he said.

Vail-Leavitt officials, with Mr. Tria at the helm, have in the past run into political troubles with the town and even infighting among business owners south of Main Street while trying to organize the event.

The 2011 installment was cancelled after the Chamber of Commerce tried to take control of the festival, then later backed off, in 2010.

This year’s festival had low attendance, which organizers blamed on the hiatus, as well as competing East End events and Father’s Day.

[email protected]

Read more in Thursday’s edition of the Riverhead News-Review newspaper.


Woolworth, downtown Riverhead, Blues Festival

MICHAEL WHITE PHOTO | Under current plans, the Blues Festival main stage will sit catty corner behind the former Woolworth building (above).

06/17/12 6:41pm
06/17/2012 6:41 PM

Many dads spent their Father’s Day listening to music with their children Sunday at the 2012 Riverhead Blues & Music Festival.

East Setauket resident Bill Wiesner and his daughter, Molly Tenyenhuis, said they decided to attend the event because the weather was nice and, of course, because they are big fans of the blues.

“It’s a great family place,” Mr. Wiesner said.

“We’ve been here before and it has always been a good time,” Ms. Tenyenhuis said.

Erik Luhmer, a father from East Quogue, attended the festival with his wife, Sarah, and children Noelle, 5, and Jakob, 2.

“We’re enjoying all the sights and sounds,” Mr. Luhmer said. “It’s a beautiful day and we’re having a good time.”

Blues fans packed downtown, dancing and cheering as the festival ended with a performance by Johnny Winter, who has been named one of Rolling Stone magazine’s 100 greatest guitar players of all time.

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JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Erik Luhmer, a father from East Quogue, attends the Riverhead Blues Festival with his wife, Sarah, and children Noelle, 5, and Jakob, 2.

06/15/12 5:00pm
06/15/2012 5:00 PM

KATHARINE SCHROEDER FILE PHOTO | The 2010 Strawberry Queen, Veronica Stelzer, helps 2011 Queen Kaitlyn Doorhy with her cape.

It’s a big weekend on the North Fork and there are a lot of great events happening. Best advice I have for this week: go to events.timesreview.com for complete schedules of all of the events happening this weekend.

One important piece of advice for the Strawberry Festival. There are no fireworks on Saturday night this year. The fireworks are tonight at 10 p.m. Read more information here.

The Riverhead Blues festival is happening behind the riverfront. Find one of the Times Review folks and grab a Riverhead-News Review bracelet. Before you go, check out this Q & A with musical legend Johnny Winter. Very cool story.

Times Review folks will also be on Shelter Island for the 33rd annual Shelter Island 10K. Grab a Shelter Island Reporter bracelet at the finish line. This year the 10k celebrates “Olympic Spirit”, and there are a few people who help bring this spirt back to Shelter Island. Read more about them in the 10K journal.

Those are the big three … but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other great things to do this weekend.

Tonight at East End Arts Council, the Metaphysical & Paranormal Investigations of New York will be reporting its findings of some of the Council’s unexplainable mysteries. You can see more about the event and also find out more about MPI of NY.

Looking for that special someone? Speed Dating will be at Hotel Indigo this Saturday night. You have to register in advance, so call or click before tomorrow.

Blue Point Brewery and Jamesport Vineyards have teamed up to present a “Wine, Beer and Oyster festival.” Perfect way to spend time with Dad on Father’s Day.

And last but not least, if the North Fork is going to be too busy for you this weekend, and you want to get away for a day, you can still get tickets for the Cutchogue New-Suffolk Library bus trip into New York City.

If your event wasn’t mentioned, make sure it’s on Events. If you need help posting your event, email [email protected], and I’ll be happy to help you.

Have a great weekend!  Get out and enjoy.

06/15/12 11:00am

JAY WEBSTER FILE PHOTO | Blues guitar legend Johnny Winter during his Father's Day appearance at Peconic Bay Winery in 2011.

There will be much more at this year’s Riverhead Blues Festival than good barbecue and awesome tunes. A true musical legend who performed at Woodstock is topping the bill.

That’s none other than Johnny Winter, named one of Rolling Stone magazine’s 100 greatest guitar players of all time, and he’ll perform on Father’s Day, June 17.

To lead up to this interview with Mr. Winter, we spoke with Paul Nelson, bandmate, manager and producer of Mr. Winter’s latest album, “Roots.”

“We came up with the concept of what type of record it was going to be a couple years ago,” Mr. Nelson said. “I knew when Johnny was doing his other records, he could only do one or two traditional songs and there were some shouting matches, so with this one I said, ‘Let’s just do the whole album of everything you wanted to do, all the traditional hits, but let’s pick one song by each artist that influenced you starting out.’ ”

Mr. Nelson said that once Mr. Winter had chosen the artists, including such musicians as Robert Johnson, Ray Charles and T-Bone Walker, he picked out the tracks for the album in 15 minutes.

“Once we had that done, I had a hit list of musicians that I wanted to contact based on who would fit each track best, and nobody said no,” Mr. Nelson said. Of Mr. Winter’s upcoming Riverhead performance, Mr. Nelson said, “You never know who’s going to show up to play with Johnny.”

Q: Mr. Winter, It’s been said that you were born with a guitar in your hands. Is that how you see it?

A: I was about 12 when I started playing.

Q: Did you expect you would reach the level you have as a musician?

A: I always thought I would be successful. I was making records when I was 15. I’ve been up there trying to make it since I was teenager.

Q: What’s been your most valued achievement?

A: Doing the Muddy Waters records. I think that was the coolest thing I ever did. We won three Grammys for four records so I think that’s pretty good.

Q: Talk about slide-guitar music from your point of view.

A: Well, in Mississippi, back in the early 1900s, guys were using pocket knives and cow bones and pieces of metal, all kinds of stuff as slides, guys like Robert Johnson.

Q: When did you first use a slide?

A: I was about 22 when I first used one.

Q: What was it like playing Woodstock?

A: It was a mess. I’m glad I did it, but it was a mess. It was rainy and muddy and nobody knew what was going on.

Q: People say you really commanded attention during your performance. The Grateful Dead say they weren’t happy with their performance. Were you happy with yours?

A: Yeah, I was really happy with it.

Q: You and your brother, Edgar, have a rich history of playing together. What was it like always being with your brother?

A: It was great. We played together for a long time, until the ’70s, when he wanted to do his own thing.

Q: You started leaning into rock and roll at that time with Rick Derringer, his brother and Randy Joe Hobbs. As a bluesman, what was that like for you?

A: I didn’t like it. It was my least favorite time of my life. I’m a bluesman through and through.

Q: Please respond to this quote: “In heaven, there will be many bands. Every band will be asking for Johnny as lead guitarist. Hendrix and Vaughan will need some one to clown around with and have few laughs with. THEN, they will strap up, ask Muddy to sing and burn a brand-new form of hell for all us fans of loud, burning, blistering whip-it-like-you-mean-it rock and roll that all eternity has never seen.”

A: Who wrote that?

Q: Somebody on YouTube.

A: Oh, heh-heh. That’s really cool!

Q: Do you hope that if there’s a heaven you’ll be rockin’ out with Hendrix, Vaughan and Muddy?

A: I sure hope so!

Q: If you hadn’t been a musician, what would you have liked to do?

A: I never wanted to be anything else. This is the only thing I ever wanted to do.

Q: What question do you wish people would ask you that they never seem to?

A: There’s no question I haven’t been asked. I get asked every question imaginable, but it doesn’t matter because if I have something to say, I’ll come right out and say it, whether there’s a question or not.

Q: Do you have a message for your North Fork fans?

A: Come out and enjoy yourselves and have a good time.

[email protected]

02/02/12 3:30pm
02/02/2012 3:30 PM

JOHN NEELY FILE PHOTO | Performers at the 2010 Blues Festival.

The Riverhead Blues Festival appears to have the three votes necessary to gain approval from the Riverhead Town Board, which is expected to vote on the matter at a 2 p.m. meeting Tuesday.

But it’s going to be close.

Vince Tria, the secretary of the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall, which runs the event as their major fundraiser, said they plan to hold it on June 16 and 17 in the riverfront parking lot in downtown Riverhead. They moved it from the customary mid-July date because the weather is too hot in July and because it would be competing with Patchogue’s Great South Bay Music Festival, which also is in mid-July, Mr. Tria said.

Vail-Leavitt didn’t hold a Blues Festival last year, after having staved off an attempted takeover of the festival the year before by the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce, which was backed by the Business Improvement District and Supervisor Sean Walter.

This year, everybody says they support the festival, but it still may just barely have enough votes to pass Tuesday.

The Town Board discussed the matter with Mr. Tria at the Thursday Town Board work session.

Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilman Jim Wooten said they’ll support the festival. Mr. Wooten said he’s troubled by the fact that the festival, which is a paid admission event, fences off public property.

Councilman George Gabrielsen was undecided and Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said she can’t support it unless their insurance is in place, which at this point, it is not.

Councilman John Dunleavy wasn’t at Thursday’s work session but he was following along on the News-Review’s live blog of the meeting and posted a comment saying he supports the festival so long as they get their insurance in before the event. Mr. Walter later called him to confirm that.

Town officials have said they will give Vail-Leavitt more time to get their insurance in, which the town code section on special events requires be in place 120 days before the event. Mr. Walter said he will give them up to 30 days before the event.

Ms. Giglio said she didn’t vote for the Polish Festival or the Country Fair last year because the promoters of those festivals didn’t have their insurance in place before the vote. She said she wants to be consistent.

Mr. Tria said that if they cannot get the insurance, then they won’t host the event.

Mr. Dunleavy said last month that he will be on vacation in Florida in February but will fly up to Riverhead for the regular Town Board meeting, where items are voted on.

[email protected]

02/12/11 11:00am
02/12/2011 11:00 AM
JOHN NEELY FILE PHOTO | Blues Festival typically draws more than 10,000 people downtown over two days each July.

JOHN NEELY FILE PHOTO | Blues Festival typically draws more than 10,000 people downtown over two days each July.

Organizers of the popular Riverhead Blues Festival said last month they were considering a change in venue, possibly to Suffolk Community College’s Eastern Campus in nearby Northampton, in light of the difficulties they had last year when the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce sought to take over the popular event.

But it doesn’t appear as if the college is on the same page.

A representative at Suffolk Community College, Mary Lou Araneo, told the News-Review Friday there “are no ongoing discussions and no plans to hold the festival at the college’s Eastern Campus.”

So does that mean the Blues Fesival will be held downtown and run by the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall nonprofit group as its chief fundraiser, as has been the case since 2006? Officials on the board of the Vail-Leavitt group, president Bob Barta and treasurer Vince Tria declined to comment.

For weeks before last year’s scheduled July festival, Vail-Leavitt officials repeatedly butted heads with Chamber members as well as Business Improvement District officials. The groups together, with the political backing of the town supervisor, tried to force the Vail-Leavitt group to abdicate control of the two-day fair.

The Vail-Leavitt group eventually got the go-ahead.

Mr. Barta told the paper in December: “If they are going to try and play that game again, we’re not into playing. The survival of a nonprofit, charitable, all-volunteer organization depends on the success of the festival, so I need to be sure that we’re going to mimimize the impact of outside forces … I’d like to see it continue downtown.”

Janine Nebons, the Chamber’s newly elected president, had told the News-Review in December the Chamber will not seek to run the Blues Festival this year.

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