Blues Fest sounds an off note

07/22/2010 12:00 AM |

Rosie Ledet and the Zydeco Playboys perform at the 12th annual Riverhead Blues & Music Festival Saturday. That’s Rosie with the accordion and Malcolm Walker on the rubboard.

Riverhead Blues and Music Festival organizers attributed lower attendance at the annual event last weekend to the heat wave and to confusion that lingered after a controversy over who would run this year’s festival.
An estimated 5,000 people turned out for the two-day event on the Peconic River, about 2,000 less than attended in 2009, according to Bob Barta, president of the Council for Vail-Leavitt Music Hall, which oversees the festival.
“I feel we were affected by a lot of the negative publicity around some of the contentious things,” Mr. Barta said.
Vail-Leavitt and the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Business Improvement District, had filed competing permit applications in Town Hall in April to run the event, with Supervisor Sean Walter advocating for chamber control.
Eventually the groups and Mr. Walter hammered out a deal that allowed Vail-Leavitt to maintain control of the festival it had run since 2006, with the chamber helping to find corporate sponsorships, run some booths and share in some of the proceeds.
The Chamber of Commerce ultimately decided not to be involved in the festival.
During the standoff, which lasted for several weeks, the fate of the festival was in doubt, which Mr. Barta said caused problems with booking bands and might have prompted people to make other plans.
“The uncertainty really had a damaging effect,” he said.
In addition, Mr. Barta said the controversy limited the amount of time Vail-Leavitt could spend raising funds to support the event. He also noted that the number of carnival attractions was down from the previous year.
Although Riverhead Chamber officials declined to participate in the end, president Robert Lanieri said that if his organization had been involved, attendance numbers might have been better.
“I think if the three parties had got together