Blues Festival moving to Southampton Town?

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.

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