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Effort underway to bring the Blues Festival back


The blues are coming back to Riverhead.

Three years after the last Riverhead Blues & Music Festival took place downtown, a plan is underway to hold a mini blues series this fall in an effort to eventually get the full music festival back.

The first step is a pop-up fundraiser scheduled for tonight, featuring The Sunrise Band and Bob Barta & The Jazz Ramblers.

The grand scheme is to eventually bring the annual event back to its former glory, according to Bob Barta, president of the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall in Riverhead, which is the nonprofit theater that last hosted the blues festival.

The music event, which started in 1998, had been previously run by downtown’s Business Improvement District before Vail-Leavitt took it over.

The festival had brought 11,000 people to downtown Riverhead in 2006, which is when the event starting running as a fundraiser for the theater, according to previous News-Review reports.

Mr. Barta attributes the latest rekindling efforts to the music hall’s newest board member: Denise Lucas, founder of the Riverhead Move the Animal Shelter nonprofit group.

The board was excited about Ms. Lucas joining because of her success with various fundraising efforts, he said. In the past three years, she’s helped raise money to build a new animal shelter in Calverton.

In addition, county Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) has also helped with securing a $5,000 grant, Mr. Barta said.

“We saw an opportunity to try and bring back the blue festival as a series of events,” Mr. Barta said, adding the tentative plan is to have different bands play for three nights in the fall at the theater.

“Based on that response, we’re hopeful we’ll bring back a full scale event.”

The original blues festival, which was the nonprofit theater’s largest fundraising event, was cancelled in 2013 and 2014 after Vail-Leavitt lost more than $8,700 on the 2012 event. That’s when the outdoor festival was moved from its usual July date to Father’s Day weekend in June, which is when other big attractions like the Strawberry Festival also took place.

When asked why he believes blues and jazz needs to have a presence in Riverhead, Mr. Barta, who teaches a music class at Suffolk County Community College, said the music’s style is fitting to the area since it comes from a working-class sensibility.

“The sadness of the music speaks speaks to so many and a wide range of people,” he said.

As for the upcoming fundraiser at the theater, Mr. Barta’s band will play New Orleans style jazz from the 1920s and 1930s. The Sunrise Band will feature hits from the 1960s and 1970s.

Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $10. A raffle and 50/50 drawing will also take place during the event.

For more information about, call the theater at 631-727-5782 or email [email protected].

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Photo caption: The late blues guitar legend Johnny Winter performed at the 2012 Riverhead Blues Festival. (Credit: Jay Webster, file)