Berry-rich North Fork Festival opens in Mattituck

Tonight, the North Fork’s unofficial start to summer hits the Strawberry Fields Fairgrounds for the Mattituck Lions Club 69th Annual Strawberry Festival. The charitable event, running June 12 to 16, is steeped in local tradition, brings the community together and donates all proceeds — more than $1 million to date — to philanthropic and community causes, which have historically included local hospitals, the Special Olympics and youth sports programs.

Ticket-holders can expect the typical host of fresh shortcake, non-alcoholic daiquiris, chocolate-covered strawberries, rides — both thrill rides and those designed for children — and three nights of fireworks. New this year is the first annual “Memories for Morgan” on Thursday night, when the festival will open one hour early “to 30 local children who are challenged with social disorders, life threatening illness, or undue hardships, so they can enjoy the carnival without the pressures of crowds or lines,” according to a press release from Mattituck Lions Club. Stony Brook University Hospital and local occupational therapy practitioners are volunteering to act as buddies for Memories for Morgan participants and their families.

(Jeremy Garretson file photo)

The carnival opens Wednesday night with the return of the local favorite Hulling Night — where volunteers gather to clean and remove the fruit stems — and the third annual North Fork’s Got Talent Show. Judges for the talent show included author Regina Calcaterra, rock drummer Jeff Fabb, arts academy manager Justin Harris, reigning Strawberry Queen Allie Piscatelli and Sannino Vineyards co-owner Lisa Sannino. Talent show finalists and winners took to the main stage for the annual Jam Session. 

In case volunteers or festivalgoers tire of the many iterations of the fresh red berries, the International Food Court is set up selling gyros, funnel cakes, roasted corn, sausages, hamburgers, french fries, pizza, ice cream, non-alcoholic beverages and coffee. Craft vendors are set up in booths selling jewelry, knitwear, candles and handmade arts and crafts. Additional amusement includes a variety of midway games.

Saturday is a big day on the fairgrounds. A new Strawberry Queen will be crowned at 4 p.m., continuing a tradition that started back in 1956. She will be chosen from a host of high school sophomores and juniors from the town of Southold, selected for her “poise, academic success, range of interests and a commitment to community service.”

The reigning World Strawberry Shortcake Eating champion, Geoff Esper, is competing again this year, looking to break his record of 21 pounds. The current record of 22 pounds was set in 2018. The event goes down Saturday at 5 p.m.

Strawberry Festival admission costs $10 daily, with fathers entering for free on Father’s Day, Sunday, June 16, with one paid child. Kids younger than 5 enter for free daily. Ride bracelets, for the more than 25 rides on site, cost $30 to $35 and are nonrefundable. 

“Our festival offers something for everyone and is the perfect opportunity to kick off your summer surrounded by family and friends in a fun filled atmosphere here on the beautiful North Fork,” said Adam West, festival chairman and first vice president of Mattituck Lions Club in a press release.

The entertainment schedule is as follows:

Wednesday, June 12

5 to 6 p.m. Strawberry Festival Talent Opener

6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Strawberry Festival Talent Show

8 to 9 p.m. Strawberry Festival Talent Winner Jam Session

Thursday, June 13

5 to 7 p.m. Julie King

7 to 9 p.m. David Clark’s All About Joel Tribute Band

9:15 p.m. Fireworks

Friday, June 14

5 to 7 p.m. Jim Preston

7 to 9 p.m. Fever Band

10:30 p.m. Fireworks

Saturday, June 15

12:30 p.m. Aqua Cherry

4 p.m. Strawberry Queen Announcement

5 p.m. World Strawberry Shortcake Eating Championship

7:30 p.m. That 70’s Band

10:30 p.m. Fireworks

Sunday, June 16

11 a.m. Points East

1:30 p.m. Reel East End Brass (REEB)

4:30 p.m. Big Bucks Raffle Drawing