Riverhead Blues Festival Could Find New Home In Southampton Town


The operators of the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall are seeking a venue change for their decade-old Riverhead Blues Festival, which was canceled this summer for undisclosed reasons—and Southampton Town could be its new home.

Bob Barta, president of the theater’s board of directors, said Tuesday that board members are exploring a slew of options, including locations in both Riverhead and Southampton towns, though he said he did not expect a decision to be made for at least another month. Mr. Barta declined to offer any specifics about possible sites under consideration in Southampton Town.

The festival has taken place along the Peconic River waterfront in downtown Riverhead since its inception about 13 or 14 years ago, but Mr. Barta explained that the nonprofit theater ran into difficulties last year, particularly with a few local businesses, which he declined to name.

“I really do want to keep a local East End atmosphere about it,” he said of the festival, which now serves as the largest fundraiser for the theater.

The Riverhead Business Improvement District established the festival, but handed it over to the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall when it became too costly to run. Mr. Barta, a musician who performs frequently with his band, the Sunnyland Jazz Band, said he was familiar with festivals, and jumped at the opportunity.

Since 2006, the festival has served as the theater’s most important fundraiser, accounting for a large chunk of its income. Last year, however, a scheduling conflict resulted in lower-than-normal attendance and a net loss for Vail-Leavitt.

“It wasn’t like we took an unsustainable loss from the festival, but it didn’t do the kind of fundraising that it was intended to,” he said. “I think one aspect I’m proud of is the value entertainment-wise that we’ve been able to provide all those years.”

The board of directors had originally discussed the possibility of holding the festival as a series of indoor events this fall, but ultimately decided to put it on hiatus until a new location could be selected. The board is now discussing the proposed spots and evaluating their accessibility, space, cost and parking to determine which would be the best fit.

Still, Mr. Barta said the hope is to hold the two-day festival outdoors next year. Though it traditionally features blues acts, the show could be expanded to include other genres of music as well, he added.

The festival is a creative way to support the theater, a nonprofit that is run by volunteers, Mr. Barta said. Community service is built into the theater’s mission, he added. Throughout the year the organization takes part in charitable causes, including “Toys for Tots” drives, and provides a venue for many fundraisers and benefits without collecting a fee.

The Vail-Leavitt was built in 1881 and is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, theaters still operating in the state.

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