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Blues festival returns to Riverhead

Riverhead Blues and Music Festival director Bob Barta talks about the sights and sounds of this beloved community event. Videojournalist: Michael Cusanelli (June 17, 2012)

Amber Ferrari put her hands in the air and danced wildly on stage as her bandmates let loose a flurry of bluesy guitar riffs. In a purple beaded vest and a pair of large amber sunglasses, Ferrari looked as if she stepped out of a rock concert from the 1960s.

After belting out a blues-tinged cover of Melissa Etheridge’s “Come to My Window,” Ferrari and the other members of her Janis Joplin cover band, Joplin’s Pearl, worked their way into the crowd for handshakes, hugs and congratulations.

“It’s outside and it feels like Woodstock,” said Ferrari.

This weekend, the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall hosted its annual Riverhead Blues and Music Festival. The festival, which has drawn thousands of fans every year since it started in 1998, returned to Riverhead this year after a hiatus this past summer, a victim of cost concerns.

The weekend-long festival featured more than 30 regional and national acts, including blues superstar Johnny Winter. Other performers, such as Josey Wales, Gene Casey and the Lone Sharks, and Long Island native Toby Walker also appeared throughout the weekend.

“I’m so proud of the lineup we have this year,” said Vail-Leavitt Music Hall president Bob Barta. “I feel that this is the strongest lineup that has ever been fielded at this festival.”

This year, the Riverhead Blues and Music Festival expanded its lineup to include jazz, bluegrass, rockabilly and other genres.

“The music is great,” said Charlie Murray, 53, of Middle Island. “There’s nothing better than the blues music.”

Since 2003 the festival has served as the main fundraising event for the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall, a historic opera house in Riverhead that was established in 1881. After its renovation in 2003, the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall has functioned as a prime location for local music events, charities and fundraisers.

Long Island music fans were able to enjoy the various acts on three stages in and around the hall.

“I love the rhythms, I could dance all night,” said Claude Jackson, 43, who was attending his first Riverhead blues festival. “I think the blues has a kind of rhythm that’s universal.”

Tags: Riverhead , Blues and Music , Festival

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