Riverhead officials say they are prepared to manage the thousands of people expected at Martha Clara Vineyards Tuesday and Wednesday for a huge music festival featuring Beck, Pharrell Williams, Duran Duran and Keith Urban.
The "FreakOut! Let's Dance" concert -- known as the FOLD festival -- is likely to be the biggest event in Riverhead Town since 2003, when the two-day New York Air Show drew an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 people to Enterprise Park at Calverton each day, officials said.
FOLD, organized by musician and producer Nile Rodgers, will draw 10,000 people a day to Martha Clara, according to the event's website. A crowd of that size poses a challenge for the town's farm-lined roads, which frequently back up with traffic from winery-bound visitors on weekends. The event is being held a little more than two weeks after a winery-touring limousine made a U-turn in Cutchogue and was hit broadside by a pickup truck, killing four women inside the limo.
"Everyone's got their job and knows what they're doing," Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller said. "I really don't see that there'll be a problem."
Hegermiller said concertgoers will be asked to avoid the two-lane Sound Avenue. He said FOLD's organizers will instead instruct concertgoers to take the Long Island Expressway to Route 24, then Route 105 to Route 25 to Herricks Lane, where parking will be available.
Hegermiller said about 20 Riverhead police officers will direct and monitor traffic during the festival. The winery opens to parking at 5 p.m. and the gates open to concertgoers at 6 p.m. FOLD's organizers have agreed to reimburse the town for police pay related to the event, estimated at $30,000, he said.
Free shuttles to the vineyard are to arrive hourly at the Riverhead Long Island Rail Road station and the Suffolk Theater, allowing concertgoers to park downtown, according to FOLD's website.
Festival representatives declined to comment.
In August 2013, Rodgers hosted a one-day festival at Martha Clara called All For the East End -- or AFTEE -- that drew about 5,000 people and raised about $50,000 for nonprofits on eastern Long Island.
Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said the event will put a spotlight on Riverhead, where town officials have been trying to build a tourism industry similar to those anchoring the economies of other East End towns.
"It's a Tuesday-Wednesday event, so it's off-peak; it's not the peak hours of the weekend," Walter said. "I'm sure it's filling up our hotels and restaurants and everything else. That's part of a good business model for the town."
Walter, a self-professed country music fan, said he plans to take his wife to see Keith Urban perform at the festival.
North Fork residents have increasingly raised concerns about crowds and noise at winery events, including live music.
Residents who live near Martha Clara said they were given free tickets to the FOLD festival and warned about the volume of the music.
Calista Bookout, 74, who lives next to the vineyard, said Martha Clara officials gave her four passes for each day of the festival.
"Martha Clara approached us, and we have tickets to go to the show and passes to get back and forth to our house during the activities," she said.
Bookout said security personnel ushered her to the AFTEE concert at the vineyard two years ago.
"It's not as big as this one is going to be, but it was fun," she said. "I didn't dance, but a lot of people were dancing, and I saw some people that I knew there."
Bookout said she planned to attend this year's festival and had invited several people to join her.
"It is loud, but what the heck," she said. "I'm old, but some of the musicians I've even heard of."
Hegermiller, the town police chief, said the concert is scheduled to end at 11 p.m., so he's not concerned about the town being inundated with noise complaints.
Concert promoters have been drawn to the East End by the area's open spaces and proximity to New York City, but have been foiled at times by the rural infrastructure and neighbors' objections.
In 2003, a three-day music festival called Field Day was to bring major acts such as Radiohead, the Beastie Boys and Beck to the 2,900-acre Enterprise Park at Calverton. But county officials denied the organizers permits amid concerns about traffic and the need for a massive police presence.
Field Day's problems spurred organizers of the Bonnaroo NE festival, scheduled for the next weekend at the enterprise park, to cancel their event as well. The Grateful Dead, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan had been booked to perform.
Field Day's organizers later sued Riverhead, and the town eventually settled for $1 million.
In 2011, organizers of the MTK festival planned at East Hampton Airport had booked Vampire Weekend and Bright Eyes as headliners, but faced residents' concerns about traffic and noise. Organizers later called off the event because of low ticket sales.
FOLD Festival details
The two-day FOLD Festival will bring together artists like alternative rocker Beck, pop sensation Pharrell Williams, country star Keith Urban, retro singer Paloma Faith and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame rapper Chuck D of Roosevelt Tuesday; and new wave legends Duran Duran, R&B diva Chaka Khan, soul sensation Janelle Monáe, singer/songwriter Snoh Aalegra and icon rapper Grandmaster Melle Mel Wednesday. The entire show is curated by Chic guitarist-superstar producer Nile Rodgers.
"This is million-dollar talent in a local vibe," said Rodgers, who will play with Chic on both days. "It's all about the hang and the music."
Additionally, a DJ tent will showcase Eric B, Thomas Gold and The Martinez Brothers spinning Tuesday, and then Q-Tip, Slander and GTA on Wednesday.
"The concept is to have nonstop, continuous music, with DJs and bands working together," says Rodgers. "As soon as a DJ stops, a band goes on."
For tickets (general admission $137 to Ultra VIP $999) go to ticketmaster.com or ticketfly.com. Town of Riverhead residents can purchase discounted tickets ($95) at Martha Clara tasting room or at the Suffolk Theater at 118 E. Main St. in Riverhead (must show ID with Town of Riverhead address).
-- David J. Criblez