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Music festivals again enjoying a welcome on LI

The crowd cheers for Fetty Wap at the

The crowd cheers for Fetty Wap at the Billboard 100 concert in Jones Beach, August 23, 2015. Credit: Ryan C. Jones

Long Island loves music festivals.

The summer of 2015 proved it, as the Great South Bay Music Festival in Patchogue expanded into a four-day extravaganza and the debut of the Billboard Hot 100 Music Festival at Nikon at Jones Beach Theater broke attendance records at the venue, as did a string of sold-out country festivals at the Pennysaver Amphitheater in Farmingville.

There was also the launch of Nile Rodgers' star-studded FOLD Festival in Riverhead, as well as Gregg Allman's first Laid Back Festival at Nikon at Jones Beach Theater.

"People have found festivals are just a better deal," says Jim Faith, co-founder of the Great South Bay Music Festival. "It's just a nicer experience. You can take your kids. You can get lots of different types of food and have lots of different types of experiences. It's a lot different than sitting in a seat for three hours."

According to a recent Nielsen report, 12 percent of Americans say they discovered new music through a festival or live event, nearly doubling the percentage who said they discovered new music that way in 2014. And there are more and more festivals to choose from.

"Festivals are exploding exponentially," UG Strategies CEO Parag Bhandari told Billboard. "We feel like it's a massive component of pop culture."

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Bhandari's company is launching Uphoric TV, a cable network dedicated to music festivals, this fall.

However, it wasn't that long ago that Long Island was fighting music festivals taking place in Nassau and Suffolk counties at every turn.

In 2003, local and county government agencies as well as private groups worked together to stop the Field Day Festival, featuring Radiohead and the Beastie Boys, from taking place at the 2,900-acre former Grumman Corp. property in Calverton. Groups also stopped a potential spinoff of the popular Tennessee festival Bonnaroo that was to include Bob Dylan, The Dead and Tom Petty from happening at that property.

Those high-profile fights gave Long Island a negative reputation in the music industry that took years to undo. New festivals didn't even look at the area as a possibility, which led to promoters looking at previously unused venues on Governors Island and Randall's Island.

That is no longer the case. John Caracciolo and Vic Latino of JVC Broadcasting, which handles concerts at the Pennysaver Amphitheater, say that they have the support of the Town of Brookhaven and the community.

"We're located in a residential area, so it's extremely important to have that support," Latino says. "Country music has been a blessing for us because we've been able to bring in some national talent and the community absolutely loves it."

Carraciolo says that they also work hard to keep ticket prices down for the concerts and using the festival model helps. "With a festival, we can bring in a lot of bands and make it an all-day event," he says. "We can also bring in a lot of sponsors and bring in bigger dollars to keep the ticket prices low."

For Faith, who handles festivals in Farmingdale and Port Jefferson as well as the Great South Bay Music Festival, it is often a matter of finding a community that recognizes how the events can help them.

"You have to find the right place," he says. "When the politics is with you, you can go really far. It's like a good marriage."

Faith says he is already at work on next year's Great South Bay Music Festival, which will be the event's 10th anniversary. He plans to keep it at four days again next year, though he is looking for ways to make it special. "It will be the biggest one," he promises. "We're definitely going to put the most we ever have into this."

Organizers of the Billboard Hot 100 Music Festival, which brought The Weeknd, Justin Bieber, Nicki Minaj and others to Nikon at Jones Beach Theater, are also looking to return next summer, ready to break the attendance record of 40,000 over two days at the Wantagh venue.

And Rodgers has announced plans to bring his FOLD Festival back to Riverhead next year, perhaps on a weekend rather than in the middle of the week.

Caracciolo says that because of the Pennysaver Amphitheater's connections to JVC's 96.1 FM My Country radio station, as well as previous festivals that have included hot country stars including Eric Church and Dierks Bentley, they have already accomplished what the promoters of top national festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo have.

"For the Freedom Festival this year, we had people buy tickets even before they knew who was playing," says Caracciolo, who also promotes multi-artist events like the "Girls With Guitars" series at the Patchogue Theatre, which will include Cassadee Pope and Jana Kramer in the installment on Oct. 8. "People believe in us and (WJVC program director) Phathead has been on point with his choices. It's been successful. And we're going to use the same strategy next year."

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