Patties sizzled on grills, draft beer poured out of cold barrels and the sound of rock echoed through Shorefront Park in Patchogue to kick off the Great South Bay Music Festival on Thursday.
Jim Faith, 62, founded the annual country, rock and jazz festival and said he expects nearly 20,000 visitors by the end of the event's ninth showing Sunday. He said that when it comes to attracting fans, variety is key, whether it's music or food.
"Our attendees get a lot of food choices from healthy to funky, a little bit of everything," said Faith, wearing a tattered, army green cap with the festival's name stitched into it. A row of tents with white pagoda tops housed grilled cheese, kettle corn and other food stations. There were nearly 20 food vendors at the event. Faith said he selected many local concessions to offer visitors a taste of Long Island culture.
A few yards from Faith was Ralph Reale, co-owner of That Meetball Place in Patchogue. After his experience selling food at last year's festival, he said concert audiences enjoy food that's comfortable to eat.
"Last year, we went a little more gourmet and fancy on the food," said Reale, 43, as a thin veil of sweat formed above his sunglasses. "We're just making it more simplified this year." He also said he streamlined the menu because beer is more popular than food for many people at the festival.
According to Faith, ticket sales draw the most revenue, followed by beer. Blue Point Brewing Co., located about two miles from the festivities, supplied the event nearly 40 kegs, most of them stored in five refrigerated trailers on the field offering a variety of beers on tap.
Standing next to a beer trailer near the Blue Point Brews Stage, where a musician warmed up for her performance, was Michael Weissenberger, 58. He grew up in Hauppauge and makes the annual trip to the festival from his home in Ashburn, Virginia, to volunteer and reconnect with his old friends. As a three-year beer server at the event, he said the best way to serve a swarm of rock fans is to not turn off the tap between pours.
"I might smell a little like hops, barley and spilt beer," Weissenberger said about what it's like after a hard day of work. "It gets a little sticky, with the sugar in the beer, but for the most part it isn't too bad."
When it comes to dining, visitors aren't limited to the food sold at the event. Michele Barbine, 26, is manager of South Ocean Grill, a restaurant down the street from the festival. Although the restaurant opened just three months ago, Barbine, a Melville resident, said she welcomes the challenge of serving a large crowd coming from the event.
"We're hoping that it's going to be busy," said Barbine, who kept the door to the restaurant open. "I'm looking forward to possibly hearing the music."