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Blues fest move from downtown Riverhead

The Vail-Leavitt Music Hall, a nonprofit group that operates the Riverhead Blues Festival, says there's a "50-50 chance" the popular outdoor music fest will not be held in its traditional downtown Riverhead location next summer.

Bob Barta, president of the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall, said last week he has begun exploring a range of alternative locations after encountering complications preparing for the 13th annual event. The only possible location he would confirm is Suffolk County Community College's Eastern Campus, about 5 miles from downtown Riverhead in the town of Southampton, as reported by last week.

"I just want to make sure I have some options," Barta said.

Barta said he hasn't yet filed an application to secure the downtown site, which must be approved by the town, but expects to do so by the end of January and have a site secured by the end of February.

Vail-Leavitt Music Hall has run the event since 2006 when the Riverhead Business Improvement District, the original sponsor, said it was losing money and could no longer stage it.

Last year the Business Improvement District joined the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce in submitting a competing proposal to run the festival. That proposal was withdrawn, but Barta said he can't be sure the two groups won't try again.

The Chamber of Commerce did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said Suffolk Community College recently called to ask "if we minded" if the festival were held on the campus, and he told them no. He said a group hosting a car show has indicated it will apply to hold an event in downtown Riverhead on the July weekend the Blues Festival was held this year.

But Monday, Mary Feder, a campus spokeswoman, said the college has ruled out hosting the festival. "We are not negotiating to be the location for the festival and will not be hosting the festival," she said in an e-mail.

The town has asked Vail-Leavitt for a basic accounting statement from the Blues Festival, Walter said. Proceeds from the festival go to Vail-Leavitt, which charged $10 admission last summer.

"We really need to know what's going on and they have not produced this accounting," he said.

Walter said that when the group files an application, "we'll be asking for the accounting statement. If we don't get it," the board will take that into account.

He said the town spends "a lot of money" in police and other services on the Blues Festival and wants to make sure the expenditures are justified.

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