This year's Riverhead Blues Festival could be the biggest and best ever. Or, it might not take place at all.

Two separate groups have filed applications for a town permit to run the July 17-18 festival, which draws crowds ranging from around 10,000 to 20,000 depending on the weather.

The battle pits the board of the Vail Leavitt Music House, a not-for-profit group which has run the festival for several years, with the not-for-profit board of Riverhead's Chamber of Commerce.

Both applications call for the 12th Annual Riverhead Blues and Music Festival to take place in downtown Riverhead and each group wants to be in charge.

The Riverhead Town Board has no control over the running of the festival, but it does have to approve the permit to hold it. And, so far, neither group has three town board members willing to vote for their permit application, Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said. No permit would effectively doom the popular event.

"Isn't it amazing when we take something that is a good festival and want to make it fantastic, how people don't like change, even if it's a positive change," said Walter Tuesday.

The Vail-Leavitt group has solid experience in booking acts and finding vendors. It stepped in and saved the festival in 2006 when the Riverhead Business Improvement District, the original sponsor, said it was losing money and could no longer stage it.

But the group has struggled to bring in funding or win major sponsors. The festival makes about $20,000 or $25,000 a year, depending on the crowd size, and that money provides about half the historic Music Hall's annual budget.

Walter said representatives of both groups met with him about a week ago, and generally supported a proposal that would let the Vail Leavitt people run the festival, with the Chamber of Commerce managing the financial end.

There was no final deal on what the Chamber of Commerce would be paid, however, and when representatives went back to their groups, hostility flared.

Walter said he expects no immediate action by the town board on the permit application of either group.

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