First Annual Riverhead Blues Festival

by Barbara Kent

Riverhead rocks. And Rolls...and this Summer, we are going to boogie-woogie.

Itís a long way from Nashville to Riverhead, but August 27, 28 & 29 1999, the Tanger Outlet Center and the Riverhead Business Improvement District Management Association will present the first annual Riverhead Blues Festival.

At the moment the line up includes Long Island local talent and Gold Record recording artist, the musician who Blues man Joe Turner named "Prince of the Blues," Sam Taylor and his band, featuring violinist Heather Hardy and a complete horn section. Taylor, who lived in Riverhead for a while until 1960, s a y s . " T h e b l u e s d o n ' t m a k e y o u b l u e , b l u e s m u s i c i s t h e r e t o t a k e y o u r t r o u b l e s a w a y . " With over 135 of his own songs published and a gold record to his credit. Taylor has performed with Otis Redding and T-Bone Walker, Big Joe Turner, and Albert Collins. Sam Taylor also toured with the Beatles in Europe during the early sixties.

Born in Cape Charles Virginia and a resident of Riverhead since 1953, "Muletrain" Vaughn, another headliner, started playing around 1960, inspired by Fats Domino, James Brown and Chuck Berry. He taught himself to play traditional blues guitar by listening carefully to his favorite artists. Vaughn and his band have been a regular fixture on the East End every weekend night for many years. As one would expect from a man nick-named "Muletrain" heíd play until 4 a.m. and get up at 6 to go to work. "Dark to dark. That's when I would work. From before the sun came up to after it went down." Says Muletrain. At age 63 he credits his ability to play so long and hard on the certainty that he has never used tobacco or alcohol.

Jeff Denny and the Jeff Denny Band are also slated to appear. Born and raised in Brooklyn, Jeff Denny currently lives in the Eastern Long Island area, and is a well known pillar of the community who lends his great talent for charitable organizations such as the Stony Brook Foundation For Aids Research, The DARE Program (an outreach program for the community's youth) and local municipal fund raising events. Jeff Denny offers original compositions and his interpretations of the music of Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eddie Van Halen and Eric Johnson. A respected and well-know "guitar wizard," Jeff Denny has played with and received high praise from artists such as Rick Derringer and Jeff Ganz, Johnny Winter's bassist. He has coordinated shows for Rockland and Suffolk County Fairs in addition to the Brookhaven Cultural Center Blues and Rock Festivals. A European tour by the Jeff Denny Band is in the making.

No blues festival would be complete without the Long Island legend, Little Wilson Band. Band leader Allen Santoriello has recently returned to Little Wilson after a two-year hiatus as lead singer with still another great, Long Island band.

ALSO on the play list are the Long Island Voiceís Number One Blues Band for 1998, the Kerry Kearny Band. Kerry Kearny was just recently signed with Palmetto Records and is trouring with the Allman Brothers Band from Chicago to Boston this summer. Additionally, from Cutchogue Rick Manwaring and The Straightjackets, The Hackensack Men and the Trenton Horns, known to many throughout the East End of Long Island, Dee Harris & Ken "The Rocket," and more to be announced as they are added to this illustrious roster at a later date.
Tom Gahan, producer of the Festival, believes that "Riverhead is the perfect venue for a Blues Festival. It has all the components necessary to give the event a real Blues flavor. The river and paddlewheeler give downtown an authentic 'New Orleans" feel. It is my dream to see Riverhead become the Blues Capitol of the Northeast. Itís a working town, there are no false pretenses in Riverhead. Riverhead in and of itself is a Blues tune." Tom is the Director of Public Relations for the town of Riverhead but has also promoted and produced many very successful music events in Riverhead including the Riverhead Songwriters Showdown (November 15, 1997), Tribute to the Blues at the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall (November 22, 1997) and ongoing "Open Mic" nights that regularly attract more than a hundred musicians to the downtown Riverhead Arts District.

The Festival will converge on the bank of the scenic Peconic River in downtown Riverhead just off Peconic Avenue. There will be signs posted to show the way. Beach or lawn chairs and cushy blankets are necessary because the parking lot surface is hard, but can accommodate thousands of people. Tents assure that whatever Mother Nature decides to deal, be it rain, sleet, sunshine or moonshine, the crowd will be comfortable. On Friday and Saturday nights, August 27 and 28 the wailing starts at 6 p.m. and rolls on to 11 p.m. Sunday commences at 1 p.m. until 6 p.m. Currently it has not yet been decided who will play when. Oh yes, the price is right, too. Free admission and free municipal parking behind Sweezeyís on the north side.