NY Times LONG ISLAND WEEKLY DESK June 15, 2003, Sunday

The Band Did Not Play On

By ALLAN RICHTER (NYT) 1702 words
AT the Field Day Music Festival in Giants Stadium in the New Jersey Meadowlands on
June 7, a stagehand accidentally slammed a headliner, Beck, in the ribs before he was to go on. The musician was taken to a hospital, where no broken bones were found. But considerable pain kept the artist from performing.

The incident, along with the nearly constant rainfall at the concert, is a fitting metaphor for the failure to keep the show at the former Grumman airfield in Calverton, where it was originally scheduled as a two-day event, and for the cancellation by promoters last week of Bonnaroo NE, a rock festival planned for August at the same place. Bonnaroo's organizers said they were discouraged by Field Day's cancellation.

After all the efforts by promoters to bring the two events to Long Island, the breakdown of the plans may have sounded a death knell for the future of rock concerts in Calverton. ''This is the end of that site for that purpose,'' Andrew Dreskin, the Field Day promoter, said of the 2,900-acre Calverton site, where more than 35,000 fans had been expected each day last weekend to hear musicians like Beck, Radiohead and the Beastie Boys. ''No promoter in their right mind would touch that site with a 10-foot pole.''

On June 4, after more than several weeks of intense legal and political tussling, and failure to get the necessary approvals, Mr. Dreskin decided to move the event to New Jersey. Now that the concert is over, the finger-pointing among the various factions has begun.

On one side are local business and tourism officials, who lament the lost dollars that had been anticipated. On another side are area homeowners and local environmentalists who say the concerts would have been a traffic nightmare and a public safety and environmental threat. At the same time, Suffolk County and Town of Riverhead officials blame each other for the collapse of the shows, the latest in a long line of snakebitten proposals for the redevelopment of the Calverton site. And local musicians and fans rue what they say is a lost chance for the Island to regain the role it had some 30 years ago as a rock music incubator.

Officials in Riverhead, which encompasses Calverton, had encouraged Mr. Dreskin's plans for Field Day. But in late May, the county health department denied him a permit, saying there were not enough police officers to manage the crowds and traffic. County officials refused to send their police officers, saying they did not have enough time to make arrangements to do so, a contention that town officials and Mr. Dreskin dispute. Eventually, the town board failed to give the necessary final approval to Mr. Dreskin, prompting him to move the concert.

Mr. Dreskin said he first made contact with town officials last November, and in February had the first of a series of meetings with them and county officials. He also said that in April, county officials had already worked out what it would cost to hire police officers to work overtime. But John Gallagher, the Suffolk police chief, said plans made in April were already too late.

Mr. Dreskin said he believed that the security issues were an excuse to placate environmentalists and civic opponents whom he called the ''rock-'n-roll-is-bad crowd.''

Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, who opposed both Field Day and Bonnaroo, said the cancellations resulted from poor planning by promoters and Riverhead. His group had filed a state lawsuit to stop Mr. Dreskin and the town, arguing that appropriate environmental reviews were not completed. The court denied the request, saying it was brought too early, but promoters of both concerts have said they had made the necessary arrangements.

Michael Hollander, president of the Long Island Convention and Visitors Bureau & Sports Commission, wanted both concerts held in Calverton because of the money he said they would bring in. An economic impact study commissioned by Mr. Dreskin estimated that Field Day would have pumped $2.7 million into the local economy.

Mr. Hollander blamed the collapse of the plans on environmental and other civic opponents. ''It's sad that sometimes on Long Island small groups get to affect the welfare of the larger population,'' he said, adding that he did not think that security issues or poor planning by promoters and Riverhead officials was the problem, especially since Bonnaroo promoters canceled so early.

Meanwhile, the fate of the Calverton site remains in doubt. Mr. Amper, of the environmentalist group, said Riverhead officials have mishandled plans for the Calverton property since 1998, when the United States Navy, which owned the land, transferred it to the town for $1. He singled out Robert Kozakiewicz, the town supervisor, and Ed Densieski, a councilman, for clinging to hopes to turn the property into an airport at the expense of what he said were more viable uses that could yield more immediate financial rewards. In 2001, Riverhead voters defeated a town referendum to spend town money to operate an airport at Calverton.

''Part of why it's not a polo field and it's not a theme park and it's not a movie studio is because a lot of the proposals were simply incompatible with an airport,'' Mr. Amper said. ''They foreclosed several viable redevelopment options because of their myopic focus on the site as an airport.''

Mr. Kozakiewicz said efforts to develop the site continue, adding that the town has ''leads'' that could help bring a theme park, hotel and convention center to the property. ''He makes statements that are not supported by facts,'' the supervisor said of Mr. Amper.

Mr. Densieski did not return several calls to his cellular telephone and his town hall office last week.

Fans and musicians are less concerned with the politics involved in the demise of the festivals. For them, the question is whether the Island will once again be home to a flourishing rock music scene.

Rob Barraco, 47, is the keyboard player for The Dead, the name now used by The Grateful Dead, which had planned to appear at Bonnaroo. Mr. Barraco, who lives in Centerport, grew up in the Hicksville area. He recalled when young musicians on the Island had access to scores of local clubs, large and small, in which to perform. Mr. Barraco said that scene eroded after the 1985 change in the New York State minimum drinking age, to 21 from 19, which he said kept aspiring musicians and huge audiences from the clubs.

Early in his career, Mr. Barraco played the Island's club circuit in Timberwolf, a Grateful Dead tribute band.

''We were able to draw a couple of thousand people a night,'' he said in a telephone interview during a break in The Dead's rehearsals in California last month. ''Then of course they changed the drinking age, and the business went down the drain. We were able to hang on for a little while because Jersey's drinking age didn't change for another year or two.''

Supporters of the Field Day festival hoped the event would revitalize the local rock scene by bringing in modern fare, like Radiohead, that fit no particular genre as an alternative to the more mainstream acts that pass through Nassau Coliseum and the Jones Beach theater.

Bonnaroo, a version of a Tennessee festival under way this weekend, would have exposed fans to the first tour bringing Bob Dylan and The Dead together since 1987, as well as to several newer bands influenced by the same blues, country and folk roots.

Recent efforts to produce rock music concerts at new venues on the Island have lost ground to protesting neighbors or a lack of profits. Nine summers of benefit concerts organized by Paul Simon at the Deep Hollow Ranch in Montauk ended in 1999 after complaints from neighbors.

Another venue was lost when Nassau Off-Track Betting Corporation last month announced that it would buy the Vanderbilt catering hall in Plainview for $6.4 million and convert it into a casino-style teletheater. The site has been host to 400 rock concerts in the last four years.

Two years ago, Cream Productions, a London promoter, tried to put on Creamfields, a techno dance festival, in partnership with Clear Channel Entertainment at the Calverton site. The event was canceled after slow ticket sales.

''Long Island needs something like this,'' David Luvetsky, a 20-year-old college student, said of the canceled festivals as he recently shopped Tower Records in Carle Place.

Mr. Dreskin said he had plans for Field Day 2004, but that he was unlikely to pursue a site on the Island, although he would not completely rule that out. He said he was looking at a site in New York State.

He declined to specify his losses from Field Day, but said they totaled ''many millions of dollars.'' Mr. Dreskin said about 20,000 tickets totaling $1.6 million were sold for the New Jersey show. About 55,000 tickets had been made available for the concert.

New Jersey police arrested five people on misdemeanor charges during the 12 hours of the concert. Mr. Dreskin saw that statistic as affirmation that the festival could have been run smoothly in Calverton.

''The assertions that these folks were making all along were totally baseless, and we proved that on Saturday,'' he said.

Mr. Amper, the environmentalist, remained unconvinced. ''We take no pleasure in the loss of these concerts,'' he said, ''but neither of them had sufficient time to assure protection of the public and the Pine Barrens.''

CAPTIONS: Photos: The stage at the Calverton airfield before Field Day was moved to New Jersey. Inset, signs outside the site's gate gave fans the news. (Doug Kuntz and, inset, Maxine Hicks for The New York Times)(pg. 1); Concertgoing hopefuls were getting the bad news from state troopers last Saturday that the concert at Calverton was canceled. Now discouraged promoters have put aside plans for a concert at Calverton in August. (Maxine Hicks for The New York Times)(pg. 5)

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