Drink! Dance! Long Island Winterfest Begins This Weekend

Winterfest performer Vanessa Trouble
Winterfest performer Vanessa Trouble, Photo: Nick Chowske

The seventh annual Long Island Winterfest will soon be warming up the East End and, with a number of modifications to its format, this year promises to be better than ever.

“A lot has changed this year,” says Winterfest Live on the Vine Coordinator Kathryn Simos. “The event was specifically jazz-centric, being called ‘Jazz on the Vine,’ and we made a strategic decision this past summer to open up the music selection to include lots of other kinds of music.”

The festival, now called Winterfest Live on the Vine, will feature jazz, blues, rock and country acts in more locations. “In years past, we were almost exclusively at wineries,” Simos says. “This year we have a number of hotels, theaters and some restaurants involved.” They are part of the Dine on the Vine program that is also new this year. “Dine on the Vine partners are local restaurants that have come onboard and want to be part of the festival by either offering a special menu or actually having music in their venue,” she says.

Live on the Vine is an opportunity to get out of the house and explore the North Fork in the offseason. “All of these concerts are going to take place in unique, beautiful tasting rooms and some cool hotels—places that people may not normally go,” Simos says. “It’s really an intimate setting. You’re going to be listening to some incredibly gifted musicians—some of them are world-renowned and have some pretty prestigious accolades. To enjoy all of that while you’re drinking wine and maybe going out to have dinner at a local restaurant—to me, it’s a really nice way to spend what could potentially be a cold and dreary winter.”

Winterfest, which is a partnership among the East End Arts Council, the Long Island Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Long Island Wine Council and the Suffolk County Department of Film and Cultural Affairs, was created to boost tourism on the North Fork during the offseason. “When you pair the arts with local businesses, we can really stimulate the economy, and that’s what we’re trying our best to do,” Simos says.

This year, Governor Cuomo’s office awarded the festival a $161,000 grant to support its marketing efforts. “Now that we’re in our seventh year, it shows that we have real legs, and the state recognized that this is something that needed to be funded and supported,” she says. “It just goes to show you that this festival is perceived as a real driver for the region.”

A portion of the grant was used was for an advertising campaign in New York City and Connecticut. “The idea is to use the money the governor’s office gave us to really incentivize the public to come out to the North Fork and spend the day, spend the night, get a hotel room and eat dinner here,” Simos says. “Certainly we want locals, but when you want to put heads in beds, as they say, you have to pull them from a little bit farther away.”

In addition to the grant, Suffolk County National Bank has come aboard as a title sponsor. “It’s the first time we’ve ever had any major corporation get behind us in such a big way, so we’re really grateful to them for that.”

According to Simos, Winterfest will continue to grow. “For this year, it will be exclusively on the North Fork,” she says. “However, we are definitely looking at expansion of the festival for next year, and there is interest on the South Fork.”

The official Winterfest Live on the Vine Kickoff is Friday, January 17 at the Suffolk Theater in Riverhead, and the festival runs from February 7 to March 16. “We’ve put together an incredible lineup of musicians and we’re really grateful to be able to have it in a wonderful theater like the Suffolk Theater,” Simos says. “We’ve got incredible music for a bargain price—tickets are $20, and you get a glass of wine, you get to eat some food, and then at 7 o’clock the music starts.” The kickoff party will feature Gene Casey and the Lone Sharks, Bakithi Kumalo and Mambo Loco. “They’re just killer bands—it will be a real dance party.”

Visit our Events Calendar for a complete schedule of Winterfest events.

Gene Casey and The Lone Sharks, from left, drummer Chris Ripley, keyboardist Mark Mancini, Gene Casey, and saxophone player Paul Scher.
Gene Casey and The Lone Sharks, from left, drummer Chris Ripley, keyboardist Andy Burton, Gene Casey, and saxophone player Paul Scher.

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