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INTERVIEW: Diane Tucci On Long Island Winterfest's New Mission

T.J. Clemente

In addition to North Fork and Hamptons happenings, the 2021 Winterfest will also feature events in Patchogue and Port Washington. (Photo: www.facebook.com)

The 2021 Long Island Winterfest will not be as it was in the past. Running through Sunday, March 21, this year it will look a little different, but there's still plenty going on. Diane Tucci, who is the CEO of Main Street Agency - which is a tourism marketing and tourism event production company that has been coordinating Winterfest, this being their 4th year - was frank about what's in store for 2021.

During a chat with Hamptons.com, Tucci was still enthusiastic about this year's efforts. She said, "Prior to COVID, the long and short history is that in 2007 Winterfest began as 'Jazz on the Vine' on the North Fork. Eventually it became 'Live on the Vine,' as people wanted more diverse music than just jazz. Then, as time went on, the vineyards shifted their focus to wine education as opposed to music. So at that point in time, I came into the picture and became part of the team. Then marketing with Discover Long Island, it became a good opportunity to expand Winterfest off of just the North Fork, more into the South Fork and really be more representative of the whole East End and embrace our growing brewery culture."

She added, "Winterfest was created to boost the economy off season, and over the years with all the live music and all the great events that were going on, people just naturally now come out to the North Fork area for Winterfest. We have educated them to know that there is great music, great food experiences, along with lots of art and culture on the East End, including Riverhead." That was all pre-COVID.

So what about now with the pandemic? Tucci said, "Winterfest pre-COVID was all about social gatherings in intimate groups... Come this year we weren't really quite sure what to do. Last March, when Governor Cuomo said live music was only to be incidental and couldn't be charged for, along with social distancing guidelines, capacity wiped out the core of Winterfest. After January, we decided to roll with the flow, and in conversations with other towns, we decided on an initiative to expand Winterfest beyond the East End - because the brand was Long Island Winterfest, not East End Winterfest. In conversations with Port Washington and Patchogue, along with East Hampton, it was decided it was important that Winterfest continue."

On what Winterfest will be this season, Tucci relayed, "Winterfest will now have a limited capacity. However, I coined the phrase: 'if we do nothing, the people will see nothing.' So we just continued on with what we built, but made it a 'pandemic Winterfest' - where it's really about a travel safe message. There are lots of things happening that you can do safely. We are now making an effort to make the website a resource for places to do things, like go ice skating, places to go hiking, or even seal watching. You can still stay safely at local hotels and motels or do a safe backyard staycation. Winterfest used to try to get people from Connecticut, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. Now we have changed the focus to if you can't go out of state, we have all these neat places right here. We are just trying to put together what we can."

She is hopeful that by next year things will be back to pre-COVID - with live music at the wineries and breweries.

For more information, visit longislandwinterfest.com.

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