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Credit: Katharine Schroeder
Pandafan performs at the Winterfest kickoff party at The Suffolk Theater on Friday. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)

When Melvin “Sunny” Hale was a young man in the ’70s, back when The Suffolk Theater was still a movie palace, the East Main Street theater was where the Riverhead native earned a paycheck. Now 40 years later, when it was time to say  “I do” to his girlfriend of two years, he and his bride Lisa headed back to the recently restored art deco theater to exchange their vows.

An added bonus? One of their favorite musicians Randy Jackson would be taking the stage that night.

In honor of the New Orleans-born rock musician, Ms. Hale showed off a striped appliqué on her bouquet.

“It’s got a little zebra in it because Randy Jackson used to be in Zebra,” said the new Mrs. Hale, still wearing her wedding dress and vail.

But Jackson wasn’t performing a private show for the Hales and their guests. In fact, about 250 people had come out that night to hear the rocker and acts Kerry Kearney, Jack’s Waterfall and Pandafan perform.

Those people were also celebrating the start of Long Island Winterfest, the six-weekend festival that features live music and more at North Fork vineyards, restaurants and concert venues.

“It’s a great start to the series,” said Pat Snyder, executive director of East End Arts, which along with the Long Island Wine Council organizes the event. “We want to get people excited for the six weeks. Get them excited for the music they are going to hear.”

Though it used to host jazz acts exclusively, the festival was expanded in 2014 to performers from other musical genres. Winterfest will run weekends from Feb. 21 through March 29.

Also of note this year is the addition of headline acts, said festival promoter Jim Faith. Faith, who is working with Winterfest organizers for the first time this year, noted how the festival has grown from an idea nearly 10 years ago to an annual event with more than 100 performances at nearly 20 venues.

“It started as a grass roots effort,” Faith said. “It has great bones.”

Organizers are expecting the event to draw at least 10,000 additional people to the East End this season, up from about 7,500 last year. Lower numbers were reported in 2014 largely due to the weather.

The rock band The Smithereens will take The Suffolk Theater stage on Feb. 21 at 8 p.m. and jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan will perform at Raphael on March 14 at 4 p.m.

And Faith said ’90s alternative rock band 10,000 Maniacs will perform at the festival’s closing party at the Long Island Aquarium and Exhibition Center on Saturday, March 28.

“We haven’t done that before,” Snyder said. “We’re going to go out with a bang.”

See photos from the party below.

Cindy Clifford of WALK radio.
Cindy Clifford of WALK radio.
Legislator Al Krupski.
Legislator Al Krupski.
East End Arts director Pat Snyder.
East End Arts director Pat Snyder.
Howard Bluver of Suffolk County National Bank.
Howard Bluver of Suffolk County National Bank.
Enjoying the evening are, from left, Jim Mahoney of Sound Beach, Carmine Maresco and Dorie Lake of Westhampton Beach.
Enjoying the evening are, from left, Jim Mahoney of Sound Beach, Carmine Maresco and Dorie Lake of Westhampton Beach.
Allison Pressler of Aquebogue and Jean Saunders of Mattituck.
Allison Pressler of Aquebogue and Jean Saunders of Mattituck.
Amber Ferrari of East Patchogue and Jen Erwig of Setauket.
Amber Ferrari of East Patchogue and Jen Erwig of Setauket.
Pandafan performs.
Pandafan performs.
Pandafan performs.
Pandafan performs.
Jack's Waterfall performs.
Jack’s Waterfall performs.
Jack's Waterfall.
Jack’s Waterfall.
Elena and Edgar Jones of Wading River.
Elena and Edgar Jones of Wading River.
 Sunny and Lisa Hale tied the knot at the Suffolk Theater and stayed to enjoy the music.
Sunny and Lisa Hale tied the knot at the Suffolk Theater and stayed to enjoy the music.
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