The people are coming — upwards of 5,000 are expected — and the town of Oak Bluffs is ready for them.
Roads will be blocked, busses rerouted. The entire Oak Bluffs police force will be in full swing and downtown restaurants have put extra staff on their rosters. The Steamship Authority is prepared for an increase in walk-on traffic and Stanley Nelson, who lives on the corner of Ocean Park overlooking the water, will have his fridge stocked. “We’re going to have an open-door policy. We’re gonna get some punch and some chips and let people know that anyone who wants to come by and at least hear the music can come on by,” he said this week. All this in preparation for an ambitious all-day musical event which takes place in Ocean Park Sunday, rain or shine.
The Martha’s Vineyard Festival kicked off last year. Organized by the Festival Network, the company responsible for the Newport Folk Festival and jazz events from New York to Paris, the concert last summer featured the Boston Pops with conductor Keith Lockhart, eight-time Grammy winner Natalie Cole, three-time Grammy winner Branford Marsalis and special guests such as Kate Taylor and Carly Simon. It began in the late afternoon, drew over 4,000 people and proceeds went to benefit the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.
This year, event organizers tried to expand the festival to a two-day affair. Town officials protested and the event was restricted to one day, but the concert will be longer than the last one with a heftier line-up. Doors open Sunday at 1:30 p.m. The music should begin around three and end by ten. Performers again include the Boston Pops with Mr. Lockhart and newcomers Gladys Knight, the Neville Brothers and Steel Pulse. Also featured are a number of Island acts: Kate Taylor, Willy Mason and Entrain with Phil daRosa. The network, a privately held company with headquarters in San Francisco and offices in New York city and Los Angeles, also will sponsor a free screening of the Vineyard documentary film Zeb — Schooner Life at 8:45 p.m. tomorrow night in the park.
Attendees this year are in store for more changes than the line-up. Tickets, which last year cost $50.50, this year are $75 general admission (tickets bought Sunday are $85) and $20 for children 12 and under. Kids younger than five get in free. Nine hundred premium tickets are available for $325 apiece. Three Island nonprofit groups — Vineyard House, the YMCA and the Friends of Oak Bluffs — are selling the tickets, which they bought from Festival Network at a cost of $135 each. The groups also had available 10 VIP tables at a cost of $10,000 each. Those already have sold out. Premium tickets include free parking and food and drink under hospitality tents.
Last year, ticket holders could not reenter the park once they left. The lawn was crowded with friends and families and couples who brought picnic dinners, snacks and bottles of wine. This year, ticket holders will receive wristbands and can come in and out of the park, but cannot bring food or drinks with them. Concessions and drinks from a number of Oak Bluffs eateries will be available for purchase inside the park. BravEncore, a nonprofit support group for the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School drama department, also will be selling food. Alcohol will be sold, but can only be bought and consumed in a designated area. “You won’t be able to take it out. Organizers are trying to keep control, to avoid underage drinking,” said Oak Bluffs police chief Erik Blake.
Because people can come and go, town business owners are hoping for a busy day. “We’re playing both sides of the street. We’re ready for anything at the restaurant and we’re selling concessions at the event,” said Glen Caldwell, manager of Offshore Ale, a restaurant and brewery bordering the park. “It could be dead or it could be a rager. We’re trying to prepare for anything.” Last year the festival proved a quiet day for the restaurant. “But I think that had to do with it being once you were in, you were in,” Mr. Caldwell said. The ale house will be selling lobster rolls and wraps inside the park. Everything will be prepared in small batches in the restaurant kitchen — the full menu will be available there — and then delivered to the concert. Mr. Caldwell has added four extra staff for the day.
Down the street at Giordano’s, Sunday will just be business as usual for the pizza stand, clam bar and family restaurant. “Sure it’s going to bring people into the town, but at this point, I really don’t know. It’s going to be just another weekend for us. We’re always geared for the busy time,” said co-owner Richie Giordano.
Dennis daRosa, president of the Oak Bluffs Business Association, expects the day will be a good one. “I think there’ll be a ton of people in town,” he said. “People will come and go. They won’t have to just sit in the park this year, so there’s no reason for people who would normally be shopping not to shop.” But, he said, it all depends on the weather. “If it’s a beautiful day, there’ll be enough business to go around.”
He is not the only one keeping tabs on the skies. “The biggest thing that will come into play will be the weather,” said Rob Sherer, a festival producer. “Luckily the weather looks great.” Mr. Sherer said organizers are expecting at least 5,000 attendees and hoping for upwards of 7,500. The number of tickets sold was not available at press time, but Mr. Sherer said sales are ahead of last year. “Tickets are moving along briskly,” he said. “But it’s a big park. There’ll be tickets for everybody.”
To gear up for the crowds, Mr. Sherer and his staff have organized roughly 100 volunteers and arranged for safety personnel to be present. “We have 22 of our own private security. Every [Oak Bluffs] police officer will be employed by us for the day as well. The EMS and the fire department will have a presence,” he said. Although Chief Blake would not say exactly how many officers will be on duty, he did say their presence will be noticeable. “We are obviously ramping up a bit because we are expecting a couple thousand people,” he said.
The added presence is truly precautionary, he said. “It’s not like an AC/DC concert. We don’t anticipate having to do a lot of enforcement, but there’s always the chance that we may have to get involved in some way, shape or form.” It was a sentiment echoed by John Rose, chief of the Oak Bluffs emergency management service. “Like always, we’re hoping that nothing happens, but we want to be prepared for something if it does,” he said. For the Saturday film screening, his crew will add an extra paramedic and basic emergency management technician. On Sunday, the squad will increase by six and an ambulance will be stationed at the park.
Last year, crowd control was a problem with non-ticket holders congregating in lawn chairs on the sidewalks. This year, Ocean avenue and Sea View avenue between Lake and Samoset avenues will be open to pedestrian traffic, but closed to cars from 9 a.m. until the end of the event Sunday. Signs went up Thursday morning to notify residents, visitors and business owners of the changes. “People who live in those areas will have to find an alternate place to park,” Chief Blake said. Cars parked on these streets after they close will be towed.
The closures could be something of a problem for Mr. Nelson, who rents out his Ocean Park home for part of the summer. He and his family are moving back into the house Sunday morning. “There’s five of us: three kids, me and my wife. So we have a lot of stuff. But we’ll try to do it early. We’ve had to drive through on the fireworks before and [the police] have been pretty understanding. You know, it’s the Vineyard, it’s not a real problem,” he said.
Other disruptions include the Vineyard Transit Authority bus routes and downtown parking. Route 13 busses, which normally go from Vineyard Haven to Oak Bluffs and then to Edgartown, will not offer continuous service between the three towns Sunday. One set of busses will travel between Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs. Another set will go between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown. For Vineyard Haven passengers, the loading and unloading location will remain at the corner of the park. For those going to and from Edgartown, pick up and drop off will move to the corner of Tuckernuck and Sea View avenues. Parking will be available in Waban Park. The $5 parking fee will go directly to the Oak Bluffs fire department. Handicapped parking will be available on Seaview avenue.
Although the day is sure to be crowded, it is also promising to be a crowd pleaser. “It’s just going to be a great day,” said Mr. daRosa, who is looking forward to seeing his son Phil on the stage. And for town businesses and safety personnel, it will be nothing compared to August 22 when the annual fireworks show will bring an estimated 11,000 people back to the same park. “It’s a lot of work for the police department,” Chief Blake said about the music festival. “But, we’ll get through it. This is our practice run for the fireworks.”