No Walk in the Park

The town of Oak Bluffs had concerns about the aggressive expansion of the popular Boston Pops outdoor concert first staged in Ocean Park last summer, and most of them have proven to be on the mark. National operator Festival Network, which ran an ambitious, exciting event here in 2007, instead of letting it grow organically, pushed too far this year in trying to exploit its initial success. The risk is that a mutually beneficial event with so much potential will be soured for the future.

The charitable connection to this past Sunday’s event was too vague; three nonprofits — Vineyard House, the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard and Friends of Oak Bluffs — could profit from the most exclusive seats. Those groups could buy the tickets at face value and, through their own efforts, build a package of extras (dragooning favors from caterers, florists and the like) to make money. But those concert-goers who simply wanted to spread their blankets were unconvinced their money was being spread to any Island good. Last year, every ticket benefited the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, making everyone feel that by having a good time, they also were doing good for their own.

Tickets last year were not cheap — about $50 an adult, depending on when you bought them — but for less than $200 a family could have something extraordinary: a specially home-packed picnic, an evening of spectacular music and atmosphere, and a positive feeling about the community good.

The music was just as entertaining this year — and there was more of it, with the laudable inclusion of Islanders on the lineup, though the audience was small for the afternoon performances of musicians most can hear regularly in more intimate venues for less money. And the weather was just as glorious. But organizers simply had jacked up ticket prices too high for this to be an event with wide community support.

A family of four, even with small children, could not have enjoyed it for less than $200, and that’s not including food or drink — which you could not bring in, as you can in most outdoor concert venues. And those who passed by for a peek were shooed away from their own town park in an overzealous effort to quash freeloading. The organizers have to make a buck to make it worth their while, but the feeling is they simply got greedy after the positive response last year; this is Martha’s Vineyard, so there must be more money in it.

Vineyarders, their nonprofits and their generous philanthropists are stretched and Festival Network has stretched the friendship. Let’s hope it can be restored for the betterment of everyone. Or give us all a simple Sunday in the park again.