Ocean Park and perfect Pops
A crowd estimated by police at about 5,000 people enjoyed the Martha's Vineyard Festival in Oak Bluffs on Sunday. The event was headlined by the Boston Pops and Gladys Knight, and spiced up by Island favorite Katie Ann Mayhew, on a glorious summer evening in Ocean Park. But several people who attended the event estimated the crowd was substantially smaller than last year, and some local businesses that sold food inside the venue were critical of the event's effect on local business.
Festival Networks, promoters of the all-day event, called it a success. Senior producer Rick White is still compiling attendance figures, but thinks the numbers were similar to last year.
"I wish we had more folks, obviously," said Mr. White. "Anything that you do that's new, there's always going to be some challenges. I've never heard of a festival that, in its first years, was an overwhelming success." Mr. White expressed determination to move forward with the festival for next year. He will sit down with town officials in September to evaluate the event. Included in that discussion will be ticket prices, which some observers felt were the reason attendance fell short of expectations. Advance general admission tickets were $75 this year, plus a surcharge. Tickets bought on the day of the concert were $85. Last year, with fewer musical acts, the ticket price was $45.
In terms of logistics, the concert was near flawless, according to police and town officials, who credit months of advance planning and lots of hard work.
"We didn't have any problems," said Oak Bluffs police lieutenant Tim Williamson. "We start meeting with them in the winter time. I must have been to probably half a dozen meetings. We learned from some mistakes we made last year, and the improvements we made worked. I thought the way we handled the traffic coming in and going out was good. There was ample parking for handicapped drivers. We had the town cleared of traffic within 20 to 30 minutes of the show ending."
Oak Bluffs selectmen Ron DiOrio and Greg Coogan praised the festival promoters and town departments for clearing Ocean Park of all staging, equipment, and trash, by the morning after the Sunday night concert.
Photos by Ralph Stewart
"Everyone is reviewing the performance of Gladys Knight," said Mr. DiOrio, "But the quality of the performance of town workers was superlative."
Michael Santoro, general manager of Season's Pub on Circuit Avenue, said that from his perspective the event was a major disappointment. "I expected more people," said Mr. Santoro.
Mr. Santoro said he set up four concession booths to offset the expected lack of business on Circuit Avenue. He said a lack of early concert-goers and the general small number of attendees resulted in a poor sales.
Mr. Santoro described the event as something of a double-whammy for local businesses. He said the lack of parking and congestion affected what would normally be a busy day in August. Already stretched thin, he said he made a major logistical effort to staff concession stands based on the optimistic projections of the promoters.
Mr. Santoro estimated attendance was less than last year and well short of the 8,000 people he said the promoter estimated would attend when he met with town officials earlier in the season. He acknowledged his inherent business risk when he decided to provide four booths, but he said it was difficult to plan how much product to provide because the concert promoters would not provide him with any estimate of ticket sales.
Repeating a point he made to selectmen when the promoters applied to the town for a permission to stage the event, Mr. Santoro said the timing of the event in August does not help local businesses. As for the argument that it provided a welcome event for local Island residents, Mr. Santoro said that in his estimation locals did not attend in large numbers.
Meredith Gallo, owner of Mocha Mott's a coffee shop on Circuit Avenue was another local vendor this year. She said her experience last year, when local vendors were not part of the food sales inside the venue, shaped her business plans this year.
"We kind of lost the day because of it, so we felt this year it was our only option," said Ms. Gallo. "We did well, we sold a lot of coffee. It was so hot during the day, and as soon as the sun went down it was freezing. Then people wanted hot coffee, and we had to adjust. I was running back and forth to the park with a wagon full of coffee."
Ms. Gallo was a bit surprised at the attendance. "There weren't that many people there. I think it's because the tickets were so expensive."
"On behalf of the venders, I wished there were more people. I would like to see them supported more," said Mr. White. He responded to criticism from Mr. Santoro about pre-event attendance estimates.
"It's difficult," said Mr. White. "You can go on past sales, you can go on pre-event sales, and you could be totally wrong. You could have a great walk-up, or no walk-up at all. We're trying to benefit everyone. I don't know if that (Mr. Santoro's view) is a consensus. There are going to be varied opinions."
Three Island nonprofit organizations, the YMCA, Vineyard House, and Friends of Oak Bluffs, collaborated with Festival Network organizers to raise funds for their causes.
"We had a wonderful time," said Christine Todd, capital campaign director for the YMCA. "Everyone felt treated first class. It was a very fun upbeat night, for everybody."
The charities purchased premium tickets from the Festival Network for $135, packaged them with seating, catered food, and other amenities, and resold them for $350. Though the three organizations were still working on exact totals Wednesday, Ms. Todd estimated that about 300 individual tickets were sold at the $350 level. The charities also sold ten premium stage side tables. The tables, which seated ten people each, cost $10,000. Using those figures, the charities netted approximately $205,000 for the event. From that total they must pay Festival Networks $54,000 for the premium tickets, and subtract expenses for food, amenities, advertising, and other costs. The nonprofits shared equally in the expenses and funds raised.
"We only had five weeks to pull this together," said Ms. Todd. "I think if we had information earlier we could have gotten more people there. We would love to have had more, but we feel very happy about what we were able to accomplish."