Tisbury selectmen voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve Chicago-based Innovation Arts & Entertainment to engage in commercial activity at Veterans Memorial Park on Aug. 9, 10, and 11, a major step toward the overall approval of a music festival.
The concept was first pitched to the board on Dec. 18 by Adam Epstein, CEO of the company, and revisited on Jan. 8. A licensing agreement, the fate of alcohol sales, and a raft of logistics must all be tackled for the festival to be fully authorized. The selectmen reserved the right to weigh public opinion through a hearing, despite a letter from town counsel indicating a hearing wasn’t mandatory for the event. The board also voted unanimously to empower town administrator Jay Grande to hammer out an agreement with town counsel and Epstein that might be signed as soon as Jan. 22.
“I’d like to lend qualified support for us moving ahead,” selectman Melinda Loberg said. She characterized the event, should it come to fruition, as “definitely a trial” that will be analyzed for its pros and cons afterward.
Selectmen chairman Tristain Israel repeatedly said he would like to avoid alcohol sales for the festival, and revisit the idea, should it be invited back, for the following summer. Epstein didn’t dismiss the prohibition, but pointed out it would increase ticket prices.
Selectman Jim Rogers said he wanted whatever agreement comes to pass to be a finished document, one not returned to for modifications as time passes. He also said he wants to ensure private parking lots are protected from festivalgoers.
A handful of audience members expressed their opinions to the board about the festival. Clothing designer Lorraine Parish, who runs a boutique on State Road in Vineyard Haven, came out against it: “I feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone here. I cannot believe you people that work for this town are remotely considering this possibility. The thought of it — my blood pressure is up. It is unbearable here in August with the boats, the traffic, the heat, the noise. That’s salt in the wound. I can’t believe anybody thinks this is a viable idea.”
She went on to say the festival promoters will reap profits while locals will pay “with the quality of our lives,” that her customers are already hesitant to brave Tisbury in the summer, and that the event will constitute the “nail in the coffin” for their patronage.
Dan Carbon, manager of Educomp, an office supplies and technical services business at the intersection of State Road and Main Street, said he was concerned for the ability of his technicians to come and go in the face of the traffic the festival would generate, and worried about safeguarding his parking spaces. As he is also landlord to several tenants in the building, he said, noise generated from the festival could have a negative impact on them.
John Zannini, who owns Salt, a clothing boutique on Lagoon Pond Road, said he supports the festival. “I think it’s a really great idea,” he said. “I’m here to support it.”
Zannini said he has been to other local music events produced by Innovation and found them “very well done.” He also said, “I think it’s a great thing for the town. And when I think about, you know, you all are facing the renovation, reconstruction with the school. That’s a big specific problem that needs to be solved …” The town’s cut from festival revenue could be directed to the school project, he said. He closed out his comment by saying there wasn’t an issue the festival would generate that couldn’t be solved, and overall, the event would be a boon to the town and the Vineyard.
Per discussions thus far, the town is projected to get about $40,000 from the festival.
Seth Gambino, owner of La Choza, a takeout burrito shop on Main Street, renewed disapproval he’d voiced over the event during the last selectmen’s meeting. Due to its length, Israel declined to allow him to read into the record a critical statement he’s written about the festival, but allowed his commentary.
Gambino called the festival a “ridiculously a bad idea” and said he was upset he had to fight it ahead of surgery he’s scheduled to undergo. Gambino calculated the number of festival attendees would exceed the number of lawn seats at the Xfinity Center in Mansfield, or “more than three times the capacity of the House of Blues in Boston.”
A letter read into the record by Israel, one of several, supported the concert and countered assertions Gambio previously made.
“This festival will bring both cultural and financial rewards to the town, its residents, and our visitors,” wrote Philip Young. “I can also state from working with Mr. Epstein [on the] Summer Concert Series, that he and his staff run an extremely efficient organization and that while attending everyone of the concerts last summer, I witnessed none of the concerns brought up by Mr. Gambino at last week’s meeting. This is a good idea for the Vineyard and Tisbury and I urge you to grant the permit.”
Epstein worked to debunk an assertion made by Gambino at the last meeting about a summer festival dealing harm to the town of Great Barrington.
“That town now hosts two summer festivals, each three days apiece,” he said. “Each of them have been annually produced — profitably and with participation from [Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art], which is one of the most venerable art and theatrical institutions in Western Massachusetts. That organization invited them back every year because they see the benefit of participating in the success of putting on a great event. That’s what we can do here if we team up together. And right now we’ve worked with the department of public works, with the chief of police, with the fire and EMS department, for months now, engaging in a conversation all towards the end goal of trying to figure out the best solutions …”
The selectmen will return to the issue of the festival at the board’s regularly scheduled meeting next week.