Music festival gets preliminary approval

Tisbury selectmen lash out at Housing Bank petition.

Peter Sawyer responds to questions raised about a three-day music festival in Vineyard Haven. — George Brennan

A proposed music festival that could bring the likes of Willie Nelson and Earth, Wind and Fire to Vineyard Haven continues to get mixed reviews.

On Tuesday night, selectmen, in a 2-0 vote with chairman Tristan Israel abstaining, approved entertainment licenses for the proposed three-day music festival in August. But an agreement between the town and the promoter over the logistics of the event remains in negotiation, town administrator Jay Grande told the board.

“I’m not necessarily opposed to it, but I didn’t feel like the promoter gave us enough information,” Israel said.

In an email Wednesday, Adam Epstein, CEO of Innovation Arts & Entertainment, said the approvals are enough to begin the process of securing bands.

We are very excited and honored that the board of selectmen voted to approve the festival. We are immediately beginning the effort to secure bands that will make for a great weekend’s worth of live music,” he wrote. “We are a little late to the game to be making offers for this summer, but we are committed to trying our best to book a lineup that’ll draw enthusiastic audiences to Vineyard Haven.”

During Tuesday’s meeting, the board once again heard from residents both for and against the music festival, which would start with a showing of “Jaws” on Friday, Aug. 9, and would continue with concerts on Saturday, Aug. 10, and Sunday, Aug. 11, with multiple performers on both days expected to attract about 6,500 people each day.

Opponents cited traffic and noise. Proponents liked the idea of a concert that would pump some life into the summer scene on the Vineyard.

The town has also received dozens of emails on the topic, which Israel said would be posted on the town’s website within a couple of days.

Rosemary Casey, who lives on State Road, said allowing the event would make a dangerous road worse. “To bring in this amount of people at this time in that area is frightening,” she said.

Another opponent questioned flooding that occurs in Veterans Memorial Park, while Shirley Kennedy questioned how often the town plans to rent the field out: “It’s going to be horrible, really horrible for us.”

But Deirdre Brown of Oak Bluffs spoke in favor of both the venue and the promoter, Adam Epstein of Innovation Arts & Entertainment, who she said is hands-on. “It could be a big benefit in terms on tourist dollars coming in,” she said of the concert.

Peter Sawyer, who represented Innovation Arts & Entertainment Tuesday night, tried to allay the fears raised. Epstein, who lives in Chicago in the off-season, was unavailable for Tuesday night’s meeting. Sawyer said there would be offsite parking for those who didn’t use public transportation. “This would be more of a walking event,” he said.

As for damage to the field, Sawyer said the promoter is committed to making sure it’s in the same or better shape when the concert is over. Town sports programs would be able to use it right up until the fence goes up ahead of the event, he said.

Restaurant referred to MVC
After some protracted debate on who has the authority to refer a project to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC), selectmen referred a 130-seat restaurant proposed for 35 Main Street, the former Bowl and Board, to the regional planning agency.

The board made the decision at the behest of property owner Ben Hall Jr., who is trying to expedite the process for the proposed tenant.

Earlier, selectmen unanimously approved an extension on a deadline for a lease agreement to be signed. Selectmen have authorized expanded sewer flow for that address based on the restaurant proposal, but it’s conditional on the lease being signed in April.

It was that agreement that Hall said gave selectmen the authority to send the project to the commission, where the MVC is expected to send the project back to the town. At that time, the town will have to decide whether it’s the planning board or the zoning board that will consider the project.

The board asked Grande and building inspector Ken Barwick, working with the town’s attorney, to make that determination.

Israel said he has concerns about the traffic that a restaurant of that size will bring to Main Street.

In other business, the Island-wide Housing Bank, which is petitioning town meetings across the Island to use funds from a new short-term rental tax — known informally as the Airbnb tax — to create a pool of money for affordable housing, got a lukewarm reception from Tisbury selectmen.

Dan Seidman, a member of the town planning board who has been advocating for the Housing Bank, tried to sell the board on the idea by saying the town’s general fund would be $500,000 richer from the new taxes, even if half is given to the Housing Bank. “It’s still going to generate quite a bit for the town,” he said.

But selectman Jim Rogers and Israel said the town has a lot of other expenses where the money could be used — a new school among them.

“The town has a lot of huge issues before it, and to give up 3 percent for housing when we have some dramatic capital expenditures coming before us … I personally am not ready to make that type of decision at this time,” Rogers said.

Israel said he was disappointed that housing advocates were already plotting for the funds even before the ink was dry on the new state law signed by Gov. Charlie Baker at the end of December. “I wish you had waited a little bit for more dialogue,” Israel said.

Seidman said Martha’s Vineyard is in jeopardy of becoming another Nantucket, a place where workers can no longer live and instead have to either commute by ferry or plane every day. “You lose your economic base, your vitality, the community gets hollowed out if we don’t have a diverse population here,” he said.

Israel said he expects to discuss the issue of the additional tax revenue at an upcoming meeting of the board.

In other business, selectmen heard from Frank Brunelle, a Beach Road resident concerned with a proposal by the state and MVC to put a shared-use path on the road that he calls “dangerous.” Selectmen voted 2-1 in November to send a letter to MassDOT asking them to scrap the plans and instead do a symmetrical bike path on Beach Road.

The state hasn’t responded.

After Brunelle asked the board if they’d gotten a response, Israel said they have not and if they don’t within the next two weeks, he’ll put the SUP on the board’s agenda for further discussion.

In a unanimous vote, selectmen agreed to have town meeting voters consider allowing Black Dog Tavern to begin serving alcohol at 10 am Sunday mornings for brunch. Rogers was initially opposed to the idea, saying he didn’t want town meeting to get bogged down on the liquor debate, but after Israel and selectman Melinda Loberg said they were in favor of letting the Black Dog issue move forward, Rogers voted for it, too.



  1. Wow! Affordable housing is a crisis on MV and Tristan Israel is upset that affordable housing advocates are jumping on it so fast? A “luke warm reception”. How very sad and shortsighted. A portion of A tax on short term rentals being allocated toward helping to alleviate a housing crisis makes sense. Which is exactly why the selectmen will have a problem with it. Sad.

  2. Do we really need “more life pumped into the summer scene” on the first weekend in August? I would like a little less “life”. Not sure you are going to get a lot of incremental tourist dollars. Its going to crowd out some existing revenue. Seems like a great idea for June or September.

  3. I also live here year round for many years and I applaud the decision to bring more live music to the island. Its summer on the island….get over it and enjoy. Hope Featherstone doesnt cancel Musical Mondays again…that was a shame especially at the last minute like they did.

  4. Vineyard Haven could use a destination event. The street fair is dying and they no longer do first night. A well run annual music festival would be great.

  5. There has been a lot of opposition presented here but I have yet to see the selectman properly respond. If the town only gets $40,000 and it cost the town an extra $30,000 for services, and if someone gets hurt the town has legal bills, I fail to see any benefit?

    • Public trust, those extra costs are paid up front by the promoter. The police and fire department have already told the promoter the added cost and the promoter is covering those costs .

      • That’s better. Now explain the added delays from traffic for emergency vehicles and those in a rush to catch a ferry?

        • public trust— perhaps emergency vehicles could have flashing lights and sirens– and , if we could somehow inform people that if they see flashing lights and sirens on vehicles clearly marked as ambulances or ems or police vehicles behind them, and inform them that the appropriate thing to do was to pull over and let that vehicle pass you , emergency vehicles could cut through that traffic.

        • Public Trust. It’s August. It occurs because it’s August. The roads are backed up cause of ferry traffic already. Emergency vehicles have lights and sirens. Stop making up things to scare people.

  6. Nobody seems to mention the sale of alcohol! And then there is pot….. put it all together with great music to get people hyped, throw in traffic and parking problems, it seems risky to me! I hope the Selectmen (people) really think this out and dot their “i’s” and cross their “t’s”!

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