Three years ago this week, Innovation Arts & Entertainment CEO Adam Epstein stood before the Tisbury select board and urged them to let him use Veterans Memorial Park to bring a three-day music festival to Vineyard Haven.
It took months of negotiations over the logistics, but Epstein pulled off Beach Road Weekend to an enthusiastic crowd, a pleased select board, and with inevitable complaints from about a handful of neighbors that hasn’t kept him from looking ahead.
For 2022, Epstein has put together 30 bands over three days for the weekend of August 26-28 that features Beck, Wilco, the Avett Brothers, Emmy Lou Harris, and others. Growing off the success of 2019, Epstein has created travel packages with Island hotels, and even some off-Island accommodations such as the “glamping” campground in Falmouth, which features Airstream campers.
“It’s going to sell out way in advance,” Epstein told The Times of Beach Road Weekend. “We’ve already sold the equivalent — over the three days of the festival — of 25,000 tickets. It’s staggeringly wonderful. We put a lot of work into a lineup that we thought was compelling. We’re getting positive praise from everybody in this industry. The common thread throughout the festival and the diversity of it is something everybody is talking about. People are buying tickets from all over the world to come to the Island.”
Epstein, who has partnered with Mansion House in Vineyard Haven, Hob Knob Inn in Edgartown, the Lark and the Edgar in Edgartown, and the Martha’s Vineyard Campground, said the Island accommodation packages have already sold out. Music fans can buy festival passes or packages that include tickets and places to stay, Epstein said. “We’ve already sold $1 million in hotel rooms through our travel package portal on the Beach Road Weekend website,” Epstein said. Ticket sales have come from 43 states, and some purchases were from outside the country. “We see where people are coming from, and it’s remarkable to watch,” Epstein said. “We saw our first order from France about two weeks ago.”
Diane Carr, co-owner of Hob Knob, said the festival is scheduled for a weekend that is typically “softer” for reservations. “[Adam] and his team made it very easy for us, but more importantly the concertgoers,” she told The Times. “Our property sold out quickly, which made me quite happy. For that weekend, we will host folks from all over the U.S. and abroad.”
Carr noted that the festival benefits tourism. “The event is good for the Island tourism, and brings dollars to retailers and restaurants as well,” she said.
Ben DeForest, an Oak Bluffs restaurateur who has been a partner of Epstein’s on the festival, said it harkens to his days growing up on the Island in the ’60s and ’70s like the No Nukes Concert and Jimmy Buffett playing at the old Ag Hall.
“These are great pieces of Martha’s Vineyard past and history,” DeForest told The Times. “Sadly, so many things ended as time went by and liability concerns grew. The world’s become so much more difficult — red tape, liability, and litigation, and things people shy away … What Adam Epstein has done is remarkable. He went to every meeting, every board.”
As someone who has been around rock concerts and festivals, DeForest was impressed with Beach Road Weekend in 2019. “The first one was remarkable,” he said. “Adam hit and nailed everything. He thought of it all.”
The announcement of Emmy Lou Harris and others to the lineup ignited ticket sales. “It lit a fire under the attention the festival got, and it is becoming what we hoped it would be — a celebration of live music in a casual environment,” he said. “It’s one of the smallest festivals around the country, and we want it to stay that way, but at this point we’re ahead of schedule in reaching a point where it will sell out.”
All of this comes as there is a resurgence of COVID on the Island and across the country due to the omicron variant. Epstein, who was speaking to The Times from an ongoing tour with satirist David Sedaris, said the uptick is concerning, but not insurmountable.
“At this point there are best practices to reduce the odds — being vaccinated, being boosted, wearing a mask are all ways to reduce the odds of getting sick,” he said. “Of course, it’s always a concern. The safety of the festival and its guests has been at the top of our process since 2019. We care about the enjoyment and safety of the families that come. After 2019, I said one of the best parts was walking around the festival during the day or at night and watching parents sit next to their kids, laying on the ground, and looking up at the stars without worrying about being trampled.”
Beach Road Weekend has added an event to Vineyard Haven that was missing. Oak Bluffs has the fireworks, Edgartown has its wine and food expo, and West Tisbury has the Ag Fair.
“We’re trying to be a contributor to the local economy,” Epstein said. “We were hopeful it would become an annual event, but it’s become something much bigger.”
DeForest isn’t surprised Beach Road Weekend is doing so well. “Adam’s got a lot of people who believe in what he’s doing. Martha’s Vineyard needs more events like this, more things like this … It captures a certain part of the magic of the ’60s and ’70s that are getting lost as time marches on,” DeForest said. “Even with COVID, Adam didn’t stop. When he saw there were going to be limitations, he adapted, and he immediately rolled into doing the drive-in theater live concerts. He kept in the mix, and he didn’t stop. He did everything he could … Adam has been thrown some serious gut punches. He gets up. He keeps going.”