Red Bank Riverfest Dries Up

May 13, 2017
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Riverfest drew thousands to the borough’s Marine Park and waterfront to hear music, stroll around and eat outdoors. The 2015 event marked the 25th anniversary. Photo by Jaclyn Shugard

By John Burton

RED BANK — This summer season will boot up without one of the borough’s longest-standing events. Organizers of Riverfest have pulled the plug.

The Eastern Monmouth Area Chamber of Commerce and This Is It Productions, the groups responsible for organizing Riverfest, have decided not to move forward this year with the food and music festival held each year in the borough’s Marine Park. The news was first reported by RedBankGreen.com.

“You just get to a point when you have too many costs,” said Deanna Hunt, a partner in This Is It! Productions, the Hoboken firm that mounted the event for a number of years.

Hunt and Lynda Rose, president and chief operating officer of the Chamber of Commerce, said the reason for the decision not to proceed with this year’s event was due in large part to added demands placed upon them by borough officials. Those included a request for an additional $5,000 contribution to the borough on top of the other fees the organizers have to pay.

“The fees they were requesting were becoming cost prohibitive for us to be able to produce the event,” Hunt said.

“Quite frankly, we just had to draw the line,” Rose said.

Organizers had to pay for the use of the park for the three-day festival; pay for police overtime; for private security; to cover the cost of having Department of Public Works available for cleanup; “and all the other costs that go along with producing the event the average person doesn’t see,” Hunt noted.

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Last year’s event included a beer and wine garden for the first time. Hunt said borough officials requested organizers make a donation to a not-for-profit organization in exchange for allowing that attraction. Organizers decided to contribute $1,000 to the borough Department of Parks and Recreation, even though, Rose maintained, the event failed to show a profit.

“They weren’t happy with the amount,” said a piqued Rose. “I’m sorry, it was a donation.”

Neither Rose nor Hunt had figures readily available as to the costs related to producing the event.

A lengthy renovation project of Marine Park facilities damaged by Super Storm Sandy in October 2012 has begun, and organizers also feared that would cause some difficulty in utilizing the location.

Much like Kaboom! Fireworks on the Navesink, the largescale July 3 fireworks display that a private group organized with borough participation, sometimes these events become victims of their own success, said Borough Council President Kathy Horgan. “At times these events become too big, they become unmanageable, they become too expensive,” Horgan said. “We have to think what that means for the police, for everybody.”

Organizers of the fireworks display, not affiliated with Riverfest, decided to cancel the event in 2012.

Rose said there has been some early talks with Sea Bright officials about possibly bringing the event to the beachfront town but nothing has been decided.

Riverfest in another iteration began in the early 1980s as the International Food Festival, held twice a year. By the 1990s the chamber came on board and partnered with the Jersey Shore Jazz and Blues Foundation to incorporate live music and other attractions, along with food merchants into the event.

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A contentious schism developed between the jazz and blues foundation in the early 2000s, with the chamber walking away from the event for a couple of years and taking the name, Riverfest – which it owns the rights to – with it. For a number of years, the music foundation ran it as the Red Bank Jazz and Blues Festival, but eventually the chamber came back and took hold of the reins.

By the mid-1990s, the early June event became the largest free event of its type in the area, Hunt noted. At its peak it could attract upward of 80-100,000 people to Marine Park, she said. “Back in the ‘90s it gave a name to Red Bank when Red Bank was ‘Dead Bank,’” Hunt said, referring to the derogatory moniker the borough was tagged with prior to its redevelopment.

Hunt and Horgan said they both hope discussions can continue to reinstate the event in the future.

“I think it’s important to have events that keep people coming to Red Bank and keep residents involved and have things to do,” Horgan said.


This article was first published in the May 4-11, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.

 

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