Rollin’ on the River

May 24, 2012
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By John Burton

Red Bank’s Riverfest brings fun, food and music June 1-3 to Marine Park

RED BANK – Next weekend marks another traditional kickoff for the two river summer, with the return of Riverfest.

This year’s event is once again a three-day showcase – Friday, June 1 through Sunday, June 3 – that will feature music and local restaurants in the borough’s Marine Park, overlooking the Navesink River.

The Godfathers of Soul got the party rocking during last year’s Riverfest.

The event “is kind of one of those first nice weekends out where everyone gets to see one another,” said Deanna Hunt, whose company This Is It Productions, Hoboken, is producing the event. “It’s nice for the restaurants to see some of their customers in a different venue.”

The festival, which is underwritten by named sponsor Wells Fargo Bank and presenting sponsor The Ford Motor Company, is the largest admission-free outdoor food and musical event in the state, according to Hunt.

The festival will be highlighted by “a lot of great music and a lot of great food,” she said, “and an amazing backdrop – the Navesink River.”

About 20 area restaurants will participate, said Red Bank restaurateur Danny Murphy, one of the event’s founders. Murphy expects even bigger crowds this year; last year an estimated 60,000 people visited over the three days.

Fellow restaurateur and noted area musician Tim McLoone was responsible for lining up this year’s musical selection. Among the scheduled acts are: McLoone, who will perform with the Shirleys on Friday evening; local favorites Brian Kirk and the Jirks; and the Jazz Lobsters. Pat Guadagno will appear with friends on Saturday. A full slate of acts will be on hand for Sunday afternoon’s lineup, as well.

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Last year, “we brought back Riverfest,” Murphy said, after about 10 years of the Jazz and Blues Festival.
The event has a more than 30-year history. What was to become Riverfest started in 1980 as the Red Bank Food Festival and featured about 14 local eateries set up under one large tented area at the park.

“By about 3 o’clock [p.m.], most of us ran out of food,” that first year, a one-day event that attracted a crowd of about 5,000, Murphy said. “We never expected that many people.”

Beth Ann Clayton Band entertained at Riverfest in 2011.

By 1989 the event organizers had partnered with the Jersey Shore Jazz & Blues Foundation to incorporate live music into the program, hoping to increase attendance. By 2001, annual attendance over the three days had grown to about 125,000, according to Murphy.

But by that time Murphy and the Eastern Monmouth Chamber of Commerce, the organizers, got into a pretty high-profile dispute with the foundation over the event’s direction and music selection. In the end the foundation won, but the chamber owned the rights to the name Riverfest, and the event became known as the Jazz and Blues Festival until 2011.

Last year Murphy encouraged the borough council to return to its roots with Riverfest. The result was Murphy and the chamber were in and the foundation was out.

In response, the foundation held its festival at Monmouth Park last year and, according to its website, plans a series of concert events over the summer to take place in Middletown, Long Branch and Point Pleasant Borough.

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“Weather permitting, I think our crowds will be much bigger than last year,” Murphy predicted for the Riverfest. “I’m guessing 75,000 or more.”

On a much sadder note, Murphy said, this year’s festival will be dedicated to the memory of Wayne Fisler. Fisler, 58, who owned and operated Wayne’s Market, West Front Street, was one of the original four founders of Riverfest. He died on Sunday.

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