stage2Large crowds turned out Saturday and Sunday after Friday night’s rainout. But construction of a new Marine Park bulkhead, below, could force the festival to relocate next year.

Really, in terms of logistics, it would be much simpler for the organizers of the Red Bank Jazz & Blues Festival to set up shop each year in a vast parking lot somewhere in suburbia.

marine-park-bulkheadNo steep, slippery slope of grass to contend with. No mud following the all-but-inevitable rain. No parking nightmares for food vendors, let alone the concertgoers, who number in the tens of thousands over the three-day event.

But the festival loves Red Bank, and Red Bank loves the festival. That is, at least, the official line coming from both event organizers and the borough.

But a massive construction project scheduled to begin in Marine Park soon after the July 3 fireworks may put the mutual lovefest to a test next year.

dennis-eschbach-by-george-wirtChief festival organizer Dennis Escbach. (Photo courtesy of George Wirt).

The entire Navesink River bulkhead at the park’s north edge is to be replaced, from the Monmouth Boat Club to the Irwin Marine property, including the horseshoe-shaped cove near the midpoint of the run.

The job, which also calls for the creation of a new promenade, is expected to cost in the vicinity of $3.5 million, with about $2.4 million in costs covered by grants from the state and Monmouth County.

But there’s no telling what kinds of delays the project might run into because of weather and unforeseen problems, says borough Administrator Stanley Sickels. Which makes it impossible, he says, to guarantee that the park will be available for the music fest — or the fireworks a month later.

That was one of the concerns he had in mind, Sickels says, when he told organizers at a special events committee meeting on June 1 that, “maybe you should find another location.”

But coming in the context of discussions that both Sickels and festival past president Dennis Eschbach of Middletown both say is normal to the push-pull process of obtaining borough approvals, the remark was later passed around as evidence that the festival may no longer be welcome in town.

Sickels insists that is not the case. “I think the festival is a great thing for Red Bank, both as an administrator and as a resident,” he tells redbankgreen.

Still, he says, the festival has shifted some burdens onto the town that need to be addressed. Asked for an example, he says the festival this year had no volunteers available to direct motorists to parking lots downtown.

Festival officials, though, say the Jersey Shore Jazz & Blues Foundation has never done that in the eight years they’ve put on the show, which was originally a food festival supplemented by music.

Moreover, they say they pay the full freight for fees and other costs that other, unnamed events don’t, such as park rental fees and overtime costs for additional police. The festival is required to have seven officers per shift on duty, at $65 an hour per cop.

Eschbach, though, says he understands the obligation of borough officials to protect the town’s interests. He adds that in spite of the sizable challenges of installing three stages and dozens of vendor trucks into the park’s tight, sloping landscape, there’s no place else organizers would want to hold the event.

“I mean, did you see that sunset over the river?” he said Saturday night between acts on the mainstage.

As usual, come August, the festival will apply to return next June for a 24th annual edition of the event, says Eschbach. Between now and then, he insists he won’t be scoping out new locations.

But the advance planning required to relocate the event may force a move, he acknowledges.

“There will be a 2010 festival,” Eschbach says. “But whether we’ll be in Marine Park or have to find another location for a year, I don’t know.”