deanna-bogartDeanna Bogart performs at the 2009 edition of the storied music festival. (Click to enlarge)

It’s official: the Red Bank Jazz & Blues Festival is leaving town, for this year at least.

The annual three-day event, which traditionally draws tens of thousands of visitors, and at least one good downpour, to the natural amphitheater in Red Bank’s Marine Park, is packing up and moving to Monmouth Park racetrack, forced out by a riverside construction project that town officials couldn’t guarantee would be finished in time for the early June event.

This year’s edition has been pared down to two days — Saturday, June 5 and Sunday, June 6 — and rechristened as the Jersey Shore Jazz & Blues Festival. It will be held in a parking lot just outside the the entrance to the Oceanport horse-racing mecca.

Whether the festival returns to Red Bank is unknown, organizers tell redbankgreen.
jb-crowdThe event typically draws tens of thousands of music fans to Marine Park. (Click to enlarge)

“I’m looking at it like a football coach looks at the schedule,” says Dennis Eschbach, festival committee organizer for the sponsor Jersey Shore Jazz and Blues Foundation. “We’re just thinking about the next game.”

Though the music festival will take place during the race meet, the track site has acres of parking, and will be able to accommodate the event’s three performance stages and the dozens of food and crafts vendors it attracts each year, Eschbach says.

If it’s a runaway success, it could mean that Red Bank has seen the last of an event that typically packed the downtown with visitors and was emblematic of the borough’s statewide reputation as a destination for arts and culture.

Mayor Pasquale Menna, asked for his reaction to the move this morning, told redbankgreen he was unaware that a deal with Monmouth Park was in the works, and said the borough would have tried to accommodate the festival at Riverside Gardens Park or Count Basie Field.

“In a very real sense, the move changes the complexion of the event,” he said, adding that he understood that organizers “had to make a decision, and I respect that.”

Marine Park is undergoing a reconstruction of its crumbling waterfront promenade, and town officials, unable to assure the music foundation that the job would be done in time, withheld approvals for the 2010 event, and advised organizers to look elsewhere.

Though a move to Monmouth Park was widely rumored, the deal with the track was sealed only in the last few days, organizers say.

“I love Red Bank. I’m in Red Bank every day,” says Eschbach, a River Plaza resident. “I have mixed feelings about not being there. Last year’s event was a success, even with a day of rain. And the town has always bent over backwards to make it happen.”

But there is also a potential audience of music lovers who might attend the Monmouth Park event because of the ample parking and chance to step inside the track and get a taste of the racing action, he says.

After inquiries by redbankgreen, Menna said he had obtained assurances this morning from the state Department of Environmental Protection, which is managing the bulkhead and promenade work, as well as from the contractor on the job that all work will be completed within the first 10 days of May.

“It will not impact” the KaBoom Fireworks on the Navesink scheduled for July 3, he said.