FOOD FEST GETS DIBS OVER JAZZ & BLUES FEST

img_63997272A food vendor hawks his wares at the 2009 edition of the Jazz & Blues Fest. (Click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

After a long absence, Riverfest will return to Red Bank’s Marine Park in 2011.

But securing the date required backers to first elbow aside Riverfest’s successor: the ersatz Red Bank Jazz & Blues Festival.

On a night when the Red Bank Council was courted like the prettiest girl in class, the food-heavy fest won a sudden competition to take over the waterfront park the coveted first weekend in June.

The Jazz & Blues Festival, which took its show south to Monmouth Park this year because of construction here and renamed itself the Jersey Shore Jazz & Blues Festival, is still welcome back, officials said. But not between June 3 and 5.

Council members, facing competing requests from the two festivals, spent a good portion of Monday night’s meeting chewing over how to handle its out-of-the-blue conundrum.

The request from the Jazz & Blues fest was delivered to borough hall yesterday, said Mayor Pasquale Menna.

“We have an obligation to the public body to consider them both,” he said.

But the council, after weighing the pros and cons of each event, ultimately decided that the first weekend in June will go to Riverfest, which was a summertime staple for two decades before Jazz & Blues took over in the early 1990s. Some said Riverfest will do a better job of promoting local businesses and keep costs down.

“Our merchants come first,” Council President Art Murphy III said. “I’d like to see it come back that way. It needs to be affordable, because it’s not.”

Menna countered Murphy, saying that both events have their own role in the borough’s history, and deserve to be heard by the council. But nobody from Jazz & Blues was at Monday’s meeting to make a case why it should take its spot on the calendar.

Danny Murphy, who helped establish Riverfest, was.

“It was family-oriented. It was a Red Bank event,” he said of the original event. Now, he said, the music festival features “fast-type food. It’s vendors. It’s carny-type food. It’s not what the festival originally set out to be.

“The bottom line for this is we want our festival back,” he said.

Still, there’s a possibility that Red Bank can have its funnel cake and eat it too.

The council, which unanimously voted to accept Riverfest’s request, did so with the caveat that it will accept another request from Jazz & Blues to hold its event on a different weekend.

“It doesn’t discard them from coming back to Red Bank,” Art Murphy said. “There’s plenty of other weekends open between now and Labor Day.”

Dennis Eschbach, the music festival’s chief organizer, couldn’t be reached for comment Monday night.

Danny Murphy said planning for Riverfest will begin in earnest, although some groundwork has already been laid. He said the festival, to be sponsored by the Eastern Monmouth Area Chamber of Commerce, will showcase borough restaurants and local musical acts, and for less of a cost than some of the larger acts that Jazz & Blues enlists. The vaunted musician/restaurateur Tim McLoone, he said, agreed to help provide some of the music for the three-day event.

“I thank you from the bottom of my heart,” Murphy said to the council, “and I promise you, you’ll have a great festival.”

The request must next go before the borough’s special events committee. The council, however, has final say.