JAZZ & BLUES CROWD MISSES MARINE PARK

jazz-and-bluesFestivalgoers enjoyed dancing in the parking lot, but many missed the banks of Marine Park as the home for the Jazz & Blues Festival. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

For the first time in years, Red Bank’s Marine Park saw no hordes of music lovers — or rain — on the first weekend in June.

That’s because what was once known as the Red Bank Jazz & Blues Festival instead set up camp Saturday and Sunday in the parking lot of Monmouth Park in Oceanport, this time under the broader label of the Jersey Shore Jazz & Blues Festival.

It isn’t often that redbankgreen ventures beyond the confines of this virtual town square, but considering a landmark event was all but forced to pack up and move to a different venue, a trek to Oceanport to check in with folks to find out what they thought of the 2010 edition of the festival was in order.

The reviews weren’t exactly glowing.

jazz-and-blues1Jazz and Blues fest organizer Dennis Eschbach confers with a sound tech on Saturday. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

Because of bulkhead construction at Marine Park, local and state officials last year couldn’t guarantee the Red Bank space would be ready to host the expected tens of thousands prior to the event, prompting the move. (Meantime, all construction machinery and fencing were removed from the Marine Park last week, and the area appeared back to normal).

Many festivalgoers at the track said they disliked having to either sit in the parking lot or small, scant patches of grass amid view-blocking trees. A number complained that the stages were too close to each other and sounds clashed.

Of those who had been to Red Bank’s version of the fest was a sense of nostalgia for Marine Park’s grassy natural amphitheater and river views. One woman from Manasquan, who only gave her first name, Lori, said, “the set up is horrible. You can’t even see the stage or else you’re sitting in the parking lot.”

But there were certainly upsides to holding the event at Monmouth Park that Red Bank simply could not offer. Chief among them: centralized parking. Most in attendance pointed to the vast amount of parking as a big bonus for the Jersey Shore version of the festival. That, and bathrooms and booze.

Red Bank’s limited facilities and prohibition of alcohol at the festival was a common grievance.

“It’s nice to have parking and bathroom,” said Chuck Kurtz, of Marlboro.

Kurtz, like many, said the site was an OK place to host the festival, and didn’t have any particular strong view one way or the other. But, he said, one of the main draws of Red Bank’s festival was having the opportunity to check out the rest of the downtown, whereas this weekend, the only other option was to check out horse races which ran simultaneous and right next to the music.

The music also happened to be right next to other music.

The three stages were set up in such a proximity that, if you stood between any two, you’d be able to hear music from both stages clashing, and that was annoying to many.

“Logistically it doesn’t work,” said Lewis Weidenfeld, of Lakewood, who was been going to the festival since its inception. “I’m partial to Red Bank. I’m ready to see it go back.”

Festival officials haven’t said whether the event will try making a return to Red Bank, although local business owners have said they favor the return of another Red Bank tradition, Riverfest, the precursor to the Jazz & Blues festival, to Marine Park.

Oceanport resident Joe Rossi wondered why the fest, which coincided with the park’s main  attraction — horse racing — wasn’t scheduled at a different time, preferably at night, so guys like him, who came to watch racing on TV, wouldn’t be “bothered” by the constant pulse of drum kits and saxophones.

“We didn’t know there’d be three stages,” he said. “I like music. But, come on, three stages?”

Another horse racing fan, Wanda Korolenko, of Hamilton, also complained of the musical mishmash. Unlike Rossi, though, she was unaware the fest was taking place, and only found out when she showed up on Saturday. She had never been to Red Bank’s festival, either.

“I didn’t even know it was going on, to tell you the truth,” she said. “The only problem is the stages are far too close. The music is just one on top of each other.”

Another complaint registered was the view. Set up in the asphalt entryway to the race track, the location offered visitors the choice to either sit on benches behind the stages or set up chairs on the pavement — or whatever patch of grass was available in the lot.

Buddy Katz, who has been to both festival locations, sat alone against a fence that abutted the park entrance and ate his lunch while enjoying the music.

“I feel like I’m by the Dumpster,” he said, but added that he also enjoyed having the event at Monmouth Park.

“I like the racetrack. It’s kind of weird having them both,” he said. “I’ve always looked forward to the festival. I hope it comes back to Marine Park.”

It was a relief that the fest foundation was able to find another location rather than scrap it altogether, said Nora Rodriguez, of South Plainfield. But she said she prefers Red Bank’s atmosphere.

“It’s more scenic. It has more personality,” she said. “I enjoy it here. I would like it better in Red Bank.”

“There are pluses and minuses,” Monmouth Beach resident Mary Tucker said. “I’m so used to Marine Park that I just look forward to going to it (there). But who doesn’t like coming to a horse track?”

One thing was for sure, Tucker said.

“I’ll be able to get home a lot easier from here,” she said.

If she had a choice, though?

“Marine Park,” she said.

Overwhelmingly that’s how people responded. But that doesn’t mean the festival will necessarily lose its appeal or fail to draw throngs every June.

“As long as it’s not half-way to Mars, I’ll go,” Weidenfeld said. “But if I had my druthers, I’d like to be back (at Marine Park.”