TAKING IT TO THE RIVER FOR THREE-DAY FEST

A weekend’s serving of cheek-bulging chow and hip-shaking music take up residence in Red Bank’s Marine Park this weekend. (Photos by Dustin Racioppi. Click to enlarge.)

By TOM CHESEK

It was the subject of a behind-the-scenes brouhaha that rivaled the most spirited Battle of the Bands: a “take back the weekend” campaign that pitted some of the mainstays of the Red Bank business community against an established event that many locals believed had both outgrown and turned its back on its host community.

When the calendar flipped to the first weekend in June, 2011, however, the consensus was that Riverfest was a refreshing breath of sweet summertime air off the Navesink — a successful revival of a seasonal signature that Lynda Rose, president of the Eastern Monmouth Area Chamber of Commerce, calls “a perfect fit for the town, the businesses and anyone who enjoys being in Red Bank.”

Beginning Friday and continuing into Sunday evening, Riverfest returns to the sloping lawns and waterfront walkways of Marine Park with a three-day, rain-or-shine, strolling smorgasbord of culinary creations, “local organic” music and family-friendly activities.

Billed as “New Jersey’s Largest Food and Music Festival with Free Admission,” it’s both a throwback to an earlier small-town vision of Red Bank, and a summer-season keynote to a new chapter in the borough’s ever-evolving history.

Some 20 food vendors will be on hand, including at least nine from Red Bank and environs. (Click to enlarge)

A continuation of the original Riverfest events that heralded summers in Red Bank during the late 1980s and early 90s — events that evolved in turn from the old Red Bank Food Festival — the millennial Riverfest reclaimed its spot on the schedule after being supplanted for nearly a decade by the Jersey Shore Jazz and Blues Foundation‘s Red Bank Jazz & Blues Festival.

Restoration work at the park forced the well-attended and well-publicized jazz fest to relocate briefly to Oceanport’s Monmouth Park in 2010 — following which the JSJBF split the festival into a series of single-day events in various Shore area municipalities (a slate that kicks off this year with the Middletown Jazz & Blues Festival on July 7).

Back at Marine Park, the bulkheads and bandstands will be the scene for a flurry of activity that’s produced by This Is It Productions and co-sponsored by the Eastern Monmouth Chamber in cahoots with a roster of corporate and media partners. At the top of the hill, tents representing some 20 local restaurants, caterers and purveyors of fine foodstuffs, will be pitched. Among the participants: Danny Murphy, the West Side pioneer who was a major proponent of Riverfest’s return — and who (in partnership with such since-departed Red Bank landmarks as Ludwig’s Deli and the Little Kraut) was instrumental in the establishment of the first Food Fests back in the day.

An “on-board dock-side beer garden” is promised to thirsty festgoers — and the marina dock will also offer an opportunity to take a sightseeing tour of the river Navesink (complete with commentary on local history and sights of interest) aboard the party boat Teal.

The local angle extends as well to the musical menu, co-ordinated by (and featuring in Friday’s headliner spot) Tim McLoone. Such mainstays of the greater Red Bank green as Pat Guadagno, Quincy Mumford and Brian Kirk & The Jirks are scheduled to appear, in addition to “kindie rocker” Miss Sherri, the Leroy Place Band ( Jim & Fiona Crawford, Anton Daub & George Terebush), as well as the man we’ve branded “Red Bank’s unofficial musical mayor,” bluesmaster Chuck Lambert.

New this year (and replacing last year’s Open Mic stage) is a Rock the River Waterfront Stage that’s being programmed in partnership with Asbury Park-based Musicians on a Mission, a nonprofit org that matches creative folk with a variety of worthy causes.

There’s much more in store, from the parking-lot vendors midway and information booths to rides, games and interactive attractions for the kiddies — a set-up that Lynda Rose sees as fostering a “more wholesome, family friendly” vibe within the festival.

“We’ve got a great group of people working on this event,” says Rose. “I take my hat off to the Red Bank Special Events committee — they’ve just been incredible throughout the whole process.”

“This is a safe, fun atmosphere where you know the people you’re buying from,” the Chamber president observes. “It’s not disruptive to the town — we’re not closing off streets or anything — and it’s appropriate to the size of the venue, to the local merchants, and to the people who live here.”

Take it to the Riverfest website for a full listing of participating food vendors and musical acts, with pertinent links as well as maps, directions and contact information.