The day was expected to draw a crowd in the thousands — and it did — but inside Ocean Park on Sunday, large swaths of grass were visible and vending booths were quiet at the second annual Martha’s Vineyard Festival. Outside the park, however, sidewalks and house porches were jammed.
“The Oak Bluffs beach was packed,” said Glen Caldwell, manager of Offshore Ale on the corner of Ocean Park in Oak Bluffs. Mr. Caldwell had two businesses to run Sunday: a vending booth inside the park and the busy downtown restaurant and brewery. At one point in the afternoon, Mr. Caldwell took a short break and went down to the water for a swim. “I was floating on my back 20 yards off the shore and I could see the monitor. I just thought, this is the best seat, the free seat,” he said.
“It was a gorgeous day, as expected, and the lineup was incredible, but the big thing was attendance. They didn’t get a crowd. We certainly saw more foot traffic through town and at the ale house, we had a fairly normal lunch and a nice, busy dinner — what we would expect from a Sunday in August,” Mr. Caldwell continued. “But we can’t sell food to people who aren’t there and that hurt. It was definitely noticeable.”
Doors to the festival opened at 1:30 p.m. Musical acts began around 3 p.m. and featured an impressive lineup: the Boston Pops, Gladys Knight, the Neville Brothers and a number of local acts. The music lasted until after 10 p.m., and while the final numbers were not available at press time yesterday, many said the turnout was less than expected.
Earlier in the week, organizers at Festival Network, the company that sponsored the festival and is responsible for the Newport Folk Festival and jazz events from New York to Paris, predicted crowds between 5,000 and 7,000.
Contacted yesterday, organizers had no estimates for the number of tickets sold. But Mr. Caldwell, who formerly worked for the Vineyard-based band Entrain, had his own estimate. “This is just a guess, but I would say 3,800,” he said.
Last year, the event, which was shorter and with fewer acts, drew about 5,000 people. “I don’t have the numbers tallied yet, but it seems like it was similar to last year, that I can say,” said Rick White, vice president of Festival Network and senior producer of Sunday’s show. “It met, if not exceeded, my expectations.”
Others involved with the show had a different experience. “We did not do as well as I had hoped,” said Ken Davey, president of the Oak Bluffs Firemen’s Civic Association. The firemen manned a parking area at Waban Park. The cost to park was $5 and the proceeds stayed with the association. “We were told that they had sold about 200 of the 300 VIP seats and my count was 80 as far as people who showed up,” he said. Free parking was included in the price of a $350 VIP ticket. “As far as the cash ones,” he said in reference to holders of general admission tickets which sold for $75 in advance and $85 at the gates, “I believe we did about 200 cars, which is about $500.”
On the evening of the fireworks, which attracts some 8,000 people to Ocean Park, the firemen operate multiple parking lots. “This didn’t even come close,” Mr. Davey said.
Mike Santoro, managing partner of Season’s Eatery and Pub and the Lookout Tavern, both in Oak Bluffs, also reported slow sales. Going on numbers from last year, Mr. Santoro ordered 100 cases of water for the four booths he operated inside the park: a nonalcoholic beverage tent, a sushi tent, a chowder and lobster bisque tent and a beer booth. Both his restaurants remained opened. “I don’t even think I went through 30 cases,” he said. “The reason I did four booths inside the tent was because the year before, both my businesses were down on the day of the event compared to the previous year and this year again I fell short in both Seasons and the Lookout,” he said. “I’m a supporter of the event, just not at this time of year. I like the intention of the Festival Network and what they’re trying to do. I’m all for that, I just think it’s way too much of an inconvenience in August.”
Ron DiOrio, chairman of the Oak Bluffs selectmen, felt otherwise. A co-owner of Craftworks, a Circuit avenue business, he reported a strong weekend in sales and attributed it to the people who came to town to see, work at or perform in the concert. “We just had an incredible day Saturday business-wise,” he said. “You don’t examine, in my considered opinion, from one o’clock to ten o’clock on one day. What I’ve heard from innkeepers is that they were sold out all weekend. Restaurants were incredibly busy on Saturday, which in part is attributed to the concert. You have to examine it as a whole and not just pick apart the aspects that didn’t work. The real question is how the whole weekend was.”
Putting on his selectman’s hat, Mr. DiOrio said: “Overall, the event was a great success. You exist for many reasons as a community and one of those reasons is to provide a cultural experience, not just for the residents, but for the visitors that are here and in those terms, I think it was a great success.”
Kathy Domitrovich, owner of Lola’s in Oak Bluffs, said the weekend was one of the best the restaurant has ever had. She also reported solid sales at the festival, where she manned a booth with chicken wings and operated a catering tent for VIP ticketholders. But, the concert was not as profitable as she had hoped. “I went last year and it seemed like there were a lot more people,” she said. “It was a long day. We had to be there at 9:45 in the morning to set up and I did do well, I sold out and had no waste, but I could have sold the same amount in four hours. I didn’t need ten to sell it and it would have cost a lot less in staffing.” Mrs. Domitrovich said that while Friday, Saturday and even Sunday brunch at the restaurant were busy, Sunday night was slow. “I think it was slow because no one could get through, so rather than go to Oak Bluffs, they just stayed in other towns. It wasn’t slow because everyone was at the Pops, which I figured would be the case. It was slow because people weren’t coming to Oak Bluffs.”
Festival organizers remained upbeat. “It was fabulous, it couldn’t have been better — the show, the park, the performers. It was just another majestic festival show in Ocean Park,” said producer Rob Sherer. Mr. White agreed. “The festival, I thought, was really wonderful. Everyone there seemed to really enjoy it, even more so than last year,” he said. “The festival will continue, at least from our standpoint, and we hope from the public’s and the town of Oak Bluffs as well.”