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iGEN by Ted Volk
The Place Where Radio and Records come Together Without Talking
How A Little Beach Town Landed A Massive Music Festival
3/12/15

Seaside Heights does not succumb to bad luck -- its misfortune simply breeds resilience.

A devastating storm, or ravaging fire spurs reconstruction. 

The latest example: the weary beachfront town has signed on for its largest entertainment undertaking in recent memory. 

Seaside will host the Gentlemen of the Road Stopovers festival, an enormous, two-day event created and headlined by British folk-rock stars Mumford and Sons. Unlike brand-name festivals Bonnaroo and Coachella, the June 5-6 fest thrives on small-town spirit, transforming four select U.S. burgs into vibrant rock destinations.

"We want it to seem like you somehow entered this Mumford and Sons warp," said Mike Luba of Madison House Presents, the event's organizer. "It's meant to feel like a giant block party. Each town's own character publicly manifests itself and it's not just a festival, it's a fully integrated community event."

The affair announced Monday will spread across the borough, Luba said, enveloping Boulevard and the boardwalk. Retail shops will paint their windows. Bars and clubs will host pulsing pre-parties and after-parties. Visitors from states away will be allowed to camp on the beach -- overnight.

A grand stage will be built on the Seaside Heights sand, with Casino Pier's shimmering amusements behind and a sea of music-lovers ahead.

Joining the robust London foursome, who took home the 2013 Grammy Award for Album of the Year, are southern bluesers Alabama Shakes and prolific alt-rockers The Flaming Lips, as well as a bevy of indie groups from across the globe.

Luba said local businesses are encouraged to host live music of their own, and events to further incorporate the town itself will be scheduled. Identical festivals will take place in Iowa, Colorado and Washington over the summer.

Family-friendly

Seaside's decision to host such a bash was a marriage of desire and luck. After enduring the Electric Adventure dance festival in August 2014, and the 42 arrests and 34 drug-related illnesses it invoked, the town reached out to promoter AEG Live in hopes of bringing "family-based entertainment" to the shore in 2015, said borough administrator Christopher Vaz.

Aerial view of Casino Pier at the Seaside Heights boardwalk. Mumford and Sons' stage will be erected with the pier lighting in the background. 

AEG forwarded Seaside's request to Luba, who was searching for new spots to host the summer's tour, and he and the band came to visit the shore a few months later.

"We fell in love with the town, and the people," Luba said. "Everyone was open for the challenge. (Seaside) has real potential to be magic this year."

For Mumford keyboardist Ben Lovett, who visited Seaside a few times in the planning process, the town's recent misfortune sparked his interest.

"We were looking for an interesting site, and Seaside Heights could do with a bit of love," Lovett said in a recent interview with NJ Advance Media. "We are excited to bring some joy after the last few years have been so brutal to the area."

Of course, Lovett references the immeasurable damage of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and the disastrous boardwalk fire in 2013. But pop culture has also stung the borough of late. MTV's immensely popular "Jersey Shore" show has, for many, left Seaside with a vapid, sleezy stigma.

"We are excited to bring some joy after the last few years have been so brutal to the area."
 

But the "Gentlemen" tour comes with a straight-and-narrow reputation -- Luba said the fest had no arrests or medical transports at its shows in 2012 or 2013  -- and Vaz hopes the event re-energizes the shorefront.

"We're ecstatic," he said. "We researched the 'stopover' events and saw that it's a celebration. And there hasn't been a lot of celebration in Seaside Heights in the last two and a half years. Now people have a chance to come together and meet fans all over the country. People who may have never seen the ocean before get to visit the Jersey shore and we are really excited about that."  

And for the borough's pocketbook, the festival should mark a nice economic boost ahead of primetime beach season. A stopover in Bristol, Va. in 2012 generated $5.1 million in tax revenue and visitors in Virginia (some of the town lies in Tennessee) spent $6.7 million, according to a study released by the state's tourism corporation. As many as 35,000 tickets are expected to be sold, Vaz said. 

The Seaside show will be the tour's first-ever beachfront "stopover," and within the festival atmosphere, attendees will be able to add a $20 camping pass to the $179 two-day ticket, pitch a tent on the sand and stay overnight, waking up just steps from a boardwalk full of food, games and rides.

 

"Other than Boy Scout troops, this is the first time we are doing this," Vaz said.