Major music festival sees further delay; will now be country show

Founder’s/Starr Hill event pushed back to 2014 due to competition with Firefly

ZACK HOOPES ¦ Staff Writer

(Nov. 30, 2012) Ocean City will have to wait one more season for the inaugural iteration of the High Tide Music Festival, with the hope that a switch from pop to country will allow the resort to make a bigger splash in the national venue scene.

“It is with a lot of regret that I am here to ask for another extension to move the dates for 2014,” said Tom Russell of Founder’s Entertainment at Tuesday’s mayor and City Council meeting.

Along with promoter Starr Hill Presents, Founder’s has been working to put together a large-scale music event – tentatively called the High Tide Music Festival – for Ocean City.

The festival was originally proposed for the summer of 2012, but was later pushed to 2013 because of delays in preparation.

Now, because of competition in Delaware, Russell said a major change is in the works that will necessitate the festival moving to 2014.

“Before, the music festival that had been presented to you was what I call a ‘contemporary eclectic’ festival,” Russell said. Such an event would consist of pop music acts, mainly in the rock genre but with some greater variety.

“In the past year, however, a major competitor has popped up,” Russell continued. “The competition is called the Firefly Music Festival and it takes place in Dover Downs.”

“They came out of the gate swinging this year and had a pretty successful firstyear event. It was the same format as what we’re trying to do here. We didn’t think going ahead, going head-to-head with them, was a smart business decision, or that it would reflect well on the Town of Ocean City.”

Instead, Russell said his team plans to side-step Firefly by changing the High Tide Festival to a country music venue.

This presents another time issue, however, Russell said.

As opposed to the pop/rock world, which moves at a faster pace with higher turnover, the country music world consists of – in Russell’s estimation – about 10 long-standing, popular acts that book well over a year in advance.

“We saw [when we decided on the change] that every single event for next summer had already been booked … everyone was excited about our event, but they would have to reroute national tours [to appear],” Russell said.

Russell also noted that, instead of the original plan for a two-day event with three stages, his team was now anticipating a three-day event with two stages.

“The cost of doing a two-day event is so much already, adding a third day is not that much more,” he said.

But, Russell added, “[the festival] is actually smaller than it was before … we’ve honed it in a little bit and are now featuring only two stages, [because] we’re relying on our headline talent to draw. We don’t think there is a need for a third stage.”

The continuing delays, in both the festival itself and the availability of the Founder’s/Starr Hill team to appear before the council to discuss the event, seem to have caused some irritation and doubt as to whether the event will actually get off the ground.

“What are the chances that this is going to happen in 2014?” Councilman Brent Ashley asked Russell, noting that he was not willing to continue to devote city staff to help plan the event if it was just going to be rescheduled in perpetuity.

The council’s other concerns regarded the event grounds, which will occupy the beach between North First and Dorchester Streets. Council members Dennis Dare and Margaret Pillas both questioned Russell about the amount of noise that the nighttime stage setup will generate, noting that after-dark setup during the Dew Tour has caused some complaints from those staying on the oceanfront.

Russell said that measures to minimize construction noise, such as turning off the backup-beepers on vehicles and using backup spotters instead, would be taken.

Russell’s team also plans to give detailed schedules to nearby hotels and residences so that non-festival-going visitors will be aware of the event and the associated crowds and noise.

Public Works Deputy Director Dick Malone also asked that the event area be moved slightly towards the beach, to provide an ample alleyway between the event grounds and the Boardwalk so Public Works maintenance trucks can access the Boardwalk for cleaning.

There is some confusion, Malone said, about the required 70-foot buffer between the Boardwalk and event spaces and whether this distance begins at the edge of the boards themselves or at the edge of the concrete tram lane.

“We’ve always held the Dew Tour to 70 feet from the concrete,” Malone said. “That gives us the extra 24 feet that I need to clean the Boardwalk at night.”

Mayor Rick Meehan also wondered how beach equipment concessionaires, who hold rental rights to the parcels of beach in the proposed event space, would be compensated for the event time.

Russell said he had previously reached a verbal agreement with those operators. But Malone also suggested, since the parcel rights in question will be re-auctioned for 2014, that the event’s postponement would provide an opportunity to add an allowance for the festival into the franchise contracts themselves.

“There may be an opportunity for the promoter and the town to work with the vendors through the franchise agreement … so that everyone up front knows they are going to be impacted at that time, and it’s taken into account in their bids,” Malone said.

The council moved to approve a date hold for May 30 through June 1, 2014. City Manager David Recor will also be working on a draft memorandum of understanding to formalize the agreement between the city and the promoters with regards to the festival.

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