Somers Point’s free Concerts on the Beach series celebrates platinum anniversary.
For the past 20 years, on any Friday summer evening in Somers Point, hundreds of people pack the William Morrow Memorial Beach, located on the bay in the quaint shore town across the bridge from Ocean City.
Perched in beach chairs worn from use — and years of sun — and with feet planted in the sand, cold beverages in hand, music lovers from all over the region, some coming from other states to see a specific performer, have helped to make Somers Point’s free Concerts on the Beach series a one-of-a-kind annual event and an overwhelming success.
Between 7 and 9pm each Friday between mid-June and early September, the city’s municipal beach hosts both local and internationally renowned musicians, giving locals a stellar start to their nights and weekends.
With the sun slipping away into the horizon and the last autographs signed and photographs taken with the artists, the family-friendly crowd gradually moves off beach — perhaps for a bite at Latz’s or Smith’s Clam Bar down the road apiece, or for a few drinks at one of the many local historic bars in walking distance from the beach. Some check out the summer exhibit at the Great Bay Gallery. Some get in their cars and move on to their next destination (such as the bands from out of town, on the road for the summer, happy to be playing an outdoor beach concert for such an enthusiastic crowd — especially when the breeze is blowing in the right direction).
Some, especially those with children, remain on the beach for a few extra moments of play time while the sound crew and band break down the stage.
After catching sets by award-winning acts such as Janiva Magness, Johnny Sansone, Terrance Simien, Duke Robilard, Guitar Shorty (interview), Joe Louis Walker (photos), Jimmy Thackery, Commander Cody, Bonerama, the Kinsey Report, Curtis Salgado, Mem Shannon or Walter “Wolfman” Washington — to name a few of the featured artists over the past 20 years — the concert goers not only get a unique experience with regard to the intimacy and casualness of the shows, but also memories to last many more summers.
Since its inception in 1992, the beach concert series has done just that for thousands upon thousands of people.
The city’s Nick Regine, formerly the Community Education and Recreation director for Somers Point, and now the president of the Somers Point Jazz Society, created the series after walking by the beach one July 4 evening.
“When I first got the job of CER director, one of the things I wanted to promote was an outdoor summer music series,” says Regine. “JFK Park immediately came to mind. So for three or four years I tried to promote an eclectic mix of music in that beautiful setting by the bay.
“To put it mildly, the turnout was pathetic. To start with, JFK Park is not centrally located and all the music was presented with the audience’s back to the water.
“One July 4th, I walked by the municipal beach and there were about 300 people there awaiting the fireworks from Ocean City. I said to myself, ‘let’s add to this and have a band down on the beach next year to entertain the onlookers while they await the fireworks.’ It was a huge success.”
Regine then talked to a couple of the city’s Recreation Commission members and urged them to switch the outdoor music series formerly held at JFK Park to the beach.
“[I told them] ‘let’s try to have a four-week series next year,’” says Regine. “One of the Recreation Commission members, Bob Martin, said, ‘let’s think bigger! Let’s have an eight-week series.’ I said, ‘fine, but who is going to pay for it?’ He said, ‘let’s find sponsors.’”
With the assistance of a friend, local insurance sales person and blues-music lover, Vic Misewitcz, the commission took on the task of finding enough cooperate sponsors to underwrite the eight-week series.
“It proved to be such an initial success that it soon grew into a 10 and eventually an 11-week series,” says Regine. “The location was the key. A beautiful backdrop of the bay, with all types of boats cruising past, and the Ocean City skyline [across the bay].”
Couple that with the fact that the concerts were free and families could come down and listen to the music and let their kids frolic in the sand and the series’ 20-year run got off to a hot start. “As in real estate,” says Regine, “the mantra is: location, locaton, location.”
With an awning-covered stage right on the water — there have been rain-outs, but usually a local venue comes through at the last minute if the concert needs to be moved inside — the series has hosted Grammy and Blues Award-winning and other celebrated artists, along with some of the best local musicians around, sometimes sitting in with the headliners. Add bay breezes, ice cream trucks, pizza and other eats into the mix and the Friday night music event has been a cure for the summertime blues since it was initially cooked up as a way to offer free concerts to locals and visitors of the musically rich Jersey shore town.
Since 2004, Carmen Marotta, whose father, Anthony, owned and operated the legendary Tony Mart club on Bay Avenue for decades until its closing in 1982, and his wife Nancy, have taken over the hiring of talent for the beach concert series along with a committee of volunteers.
Marotta has been able to take advantage of his many connections and years of experience in the music industry — he was a talent buyer for his father’s historic night spot in the 1970s, as well as for a club in New Orleans’ French Quarter he opened with the late Levon Helm in the 1990s (Levon Helm’s Classic American Cafe) — to bring some of the best touring artists to Somers Point — for free.
“We want to do three things with the beach concerts,” says Marotta. “First, we want to present a diverse group of American music in different genres. Secondly, we want to provide a venue for these great touring musicians out there who need our support. Finally, we want to create a great event for the community of Somers Point.”
Further illustrating just how much the Somers Point community has embraced the Friday night live-music series, Marotta points out that for the 20th anniversary season this year, there are 60 sponsors (including Atlantic City Weekly), more than ever before.
Looking over past schedules for the series, it’s not only interesting to note all of the great award-winning — and soul-stirring — performers the shows have presented, but also the yearly increase in sponsors and levels of sponsorship over the past 20 years.
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