Jazz Festival Eyes Ocean City

OCEAN CITY – As word has started to spread that Ocean City will be getting a 1,200-seat performing arts center in the few years as part of the expanded Roland E. Powell Convention Center, it’s starting to attract the interest of some serious players.

At last Thursday’s Tourism Commission meeting, Leon Gallitzin of the non-profit Delaware Celebration of Jazz, Inc. spoke of his interest in expanding the festival to Ocean City, and perhaps, moving the festival here entirely.

The Rehoboth Jazz Festival has brought in national musicians and Grammy winning acts like BB King, Dionne Warwick, the Funk Brothers and Queen Latifah.

“We are kind of stuck in Rehoboth,” said Gallitzin. “The convention center has great acoustics, but it’s only 900 seats and we can’t expand the walls, so we are looking somewhere down the line to either relocating or expanding to Ocean City.”

Gallitzin said that on Oct. 2 he hopes to be in Allentown, Pa. booking legendary act Earth Wind and Fire for the 2010 festival, but he can’t afford to book the band for the 900 seats in Rehoboth.

“I’ve got to put them somewhere, and I think that expanding to Ocean City could turn people on to more of Ocean City than what they may know already,” said Gallitzin.

As with the recent AVP volleyball tour event in Ocean City, the Rehoboth Jazz Festival could bring a new crowd of visitors to Ocean City.

“These people spend money,” said Gallitzin. “It’s like Christmas for five days for the restaurants, so you’ll see black American Express cards and well-educated people that will be drinking top shelf stuff and having a great time.”

Gallitzin said that Ocean City might be a better fit for growing the festival since its population is much greater and it is easier to get to from large metropolitan areas like Baltimore and Washington.

Between 18,000 to 25,000 people have flocked to Rehoboth in recent years for the festival, and Gallitzin also noted that some of the area hotels, which have large conference rooms or banquet halls, could also host smaller artist concerts during the festival, which historically runs the four days after Columbus Day weekend each October.

“They say the longest journey starts with the first shortest step, and this is the first step,” said Gallitzin. “We are very interested to see where things go with the performing arts center in Ocean City, and we feel this might be a perfect opportunity to leverage what we’ve done up there for 20 years, and catapult it into the future here.”

Mayor Rick Meehan’s one concern with Gallitzin’s presentation was the name, citing that having an event in Ocean City bearing another resort’s name would “not make very much sense.”

Gallitzin told the mayor that in anticipation of the conversation with Ocean City, his organization has bought the name Delmarva Celebration of Jazz, but noted that the event could be changed to the Ocean City Jazz and Heritage Festival, agreeing that it would be counterproductive to move away from the town’s already established brand.

Another talking point in the conversation was that some performers would not play a festival if they are not put up in a hotel that is considered less than four stars.

Apparently, famed crooner Tony Bennett is one of those performers.

“We almost booked Tony Bennett, said Gallitzin, “but I couldn’t put him anywhere other than Ocean City right now.”

Tourism Commission Chair and Councilwoman Mary Knight felt that the preliminary conversation was worthy of discussion even though construction of the performing arts center and overall multi-million dollar expansion to the convention center has not received final approval in Annapolis.