BERLIN – An on-the-water music festival planned for Fourth of July weekend could bring as many as 10,000 people to the Isle of Wight Bay.
The Boaters Aid Music Festival, set for July 3-5, will bring acts like Jo Dee Messina, Heart by Heart and The Guess Who to a barge stage just off the Isle of Wight Nature Park, which is located off Route 90. The event’s website encourages attendees to come by boat to “tie one on and have a nauti cool time.”
Organizer Allen Barzak says he’s spent the past year and a half planning the event — which is to benefit St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital — to make sure it goes off smoothly.
“I’m not here to create problems,” he said.
Barzak originally wanted to set up a stage at the Isle of Wight Nature Park and have festival-goers pull their boats up to watch the show. When the state told him last year he couldn’t set up a stage on the land, he decided to put it on a barge.
“I think this is the better way to do it,” he said.
Attendees will steer their boats into the buoyed-off area surrounding the barge to take in the musical acts and games that will make up the three-day festival. Three bands are set to perform each day at the event, which will be open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. The featured performer on the first day of the event will be The Guess Who, while Jo Dee Messina headlines the event July 4. Heart by Heart will perform July 5. General admission tickets will cost between $50 and $75 a person.
Barzak is expecting 1,200 boats and 10,000 people to take part in the weekend’s festivities.
“It just depends how many people come on each boat,” he said.
Though people are encouraged to come by boat, they’re not required to. Barzak says a shuttle bus will take people from Showell Elementary School to the festival site. Various bayside bars will also be providing shuttle boats to take customers to the festival, according to Barzak.
No alcohol will be sold at the event but Barzak says attendees can bring coolers. Children, too, are welcome and those under 12 can get in free. “It’s not a huge family-oriented event but enough so that they’ll be able to enjoy themselves,” he said.
Because the Boaters Aid Music Festival will be taking place on state waters, Barzak had to get approval from Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to host it. According to the agency’s website, a marine gathering permit is required anytime an event involves 100 or more vessels, lasts more than three hours or creates an unusual hazard.
Barzak received his permit from DNR May 28. It outlines the safety precautions he’s required to take during the festival, which include having 13 security personnel with radios and 13 lifeguards on duty. EMS providers will also have to be on site between the hours of 10:30 a.m. and 6 p.m.
“It will be a safe event,” Barzak said.
Lt. Art Windemuth, area commander of the Natural Resources Police (NRP), said DNR’s primary concern with the event was making sure sufficient emergency and lifesaving personnel were on hand, particularly because the holiday weekend was always a busy one in Ocean City.
“This will definitely add to the amount of responsibility our officers have in that area,” he said.
Windemuth said the festival area would be sectioned off with buoys so other boaters in the vicinity would be aware of it. A temporary channel will also be created around it to help with the flow of boat traffic.
In addition, extra NRP officers will be on duty. Windemuth said Ocean City’s normal force of six officers would be increased by four to six more officers and two more boats for Fourth of July weekend.
“We’ve added extra Natural Resources Police officers in the area to work during the event,” he said.
Barzak, who splits his time between the Eastern Shore and Florida, says he is aware that some community members have concerns about the new event but that he has taken precautions to make sure it runs smoothly.
“I spent a year and a half planning this before I even set a date,” he said, adding that similar events are held throughout the country. “I’ve done very thorough research.”
Town of Ocean City officials said they were aware of the event and have been in contact with Barzak.
“We are aware of the event and have been communicating with the event coordinator,” said Jessica Waters, the town’s communications manager. “It is going to be a busy weekend with visitors coming to Ocean City and the surrounding areas to enjoy the holiday at the beach.”