OCEAN CITY — Struck down twice last year because of the pandemic, it appears the Jellyfish Festival will be held on Labor Day weekend this year after the date change was approved this week.
The inaugural Jellyfish Festival was held in June 2019 on the beach downtown in an area north of the pier. It featured national, regional and local acts with theme-based entertainment on three state-of-the-art stages along with family-friendly interactive events including surfing and skateboarding, ultimate frisbee, a fat-tire bike zone and other amenities with vendors in the Jellyfish Tentacle Village.
Last winter, local event promoter Brad Hoffman and his private-sector company Live Wire Media announced plans to bring back a decidedly scaled-back Jellyfish Festival on June on the beach downtown. The event would have included a scaled-down and less ambitious live music lineup featuring local bands, other family-friendly events and contests and the Jellyfish Village for vendors.
The Jellyfish Festival was set for last June 27-28 earlier in 2020. The COVID pandemic arrived and the festival planned were late June was scrubbed and later rescheduled for mid-September last year. However, state COVID directives for events and crowd sizes had not abated by then and the Jellyfish Festival was canceled again by the promoters.
Undaunted, Hoffman returned to the Mayor and Council on Tuesday to present his pitch for a renewed Jellyfish Festival set for the weekend of Sept. 11-12 on the beach roughly from north of the pier to North Division Street. The plan calls for many of the same elements as the scaled-back version approved last year including free and ticketed performances, beach yoga, cornhole, the fat-tire bike zone, concession sales and the vendor village.
However, somewhere between the event request’s placement on Tuesday’s agenda and the actual presentation on Tuesday, a suggestion was made to potentially move the Jellyfish Festival to Labor Day weekend this year. The original Sept. 11-12 proposed dates coincided with the annual fall Wine Fest event at the Inlet.
Mayor Rick Meehan said on Tuesday he had a brief conversation with Hoffman earlier that day about possibly moving Jellyfish Festival to Labor Day weekend.
“If you look at the dates, it’s going to have the same dates as Wine Fest,” he said. “There isn’t anything scheduled for Labor Day weekend. Maybe this event could be moved. It would be a nice event for Labor Day weekend.”
Hoffman said he could and would move the Jellyfish Festival to Labor Day weekend if that was what the Mayor and Council desired.
“I’m excited to push forward with Labor Day weekend,” he said. “It would make a solid anchor for that weekend. We always want to do what’s in the best interest of the town.”
Councilman John Gehrig said he could support the date change, but questioned if the decision should have been vetted through the appropriate channels for a special event on a holiday weekend. The mayor’s brief exchange with Hoffman on the day of the presentation and how quickly the council reached a decision on moving the event to Labor Day later in the meeting resulted in a heated exchange about events are often approved on the fly.
“I certainly support the event,” said Gehrig. “I feel like this should have come before the Tourism Commission. This is already a pretty big weekend.”
Gehrig briefly suggested the Jellyfish Festival could be better suited on the pop-up car rally weekend in late September, although that idea got little traction. Gehrig later said he wasn’t suggesting the event be moved, but was merely tossing out suggestions.
For his part, Hoffman said he was fine with moving the event to Labor Day weekend, but the long-term goal was bringing it back to June.
“With COVID still being an element, we looked at Labor Day weekend,” he said. “It could be a one-year proposition. My desire has always been to have this event in June. Ultimately, the plan is to get back to June. It’s a good fit for that part of the season.”
Hoffman said having the Jellyfish Festival on Labor Day weekend would provide a tangible special event on which the town could market the holiday weekend.
“It would provide a real marketing opportunity for the town for Labor Day,” he said. “Right now, there is no event that weekend. I think it would be a great addition for Labor Day at least for this year.”
The council ultimately voted unanimously to approve the Labor Day dates for the Jellyfish Festival, although the debate was far from settled.
During the council comments period of the meeting, Gehrig called into question the quick decision by which the date change was made and questioned the process for what was essentially rubber-stamped. That led to a brief, but terse, interaction with Councilman Mark Paddack.