Fourth of July Solid For Resort Despite Challenges; Record Attendance At North OC Fireworks Event

Fourth of July Solid For Resort Despite Challenges; Record Attendance At North OC Fireworks Event
The fireworks display is pictured at Northside Park July 3. Photo by Chris Parypa

OCEAN CITY— Despite the lack of fireworks on the actual Fourth of July, and a few weather-related headaches on Tuesday, a pair of bookended last-minute special events contributed to a solid holiday weekend in the resort.

While it may not have been one for the record books for most, the extended Fourth of July holiday weekend was a strong one by most accounts. There was beautiful weather last weekend for the most part and anecdotally, business seemed robust for many and the traffic was heavy at times but generally kept moving.

Fourth of July in 2022 will likely be remembered as a departure from the town’s traditional holiday weekend festivities. Last week, resort officials announced the vendor for the annual Fourth of July fireworks shows had backed out at the last minute over labor issues. Resort officials, including the Special Events staff, scrambled and came up with alternatives for residents and visitors for the holiday weekend and beyond.

For example, last Sunday, July 3, there was an intimate celebration planned at Northside Park in conjunction with the typical Sundaes in the Park event. It featured a free concert by Mike Hines and the Look, followed by a condensed fireworks show produced by the Celebrations Fireworks Company.

For Tuesday, July 5, resort officials scrambled to produce a pair of special events designed to enhance the visitors’ extended holiday weekend experience. Salisbury resident and American Idol star Jay Copeland took the stage for a concert at Northside Park. However, the concert was cut short by rainstorms in the evening. Copeland did play before a good crowd at the opening of the show, but the concert was cut short by the weather just a few songs in.

The weather was also a factor for the condensed downtown fireworks show on Tuesday and it appeared for a while as if it wouldn’t go off. While there was a window of decent weather between the abbreviated Jay Copeland show and the fireworks planned for downtown at 9:30 p.m., storms popped up again and threatened to cancel the event.

The downtown fireworks show on Tuesday was delayed by the storm, but once it went off it featured a smaller, but more intense show than the town’s traditional Fourth of July fireworks displays. With the weather still threatening, the downtown fireworks show on Tuesday drew a significantly smaller crowd than it would have been if the show was on the actual Fourth, or if the weather had been better.

Despite the Fourth of July fireworks cancellation and the weather challenges on Tuesday, resort tourism officials were generally pleased with the bookend events prepared on the fly, and the holiday weekend in general. Special Events Director Frank Miller said the Sunday night events at Northside Park were well received.

“Sundaes in the Park was a blessing for many residents and visitors, along with all of us at the town,” he said. “Although fireworks were not originally planned for Sunday night at Sundaes in the Park, our staff was able to shuffle a few things around to bring that element back to life after our normal fireworks display plans fell through.”

Miller thanked the town’s private sector partners who helped pull off the last-minute events and said it is believed the Sundaes in the Park event on Sunday set a new attendance record.

“Of course, we could not have done that without our partners at TEAM Productions and the State Fire Marshal’s Office, who worked with us to bring fireworks back to our Sundaes in the Park guests,” he said. “We estimate approximately 6,000 patrons attended the Sunday evening concert and watched the small fireworks display, which is a record number for that wonderful concert series.”

As far as Tuesday’s events went, Miller said the feedback for both the shortened Copeland show and the downtown fireworks show was initially positive.

“Last night [Tuesday], despite some hiccups in the weather, we hosted a unique fireworks display downtown and Jay Copeland uptown,” he said. “From the feedback we have received for both shows, visitors thought both events were a hit.”

Marketing and Communications Director Jessica Waters agreed Copeland’s rain-shortened concert at Northside was well-received by those who had the opportunity to hear at least a few of his songs.

“Residents and visitors at Northside Park expressed that although he only had a chance to play a few songs before the rain came, Jay Copeland was great,” she said. “His music is upbeat and family-friendly. It was great to see so many people turn out to enjoy the show, even though the forecast wasn’t what we had hoped.”

Waters said town staff was able to pivot successfully after learning the contracted fireworks company for the actual Fourth of July had to back out.

“The fact that we didn’t get to hold fireworks on July 4 was certainly disappointing, but I believe we were able to adjust our plan and offer two fantastic holiday events for our visitors to enjoy,” she said. “Both the Jay Copeland concert at Northside Park and the fireworks show on the Boardwalk reminded us that Independence Day and our patriotism can be celebrated any day of the week.”

Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association (HMRA) Executive Director Susan Jones said she did not make it to the Copeland show, but heard from others it was wonderful despite its reduced duration. She said there could be opportunities to bring the local star back to the resort in the future, perhaps pairing him with another local recording star Jimmy Charles.

“My mother-in-law went to the Jay Copeland concert and said even though it was cut short, he was so appreciative, delightful and has a great voice,” she said. “We’re hoping he can return perhaps and he would be great in the Performing Arts Center. Perhaps we could have him and Jimmy Charles as they were both on American Idol for some sort of live music event.”

In terms of the holiday weekend in general, resort tourism officials were generally pleased with the weekend despite the challenges.

“The weather was beautiful, which made for excellent beach days,” said Waters. “We are fortunate that despite the disappointing news from our fireworks vendor, we were able to host a great Sundaes in the Park event on Sunday night. The fireworks show was smaller than our traditional Independence Day event but still gave a great experience to visitors who wanted to see fireworks. Despite the challenges we and other communities are facing with labor and supply shortages, I think we have been very lucky to have had great Independence Day events.”

For her part, Jones said she had checked in with some of her members on the lodging side, but the jury was still out on the actual numbers and the bottom line for many.

“Friday was a little light, but Saturday and Sunday seemed to fill up nicely,” she said. “There were several ‘no vacancies’ and reports of solid business from the lodging end. I haven’t spoken to many restaurants, but traffic in restaurants didn’t seem overly crowded on the actual Fourth.”

Jones said the way the town was able to respond after learning the Fourth fireworks vendor was backing out was indicative of a larger trend.

“I think the pandemic provided everyone, including government, businesses and non-profits etc. with an opportunity to re-evaluate structure and operations and has provided a path for new ways of doing business,” she said.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.