OCEAN CITY – While acknowledging that a few issues will need to be worked out, resort officials and business owners this week are celebrating the success of the Oceans Calling Festival.
Roughly 50,000 attendees descended on downtown Ocean City last Friday, Saturday and Sunday for the first-ever Oceans Calling Festival. Highlighted by more than 30 performances across three stages off the Boardwalk, officials say the successful event demonstrated Ocean City’s capability to host large-scale festivals in the years to come.
“It was a very special weekend for Ocean City and the start of big things to come,” Mayor Rick Meehan said. “It showed us what we can do.”
Since 2021, the Town of Ocean City has worked with festival promoter C3 Presents and its partner, O.A.R., to prepare for Oceans Calling, a three-day music festival hosted at the southern end of the beach and Boardwalk. While an inaugural event was planned for 2022, officials were forced to cancel as the remnants of a hurricane swept through the resort.
While the news came as a disappointment to many, officials say the additional year gave the promoter and the city time to improve its safety and transportation plans and expand the festival footprint to include the Ocean City Boardwalk. The result, they said, was a highly anticipated music festival that sold out within a few short months of promotion.
As anticipated, bringing 50,000 festival-goers to downtown Ocean City did come with its challenges. Long lines were reported at most Boardwalk establishments included in the festival grounds throughout the weekend, as well as extended wait times for outbound city buses in the hours following Friday’s concert. In social media posts that evening, the Town of Ocean City and the festival’s promoter encouraged those parked at the convention center or south of 40th Street to walk to their destinations.
In an interview this week, Public Works Director Hal Adkins acknowledged transportation issues following Friday’s shows. However, he said the transportation department was quick to alter its bus deployments.
“These attendees were instructed and encouraged to take public transportation, and we were slammed,” he said in an interview this week. “But we made adjustments. Saturday went better, and Sunday went even better.”
Ocean City Marketing and Communications Director Jessica Waters agreed.
“We did have some learning curves, which always happens – especially in a first-year event,” she said this week. “Transportation was a challenge as moving so many people at once is definitely out of the ordinary for us. However, after Friday’s shows, the town worked with the transportation department and made significant adjustments, which resulted in better experiences for our visitors on Saturday and Sunday.”
Despite some transportation issues, city officials report the weekend continued with no major incidents. Ocean City Police Department Deputy Communications Manager Ashley Miller recognized C3 Presents for working with local police to ensure public safety.
“C3 Presents is a class act,” she said this week. “They provided a lot of security and medical personnel which allowed our public safety employees to focus on the Town of Ocean City. There were minimal arrests made of festival goers. The arrests made were for minor offenses such as trespassing.”
Ocean City Fire Department’s Ryan Whittington said several ambulances were placed throughout Ocean City and West Ocean City in preparation of last weekend’s festival. And while the department reported an uptick in service calls on Saturday, he reported a successful weekend.
“On Saturday of the event, we observed an uptick in emergency calls, indicative of the substantial turnout at the Ocean’s Calling Festival,” he said. “However, we are pleased to report that these increased calls did not overwhelm our emergency response system. This success is a testament to the diligent planning and coordination that went into ensuring the safety and well-being of all festival attendees.”
Fire Chief Richie Bowers agreed.
“Through meticulous event pre-planning and the diligent execution of our event action plan, our department was fully prepared to handle the unique challenges posed by the Oceans Calling Festival,” he said. “We are proud of the efforts put forth by our dedicated team and grateful for the smooth operation of our emergency response system.”
Overall, city officials reported a successful weekend. And despite wet weather on Friday and Saturday, they said festival-goers came out in full force.
“It was a super event and a super weekend for Ocean City,” said Ocean City Tourism and Business Development Director Tom Perlozzo. “We showcased the town, the beach, the businesses and I don’t think we disappointed anyone who attended the event.”
This year, the Ocean City Boardwalk was included in the festival grounds, which spanned from North Division Street to the Inlet. When reached for comment this week, several Boardwalk businesses reported strong sales.
“I think the whole Boardwalk community worked really hard,” said Kevin Gibbs of The Dough Roller. “And I think the town, the Boardwalk businesses and C3 put on a banner weekend.”
Gibbs noted that while staffing was an issue among many merchants, he believed the weekend was a success.
“Places got busier as the weekend progressed …,” he said. “You could really tell there was a new crowd to Ocean City and they were out exploring Saturday and Sunday, especially from 27th Street south. That’s what made the event different.”
Wendy DiBuo, whose family owns and operates the Cork Bar and Crawl Street Tavern, also applauded the promoter and the Town of Ocean City for working with Boardwalk merchants to prepare for Oceans Calling. She also recognized year-round staff for working hard throughout the weekend.
“From the perspective of two bars located downtown, with one bar located inside the festival and the other just steps outside the festival, I feel it was a win-win,” she said.
Resort leaders also took time during Monday’s Mayor and Council meeting to recognize city staff for their efforts.
“I wanted to thank the staff for all of their work over this weekend, but especially transportation with the help of the police department,” said City Manager Terry McGean. “What they did was nothing less than miraculous. Sometimes we get criticized for not being agile, for not adapting. Friday, we saw what happened. We didn’t give up. We stood up.”
For his part, Councilman John Gehrig said the weekend provided a learning opportunity.
“That is why we do special events. We don’t know what we don’t know …,” he said. “When we talk world-class, Ocean City was world-class this past weekend. And I agree 100% with what the team did. The promoter was outstanding, the entire Ocean City team was outstanding. It wasn’t perfect, but what is? We’ll get better.”
Meehan said the Oceans Calling Festival was a team effort. He thanked the promoter, Boardwalk businesses, town staff and visitors for a successful inaugural event.
“I’m happy we got it in,” he said, “and now everybody knows what it really could be.”
Officials say the festival – which attracted 50,000 people from all 50 states – checks all the boxes in terms of tourism and economic development.
With the 2023 Oceans Calling Festival in the rearview mirror, officials say they will now begin the task of preparing for next year’s event.
“Our town, our city services did a tremendous job seeing the vision of what a music festival could mean for the town,” Perlozzo said. “Hats off to police, fire, EMS, special events, tourism, and even the Mayor and City Council. It was about the vision, and thank God we could pull it off. I think it will be good for years to come.”