Marie Arleth can still remember walking along Bay Avenue for the first-ever Somers Point Bayfest in 1988 - 24 years before she would be considered one of the regular crafters selling her handmade wares.
"It was just one street and a couple of houses that had some crafts out," recalls Arleth, a lifelong resident who has been selling handmade beaded jewelry at the festival for five years. "And then it grew into what it is today. I've always enjoyed going to it because it's local and it is a part of our community."
Bayfest, Somers Point's largest single-day festival, returns Saturday, April 28, with its blend of live music, food, crafters and plenty of outdoor fun for families. The 24th annual festival will take place 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. along Bay Avenue, rain or shine.
"This is the first event of the spring and summer season," says Frank Cosgrove, now serving his seventh year as chairman of the Bayfest Committee. "You know, traditionally everybody has cabin fever after a long winter. But this year, after such a mild winter, it's a little bit different. But people always just enjoy strolling the streets, seeing the crafts."
"Every year, it's like another street longer," Cosgrove says, laughing. "It's certainly changed quite a bit. It's grown from a little thing. I just think it's a nice, leisurely day."
The City of Somers Point and the Somers Point Bayfest Committee spend the better part of a year putting the event together, organizing vendors and more than 120 crafters to now fill 14 blocks along Bay Avenue - drawing an estimated 30,000 people from all over the region.
"It's a huge undertaking," Cosgrove says. "But the committee has been doing it so long, it's on autopilot some days. "It's got a little something for everybody. There are activities for the kids. There are crafts, there are bands. Residents also like it as well."
Live entertainment will include The Northbound Train, performing at the Beach Stage at Higbee Avenue. Front Street will perform at the North End Stage. Also returning will be twelve:01. The band Gypsy Wisdom will be new to the Bayfest lineup this year, Cosgrove says.
As in the past, there is a full lineup of children's events, including bounce houses on the beach, face painting and pony rides. The Cape May Zoo will provide two interactive shows for children with live animals on the beach at noon and 3 p.m. The Atlantic City Aquarium will be at the corner at Gibbs Avenue with a touch tank of small sea life, and the Atlantic County Parks and Recreation Department will also have touch boxes for children. The Shore Thing Band will provide entertainment for the crowd, as well.
"The give-and-take jugglers are always such a huge hit with the kids," Cosgrove says.
The bars and restaurants along Bayfest - particularly the Anchorage, 800 Bay, Doc's Place and Baia - will also reap the benefits from the adult crowd looking for some libations.
Bayfest began 24 years ago as a celebration of Earth Day. While the daylong event has grown exponentially since, organizers continue to maintain the environmental focus.
Several local groups will be on hand to educate visitors about recycling, water use and conservation.
Profits from the festival will benefit various projects in the Somers Point area. Past projects include improvements to Bud Kern Field, the installation of a new playground on the public beach and new banners lining Bay Avenue.
For Arleth, Bayfest is a family affair. The day serves as a reunion, with everyone gathering at the home of her sister-in-law, Somers Point artist Kathy Arleth.
"We always gather on her big porch and have a big get-together on that day," Arleth says. "When I started making jewelry about 6 years ago … one of my first shows was Bayfest. (Organizers) were able to accommodate me to be right in front of my sister-in-law's house. It made it even nicer for me. So I've just continued to do that. It's always been fun. Lots of people do come back."