There's something about the first few nice-weather weekends of spring that almost demands people spend the day outdoors. Bayfest, organizers say, has perfect timing.
The annual Somers Point festival - now celebrating its 25th year - takes place 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, April 27, rain or shine. The daylong event has grown to now stretch over 14 blocks along historic Bay Avenue, and includes live music in four different locations, more than 120 crafters and upwards of 40,000 people coming in to help celebrate.
"I really believe (the success) is because we're the first of many festivals in South Jersey," says Frank Cosgrove, who is serving his eighth year as chairman of the Bayfest Committee. "We're the first to kick off the season. People are anxious to get out and about and be out in the nice weather. After a long winter, people want to get out and do something fun."
Bayfest began 25 years ago as an Earth Day celebration, and organizers still maintain that tradition by hosting environmental groups to help inform the public about topics including water conservation and recycling.
Bayfest also contributes to the city at large, with profits from the festival funding projects that enhance and benefit the city. Some of the past projects Bayfest has supported include improvements to the Bud Kern Field, the installation of a new playground on the public beach, new banners lining Historic Bay Avenue and donations to the Mainland Regional High School Commutation Arts Department.
This year also will include a brand new lineup of live entertainment. Performing this year will be 3 South Benson (at the south end at Annie Avenue), Brotherfish (performing at the north end), the Reggae band Steppin' Razor (playing at the beach) and Northeast Philadelphia natives The Rockets (playing across from Doc's).
The day also will offer plenty to eat.
"There are 50 food vendors - everything from crab cakes to ribs," Cosgrove says. "There's something for everyone for sure. We try to have variety and not 20 hot dog vendors. Plus, with the 100-plus crafters there is always a lot to see - from handmade jewelry to candles."
As always, children's activities are a big part of the Bayfest draw. Returning this year are the rock climbing wall, multiple moon bounces, a mobile petting zoo and pony rides. A camel will join the ride lineup for the first time this year, Cosgrove says. Also, Atlantic City Aquarium will be at the corner of Gibbs Avenue with a touch tank with small sea life.
"There are lots of kid-friendly activities on the beach this year," Cosgrove says. "We do have a petting zoo, plenty of games and we also try to work with the different youth groups in town. The Give and Take Jugglers will also be back this year."
Of course, putting together an event like Bayfest is no easy feat. The Bayfest committee begins work in September for the April event.
"Then it's two months off, and then we're right back at it," Cosgrove says. "So basically it's year-round for us. But we're very fortunate. The committee is comprised of very dedicated volunteers."
Cosgrove says seeing all the families coming out for a day of fun along the bay makes all the planning worth the time.
"It does give you a good feeling to see the crowd enjoying themselves," Cosgrove says. "I try to talk to folks throughout the day, and it's pretty amazing how many folks come from outside of New Jersey."