For Christian Raucci, the prep for Bayfest begins nearly a full week before the crowds descend on Bay Avenue in Somers Point .
The tents go up early in the week along the street, followed by massive amounts of paper products and two counters. Two grills, a deep fryer and a stove come in after that. On Friday afternoon, Raucci starts a huge batch of his famous crab cake mix.
Then, the staff at CJ’s Corner Grill will cook all night long. There is prep to be done for hundreds of crab cakes, Italian roasted pork sandwiches, lobster bisque soup and burgers and hot dogs for the children. Depending on what seafood is available fresh, there will be fish tacos or kabobs as well.
“It’s got to be fresh,” says Raucci, a Bayfest participant for 10 years. “I can’t disappoint. We set up a little restaurant right there on the street. You don’t just go down there and open up a grill.”
For Raucci, the payoff comes from the happy customers — a blogger dubbed Raucci the “king of crab cakes” at last year’s Bayfest. He intends to keep the title, he says.
Raucci, along with dozens of other Somers Point business owners, will line Bay Avenue for the 26th annual Bayfest, taking place 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today, 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 to help celebrate.
The event is touted as the largest, single-day festival in South Jersey.
“It’s the 26th year now and it’s been an incredible groundswell of community,” says Michael Bray, chairman of the Somers Point Economic Development Advisory Commission. “It’s happened organically … Somers Point itself underwent a re-branding last year, with a new logo and icon, so each of the events now will get more in line with the overall vision of the city. This year, and onward, you’ll start to see every event really strengthen its bonds with the community and really become these family-friendly outings.”
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 such as water conservation and recycling.
The festival 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 Mainland Regional High School’s Commutation Arts Department.
This year will also include some new entertainment. Returning this year will be 3 South Benson (at the south end at Annie Avenue) and reggae band Steppin’ Razor (playing at the beach), in addition to newcomers The Remedy (playing the north end) and Miller’s English (playing at Bay Avenue and Brighton).
Children’s events will include inflatables on the beach, pony rides, a petting zoo, tent activities, the Give and Take Jugglers and the addition of a “whip” ride and Ferris wheel.
“We’re very fortunate that we’re the first festival of the season, and people with spring fever want to get out and enjoy themselves,” says Frank Cosgrove, who is serving his ninth year as chairman of the Bayfest Committee. “My recommendation would be to show up early and enjoy yourself.”
Bray agrees, adding that this year’s particularly harsh winter will make this year’s Bayfest a welcome sight for those with cabin fever.
“Traditionally, Bayfest has signaled the unofficial start to summer,” Bray says. “It draws thousands … it becomes a symbol of ‘We made it.’ When you get a nice day on Bayfest, there’s nothing better.”