ATLANTIC CITY — The first day of the three-day Dave Matthews Band Caravan opened at Bader Field on Friday with sunny, breezy, pleasant weather adding to the laid-back vibe at the concert.
Spread out over 146 acres at the former municipal airport, the people in Friday’s crowd had ample space to roll out blankets, set up, listen to music and enjoy. Atlantic City police spokeswoman Sgt. Monica McMenamin said 16,000 people were on the festival grounds by 5 p.m., and the crowd reached more than 25,000 by 8:30 p.m.
Others listened from the water as boats and personal watercraft passed by throughout the day.
“It’s been great,” said Greg Heimberger, who attended with his friend Brianna Wright. The 21-year-olds drove from Canandaigua, N.Y., to attend. It was their first time in Atlantic City.
The day came and went without significant problems. State Police did not report any incidents. A representative for AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, which provided first-aid services, reported treating nothing more than scrapes and bruises.
The National Weather Service predicted a 40 percent chance of rain, but none materialized. Instead, a steady breeze cooled concertgoers, in addition to stirring up a fine, gritty black dust that stuck to people’s skin.
Previous concerns about problems in the nearby Chelsea Heights neighborhood proved unfounded Friday. City Councilman George Tibbitt, who lives in Chelsea Heights, said he had heard no complaints.
“So far, everything is under control and orderly, so far,” Tibbitt said. “Honest to God, I live four blocks away and I hear nothing.”
The three-day concert drew people from across the country to Atlantic City.
By the time the gates opened at 1 p.m., Royce Brenner and his girlfriend, Jess Guerette, both 23, were already exhausted.
The pair had left southern Maine at 11 p.m. Thursday and arrived at the Chestnut Lake Resort campground in Port Republic at 6:30 a.m. Friday, pitching their tent in the early dawn.
“We love music, one,” said Brenner, of Limerick, Maine.
“We love Dave Matthews, for two,” said Guerette, of Sanford, Maine.
The two plan to see all three shows, at $225 a ticket for the weekend, and said they would probably end up spending about $1,000, even though they said they were dining on hot dogs and sandwiches.
Others who were more familiar with the resort were surprised that something as big and scenic as Bader Field had never been used like this before.
Jess and John Kretovich, of Wenonah, Gloucester County, had been to Atlantic City many times before but had never heard of Bader Field.
They said the three-stage venue and its attractions were laid out very well. The married couple, both 27 and staying with friends over the weekend, said the acts were scheduled far apart enough that they could see almost everything.
“They have the beer garden, the wine area, they even have the porta-pots, enough that you don’t have to wait in line,” Jess Kretovich said.
Beyond the music, people who attended the concert had an array of things to see and do.
Near the entry gates, people could drive Jeep Liberty SUVs through a terrain park that included a muddy patch, steep hill and a row of bumps named for festival locations (Atlantic City was a pair of dirt mounds).
Tim Jakicic, 31, was not too impressed: The car bottomed out at the last obstacle, he said.
Jakicic, of Fort Myers, Fla., was at the show with Phil Scott, 30, of Philadelphia, a friend he meets up with for shows across the country. While the two talked, Jeeps picked their way gingerly through the path off the side of a former runway.
At the center of the fair was a 63-foot Ferris wheel where, for $5, a person could get an unobstructed view of the casinos and boats in the bay.
“It was amazing,” said J.J. Parent, 39, of Oceanside, Calif., who rode with her daughters Zelda Parent, 5, and Lola Parent, 3½, and friend Alicia Kirby, 27, of San Diego.
Parent ran “I (heart) Spicy Pie,” a pizza-concession stand at the concert. She traveled to Atlantic City from the Bonnaroo festival in Manchester, Tenn., and is headed next to a Phish concert in Watkins Glen, N.Y.
“You can really get to see how far the water goes” from the Ferris wheel, Parent said. “And you can see how close the casinos are.”
Concertgoers had their pick of an array of pricy, but good, food.
Jose Garces, one of the Food Network’s Iron Chefs, had a stand, as did Chip Roman.
Roman was up until 10 p.m. Thursday setting up Blackfish, his food stand, and was back at Bader Field by 7 a.m. to put the final touches on the place.
He and his wife Amanda Roman’s restaurant Blackfish in Conshohocken, Pa., has won awards, and the pair have recently opened Mica in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia. Festival organizers called Roman, he said, because they were looking for something more upscale for the festivals.
The restaurant had platters of fish and chips and pulled-pork barbecue sandwiches for $12, in addition to different salads.
“Yeah, you kinda do what you know,” said Chip Roman, yawning as he talked. “We tried to do a nice mix, keep it healthy.”
Other offerings included The Taco Truck, a Mexican street food-style truck from North Jersey, which sold a Barbacoa de Costilla taco with fresh cilantro, onions and red salsa for $8.
Beer lovers could pick from an entire row of microbrews that included Shiner, of Texas, as well as Brooklyn Brewery, Great Lakes beer and Cherry Hill’s Flying Fish.
But away from the festival grounds, one business was wondering whether the festival was taking away his customers.
“I expected tonight to be at typical June volume,” Paulie Sandler, general manager of The Palm restaurant, located in The Quarter at the Tropicana Casino and Resort, said Friday. “It fell well short.”
Sandler said that, as of 9:45 p.m., his restaurant had a 20 percent no-show rate for reservations. At this time of the season there is usually only a 2 percent or 3 percent rate, he said.
“I’m not a person to jump to conclusions or start being alarmist, but I think we are directly affected by Bader Field,” he said.
Sandler said city officials may have initially projected an increase in revenue being brought into the city as a result of the three-day festival, but he expects none of that money will be spent at upscale establishments.
He said he was not the only restaurant suffering Friday either. “I’m answering for other restaurants too,” Sandler said.
Staff Writer Caitlin Dineen contributed to this report.
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