Huge outdoor audiences experienced back-to-back festivals at Bader Field without any noteworthy complications, and the success of the events has left city officials confident the resort can routinely host large-scale concerts.
“The city can definitely handle any major concert that wants to come here. There’s no doubt about it at this point,” Atlantic City Emergency Management Director Tom Foley said. “We’re very, very happy with the result, which has shown that planning and cooperation between host and the production company is absolutely essential.”
June was a major month in entertainment as the Phish and Metallica concerts that drew more than 20,000 and 32,000 people each night, respectively, were major successes for Atlantic City; meanwhile, down in Wildwood, the performance of country singer Kenny Chesney on the beach in was seen as a major statement by that city. In addition to drawing 30,000 fans there, Chesney’s free concert was streamed live on YouTube.
Ken MacDonald, director of venue development for Starr Hill Presents, the promoter for the Bader Field festivals, said the shows went smoothly but he wants to wait to speak on whether he would recommend returning in the future.
“I want to wait for the dust to settle and give Atlantic City stakeholders a chance to take in the weekend,” he said. “Then we’ll figure out whether it makes sense to work together again — and I hope it does.”
Part of that will hinge on the luxury tax placed on entertainment purchases in Atlantic City.
The state Department of Treasury previously exempted Starr Hill from the tax, but declined to do so for the shows the promoter hoped to put on at Bader Field during two weekends in September. When Starr Hill didn’t put down a deposit by the June 1 deadline, the luxury tax was blamed.
“This is about having great shows and happy audiences,” MacDonald said. “But there’s a business side, too … and tax rates are part of that calculation.”
Starr Hill never confirmed performers for the September concerts, but Foley said on Monday the city had hoped to lock in Kenny Chesney for one of the shows.
“I really congratulate Wildwood on what they were able to do with Kenny Chesney,” Foley said. “If that would have been in Atlantic City on a weekend, we could have had 100,000 people or more. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen with the financial issues.”
Emergency personnel easily handled the large crowds that descended on Bader Field this month. Concertgoers cleared the site after Phish in an hour and a half — about half the time it took to clear Bader Field after Metallica’s sets. On-site parking was available for Phish, whereas for the Orion festival police shut down Albany Avenue when the concert let out as pedestrians made their way back to their cars.
Quantifying the economic impact that the festivals had on the city is difficult. Marcy Fitzpatrick, a spokeswoman with Fresh and Clean Media which handled public relations for the Orion fest, said that information was not available. Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority Executive Director Jeff Vasser said he wasn’t aware of any profiles done of the concertgoers to determine how many were not local and what they spent.
Traffic counts into the city at the Atlantic City Expressway’s Pleasantville toll plaza during festival days were down slightly from comparable dates in 2011. During the Orion festival, 138,969 vehicles were counted, down 2.5 percent from 2011; during the Phish concerts, 221,790 vehicles were counted, down 1.5 percent from 2011. Meanwhile, traffic at the Egg Harbor Township toll plaza — the last toll drivers would hit before exiting onto the Garden State Parkway toward Wildwood — was up 12.5 percent to 56,719 on the day of Kenny Chesney’s concert.
South Jersey Transportation Authority spokesman Kevin Rehmann said the drops might indicate that concertgoers are going to other destinations before the festivals and working their way back on local roads, thus not being counted at the Pleasantville toll plaza.
Three arrests were made during the two-day Orion festival in relation to underage drinking, simple assault and a fight that broke out on Albany Avenue outside the concert venue, Atlantic City police Sgt. Monica McMenamin said. Meanwhile, 36 people were arrested during the Phish concerts, the majority dealing with drug-related charges.
Noise was the only common complaint that came from Atlantic City residents. While the music from Dave Matthews Band and Phish was relatively mellow, metal band Metallica’s show, which also included fireworks, bursts of fire, and loud bangs after 10 p.m., created a more noticeable disturbance. With the main stage facing the city’s downtown, parts of the show could be heard as far away as Michigan Avenue.
“The Dave Matthews and Phish concerts were nowhere near this noise level,” resident Eric Nguyen said. “Think of casino workers and city workers that work swing and grave shifts and were trying to sleep during the rock fest. They couldn’t from the noise.”
Nguyen said he believed speakers may have been redirected for Sunday’s show, which seemed quieter. MacDonald said he was not aware of any changes made to the speakers but noted that humidity, temperature, and wind direction can affect sound.
Starr Hill owes the city $325,000 in combined licensing fees — plus a cut of ticket proceeds — for the Phish and Orion events, according to its contract with the city. That covers rent for Bader Field and pay for the extra police, fire and emergency medical personnel on duty to handle concert crowds, the contract states.
In addition, Starr Hill will give the city $1 per ticket for each one after 20,000 daily, 50,000 two-day and 70,000 three-day passes sold, the contract shows.
Starr Hill must pay the $195,000 licensing plus ticket proceeds for Phish by Friday and $130,000 plus ticket proceeds for Metallica by July 5, the agreement states.
The contract requires Starr Hill to provide a box office report for each event to the city the day after each concert concludes.
Starr Hill did not provide details on ticket sales Monday.
Contact Jennifer Bogdan:
Follow Jennifer Bogdan on Twitter @ACPressJennifer
Contact Emily Previti:
Follow Emily Previti on Twitter @emily_previti