As Wildwood prepares to welcome one of America’s most popular entertainers to its beach Wednesday night, the biggest concern is that the show may attract too many people.
More than 20,000 fans will arrive with tickets to see Kenny Chesney inside a gated venue on the sand between Schellenger and Spencer avenues, but thousands more may arrive with hopes of getting a glimpse from the Boardwalk.
The city and concert promoters are telling people without a ticket to stay home and watch the performance live via YouTube, but it’s obvious that not everyone will listen.
“We’re encouraging those who don’t have tickets not to come,” Wildwood Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr. said, “but I don’t know how you tell them not to come.”
Keeping people away from glimpsing a show of this significance seems impossible, especially when the night is expected to be pleasant.
Chesney headlined the state’s largest country music concert ever last year when he performed to more than 55,000 fans at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford. He performed Saturday to a sold-out crowd of 53,000 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
The show on Wednesday, which happens to be the first official day of summer, is scheduled a day after the release of Chesney’s latest studio album, “Welcome to the Fishbowl.”
Wednesday’s concert will be the largest concert of any kind on Wildwood’s beach, and the city’s largest concert ever in recent memory, Wildwood historian Bob Bright said.
The nearby Wildwoods Convention Center fits about 10,000 people and is much larger than its predecessor. The city held large-scale concerts on its beach in the 1940s, but kept no crowd estimates.
The Chesney show is free but a limited amount of tickets were given away by the main sponsor, American Express, and area radio stations. American Express has also said that it will reimburse Wildwood for the cost of any services it has to provide for the concert.
The overall size of the show will not only be measured by how many people have tickets to get in the restricted area, but rather by how many people sit on the sprawling beach or visit to just be part of the excitement.
“You and I both know that people are just going to show up,” said Gary McGhee, executive director of the Greater Wildwood Hotel & Motel Association.
The bigger the crowds, the better for island businesses, many of which have special events planned for Wednesday night.
Splash Zone Waterpark, which sits just north of the concert site on the west side of the boardwalk, is one business selling admission to its park to view the concert from high atop its wooden platforms.
“A lot of the people that we spoke to in this area were unable to get tickets,” said Marketing Director Will Knapp, who said the park offers an unobstructed view of the stage.
Tickets to get in there will be $50 for general admission and $75 to reserve a prime place to watch.
Several bars and restaurants are hosting pre-parties and after parties, hoping to attract visitors long before the show and encourage them to stay for a while afterward.
“I’m sure the island will be packed to the gills,” said Ryan Hart, manager of marketing and entertainment at Coconut Cove in North Wildwood, which is offering $2 beer specials, discounted food and giveaways Tuesday night and all day Wednesday.
Meanwhile, a lot of the city’s hotels and motels were filled as soon as the concert was announced on June 7. That’s noteworthy considering occupancy rates at many of them would be less than 50 percent on an otherwise uneventful Wednesday in June.
In fact, some hotel managers were handling a flood of reservations before they even heard news of the show themselves.
“We were getting all these calls, and we thought they meant Atlantic City because they have booked all these big performances there,” said Russ Mawsom, a customer service representative at the Greater Wildwood Hotel & Motel Association. “We were figuring they got the wrong information from the radio or something.”
Michael Lerro, general manager at Bolero Resort, said his hotel’s been full for quite a while because almost all the crew members setting up the stage and equipment reserved dozens of rooms.
Had the concert not been held, he said his occupancy rate would probably be 30 percent at best.
“Anybody near the concert has to be doing pretty well right now,” he said.
Troiano said he expects the city should be able to handle the influx, saying he has faith in his employees. Like any other large-scale event that the city holds, though, he said visitors should be patient and plan for traffic jams and limited parking near the concert site.
“The way we handle this is going to be a barometer that will hopefully set us up for future events,” he said. “We’ve been trying to attract something like this for years and years and years and years.”
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