Food, fun, shopping, music and plenty of artwork lured crowds across the Causeway and off the beaches this past weekend, showing there are good reasons to be here before the peak beach weeks of summer.
Saturday’s LBIFest hosted by the Long Beach Island Business Alliance and the weekend long Jersey Shore Fine Arts Festival sponsored by the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce attracted visitors and locals alike.
Held in Brant Beach’s Bayview Park and Long Beach Township’s municipal complex across the street, LBIFest offered visitors what Alliance President George Gahles, owner of Surf Unlimited in Ship Bottom, called a “smattering of the whole island.” “Some folks might only go to Beach Haven, others to Barnegat Light. Here they get to see all that LBI’s businesses have to offer.”
The 70 or so vendors set up under the tents offered everything from clothing to construction services, along with jewelry, crafts and all types of water sports gear. The Ship Bottom Volunteer Fire Company was there with their antique white pumper as was the Coast Guard Auxiliary and many other community groups and organizations.
And of course, there was plenty of music, food and fun for young and old alike.
At the booth hosted by Reclam the Bay, a non-profit group dedicated to helping repopulate the area’s clam beds and supporting a local industry vital to this area, Tricia Modugno was ready to sample her first raw clam.
With the encouragement of her husband, Jim and RCTB volunteer Fred Voss, she dabbed on the cocktail sauce and slurped it down.
“Wow, they’re great. They’re cold and salty and good,” she said as she reached for another.
Modugno’s wasn’t the only first food and drink experience this year. The Maine Course, Beach Haven’s newest restaurant, offered a diverse menu from their classic New England “Lobster Roll” to fried Oreos.
Across from their stand, the just launched Ship Bottom Brewery was having a “Name Our Beers” contest. Brewery president, Tom Zarko said he is in the final stages of getting his bottling and kegging permits and hopes to have the brews in local establishments this summer.
Shore Fire Grill of Barnegat was there with pulled pork and other BBQ items, as well as Stefano’s with their Chowderfest championship chowders and the island's own Chicken and the Egg with their nationally known wings.
The music was a diverse as the food.
In the gazebo by the municipal ballfield, reggae beats were accented by dozens of Brazilian wind chimes from a nearby stand. The always melodious sound of laughing children was everywhere as they waited for the face painter or raced off to the bounce castle and giant slide in the ballfield.
The Jersey Shore Fine Arts Festival
Sunday’s crowd at the Fine Arts Festival was having as much fun but was a little more goal-oriented. For many their mission was to find the perfect painting to hang at the beach house or a sculpture to place in their foyer at home.
There was plenty to choose from as Show Director Bill Kinney estimated there were 80-90 artists present.
Kinney, owner of Paragon Fine Arts Festivals, the company contracted by the chamber to organize the event, said those present were selected in a juried process from nearly 250 entries.
Paul Sprunk picked up a panorama photograph printed on canvas from Sandra Macey’s offerings. The sweeping beach scene complete with a set of Adirondack chairs in the foreground was for his Surf City summer home.
“If I took it home, it would just remind me of what I’m missing here,” he said.
As their wives worked the other side of the show with their credit cards, George Sous helped fellow Beach Haven West summer home owner Tom Woods pick out an impressionistic rendition of another beachscape as a housewarming present for a client.
The artist, Linda McAdams, said the inspirations for her paintings are familiar LBI scenes. Surf boards stacked against the house by Faria’s that burned down a few years ago, the dunes in Brighton Beach and the Surf Shack all take on a quality reminiscent of Monet’s seashore painting on her canvases.
There were plenty of other mediums for people to choose from, such as jewelry made from gold, silver, gemstones and marbles, sculptures of alabaster and metal, and a menagerie of multi-colored glass animals.
Kinetic sculptures by Craig Riches were a crowd pleaser for young and old alike. The assorted metal spirals and other shapes danced with the breezes as Riches explained how he was able to get the weathered patina on his pieces so quickly. “I spray Miracle-Gro on them and the oxidation occurs overnight,” he said. “In fact, sometimes I’ll spray one and the next day, it’s twice as big,” he added with a sly smile.
Riches is also a professional drummer on the club circuit along Alabama’s Gulf Coast, who said when he’s not banging on the drums he hammering out his works of cooper and bronze.
Riches was just one of the artists and visitors who appeared to travel some distance to get to the show. The parking lot had a patchwork of license plates on display from Florida to Connecticut.
“It’s a great event for the economy of LBI,” said Director Kinney. “We estimate each artist spends about $1400 here over the weekend on food, lodging and other expenses.”
When you add to that what the show’s visitors spend on the local economy while here, it makes it a “win-win” for all involved, he added.