By Kathryn G. Menu
The East Hampton Town Board’s approval of a two-day music festival at Ocean View Farm in Amagansett continued to draw the ire of some Amagansett residents last week, many of whom attended a town board meeting on Thursday with a lawyer in tow, in the hopes of getting the festival’s mass gathering permit rescinded.
The music festival is slated for August 12 through 14, and was developed conceptually by Sag Harbor residents Chris Jones and Bill Collage. In December, the town board approved a mass gathering permit for the event, which will feature two stages, 20 bands and vending areas for local businesses and restaurants.
A maximum of 9,500 tickets will be sold for the weekend-long event, according to the concert’s promoters.
As a part of the event, Collage and Jones have promised — regardless of ticket sales — a $100,000 charitable donation to benefit local food pantries, as well as other not-for-profits on the East End.
However, that has not swayed a number of residents of Amagansett, who continue to question the professional experience Collage and Jones have in mounting the festival, as well as the process by which they were granted their mass gathering permit.
On Thursday, January 20 East Hampton attorney Jeffrey Bragman, who is representing 20 Amagansett residents opposed to the festival, argued the mass gathering permit was not designed for such an event, commercial in nature and with more than 50 concertgoers expected to attend.
Commercial events, he argued, should be controlled by the bounds of the zoning code, and are only covered under a mass gathering permit when they are held on public lands. Ocean View Farm is privately owned, and zoned residential.
Bragman argued that he expects, with the sale of 19,000 tickets at even $100 a pop, gross profits from the event could be as little as $1.9 million, and called the $100,000 donation a “maybe,” stating there is nothing in writing guaranteeing that promise will be fulfilled.
“You can’t play concert level rock music on that site and not violate the town’s noise ordinance,” continued Bragman.
“We are not about East Hampton being the land of ‘N-O’,” said Bragman. “No, we are about East Hampton being the land of ‘K-N-O-W’.”
On Wednesday morning, Jones disagreed with Bragman’s interpretation of the town code in regards to mass gathering permits, noting the aspect of the code left out by Bragman allows commercial events if there is a significant charitable element involved.
Jones once again reiterated that the festival, dubbed MTK: Music to Know Summer Music Festival, is viewing the $100,000 donation as a cost, and that it will not be dependent on the success of the festival.
He added that continued efforts to bill the festival as one that will boast some 20,000 concertgoers is inaccurate, and that 9,500 tickets total will be sold as a weekend pass to the event.
As to whether or not the festival will make millions, Jones said anyone familiar with music festivals understands they generally lose money or break even in the first year, with the cost for bands, event set-up, security and staff depleting the amount of money producers actually make.
Bragman was not the only speaker at Thursday’s meeting, which brought John Broderick — a concert designer who has designed sets for Madonna, Tim McGraw and Metallica — to the podium to question whether Collage and Jones have the professional experience to host such a festival.
“By the most rudimentary scrutiny, this does not pass,” said Broderick of the site plan submitted for the festival.
He said one access point for cars into Ocean View Farm would rule the festival out for most promoters, and said he believes only 1,800 of the expected 3,000 cars will be able to park on the site, leaving the rest to park on Montauk Highway.
Broderick also questioned the set up of the stage, calling it unsafe, and advising the town to request indemnification of $5 million against liability.
Susan Bratton, an admitted concertgoer, said she was concerned with the precedent this approval set, and “the lack of due diligence done in granting this permit.”
Bratton predicted 80 percent of the people who attend the festival will be “high or whatever” and wondered where they would go once the music stopped playing.
Charlene Spektor, the owner of BookHampton and a Amagansett resident, handed the board a packet with 100 letters opposing the festival — a packet she said she amassed in one day.
She thanked the board for their “good intentions and enthusiasm,” but implored them to listen to their constituency and rescind the mass gathering permit.
Not all in attendance were opposed to the festival, including Jones’ wife Karen, who noted the festival has the opportunity to create gainful employment for a range of people in the long and short term.
Lisa Barrone is one of the East End residents who has already benefited from the festival, having recently been hired as a full-time member of Music to Know’s staff. Ellie Jannetti echoed the sentiment, having also been hired recently with Sarah Amaden to work with local charities and on outreach.
“This is a great opportunity for kids my age to get the opportunity to work,” added Brian Powell, an East Hampton resident and recent college graduate.
“I also find it very unfair to label anyone my age,” he added. “The public drunkenness, passing out in your backyard? It’s not going to happen.”
On Wednesday morning, Jones said the festival has actually hired eight full time employees so far, including Bobby Kennedy, an event producer who organized Earth Day at the Mall in 2010, featuring acts such as Sting, the Roots and John Legend. Matthew Smith, who organized the Social @ Ross concert series in 2007, is also on staff.
“We have a great team to execute this,” said Jones.
As for parking, Jones noted both the fire and police departments have worked with him on the plan, and have approved of it.
The idea that Amagansett will be flooded with people from out of town with no where to stay was also rejected by Jones, who said he thinks it will be a crowd made up largely of East End residents. The festival also plans on directing attendees to local hotels and motels through its website.
In an effort to make the event as local as possible, added Jones, he plans to offer tickets, via local stores, to East End residents two weeks before they go up for general purchase. He expects the ticket price for the whole weekend to fall somewhere between $100 and $200, making it affordable for local residents interested in attending.
Residents will also be offered a 10 percent discount on the ticket price, added Jones.
“The objective is not to make this exclusive or make the price the determining factor on whether or not people come to the festival,” he said.