By Kathryn G. Menu
Arlene Reckson was at Woodstock Music & Art Festival in 1969, and is not inclined to revisit the experience more than 40 years later in 2011.
Reckson, a senior vice president, associate broker with Corcoran in Amagansett was one of over half a dozen residents of the hamlet who turned out at an East Hampton Town Board meeting last Thursday. She was among those protesting the board’s approval of a mass gathering permit that will allow a music festival at Ocean Farm in Amagansett this August 12 through August 14.
“This reeks of a Woodstock acid flashback, and I was there,” said Reckson. “I think this is going to grow to be out of control.”
On December 21, the town board gave Sag Harbor residents Chris Jones and Bill Collage a mass gathering permit for the festival, which will feature two stages and 20 bands over a two-and-a-half day period.
East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson approved the measure with the support of board members Theresa Quigley and Julia Prince. Board member Pete Hammerle voted against the resolution, with Dominick Stanzione abstaining as he had yet to hear the thoughts of the Amagansett Citizens Advisory Committee (ACAC).
The event is also conceived to include stalls for local food vendors and retailers, and both Jones and Collage have promised a $100,000 charitable donation to local food pantries and other causes regardless of whether or not the festival is a success.
Jones is the owner of Sole East Resort in Montauk and Collage, a Hollywood screenwriter who penned screenplays for “New York Minute” and “Accepted” and is most recently credited as one of the writers of “Tower Heist,” starring Ben Stiller and directed by Brett Ratner.
Remembering her experience at what became known as the seminal music festivals of the 1960s, Reckson said she believed similar to Woodstock, the MTK: Music to Know Summer Music Festival had the potential to balloon beyond the 9,600 tickets festival promoters plan to sell.
“Are you going to set up a booth in Manorville and make sure these kids have tickets,” asked Reckson.
Reckson also wondered why the festival was not planned for the off-season when local businesses are in need of an economic boost. She added she would like to see the event use public transportation, questioning whether traffic and parking on the site would be able to accommodate the maximum 3,000 cars expected by Collage and Jones.
Wilkinson noted that the popular Back at the Ranch concerts in the 1990s, featuring Paul Simon, Billy Joel and Lyle Lovett, among others, had an estimated 15,000 cars trek to those events.
Reckson said she believed people on the East End attended those concerts, whereas this concert was going to attract an outside group.
“I don’t know necessarily how you can say that when you don’t know what the specific acts will be,” countered Prince.
“When we talk about community, it is hard for me to hear, ‘This is fine for Montauk, but not fine for Amagansett,’” added Wilkinson.
Reckson’s concerns were echoed by a number of other Amagansett residents, including John Broderick, who questioned Jones’ and Collage’s experience in crafting a festival.
Last summer, Sole East Resort did host concerts featuring indy-music darling Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley, as well Rufus Wainwright. However, the invite-only, “secret” shows were nowhere near the scale Jones and Collage are planning with MTK: Music to Know.
Wilkinson admitted he was unsure if the promoters had experience in the arena, but wondered if Broderick was implying that should disqualify them from hosting the event, which is taking place on private property.
“Anything that happens in this town requires professional review,” said Broderick, questioning whether the town had done its due diligence.
“That is not true,” said Wilkinson. “This has been vetted through the police department, vetted through the fire marshal and all other departments in the town that would review a mass gathering permit.”
“This is a different thing,” said Broderick, stating it has been said some 20,000 people would attend the event daily, although, as Wilkinson pointed out, the mass gathering permit only allows for the sale of 9,600 tickets.
“Is there a site plan, how does emergency access happen,” asked Broderick, demanding a public hearing.
“This does not demand a public hearing,” said Wilkinson, adding it is common for the board to approve this kind of permit without one. “With all due respect, just because I haven’t spoken to you does not mean we have had no input from the community.”
Without public transportation, Broderick bristled that concert goers would leave the festival grounds at 11 p.m. and “go rampaging through the village of Amagansett.”
Amagansett resident Joan Tulp seconded Broderick’s feelings that the community was not consulted far enough in advance on this issue.
“We do not want 9,000 people here, 20 to 30 year olds, during the busiest time of the year,” said Tulp, later wondering, “Where will they stay? On our front yards, or the beaches?”
ACAC Chairwoman Rona Klopman read a letter from Jeffrey Britz that questioned holding a festival of this nature on land that is in an agricultural overlay district, stating the concert series could pose a threat to the land and the local community. Britz asked the proposal be vetted through an environmental impact statement to “ascertain what the damage might be,” and explore whether traffic and housing impacts will be too great.
Stanzione assured the crowd that as the concert nears and more details emerge, the town board would work with the community and concert promoters to ensure all plans are publicly discussed.
Calling East Hampton “a rare and endangered town,” Helen Kuzmier said she believed this event would turn East Hampton into “Coney Island or Long Beach,” and asked guidelines be created so future proposals of this size are thoroughly reviewed.
“Whatever happened to transparency,” asked Sheila Okin, a former chairman of the ACAC.