Promoter Michael Rosato knows what makes a music and art festival successful and he’s modeling his new Bay Harbor Festival after some of the region’s top events.
“Imagine a New Orleans Jazz Fest with a beach,” he said at a press conference Tuesday in Bay St. Louis officially announcing the festival. “Imagine a (Gulf Shores) Hangout Fest with a base of New Orleans musicians.”
The new festival will kick off May 24-26 over Memorial Day weekend where the city’s harbor is being constructed if downtown merchants including those on Beach Boulevard give the location their support. Rosato said future fests will be held on the grounds of the municipal harbor and along 200 yards of beach near the U.S. 90 bridge that connects Bay St. Louis with Pass Christian.
The community celebrated the opening of the post-Katrina bridge on May 17, 2007 with the first Bridge Fest, and it has grown each year. Rosato was the talent buyer and assistant music production manager for 2011 and 2012 fests. Last year the performers included some of the most popular names from New Orleans and the region, including JJ Grey & Mofro, Tab Benoit, Amanda Shaw and Eric Lindell.
Rosato is still signing up musicians and among those so far set to perform are Raw Oyster Cult, John “Papa” Gros Band, Sunpie Barnes and local favorites Pat Murphy and Shea Michaels.
When Bridge Fest organizers shifted their dates to the fall, Rosato saw an opportunity. “Being an entrepreneur it was too irresistible to pass up,” he said.
He went to the city with his proposal for the Memorial Day event and officials lent their backing, along with the majority of members of the Old Town Merchants Association.
Association President Jeremy Burke of Bay Books said the new festival will kick off the summer tourist season while shining a spotlight on Bay St. Louis and Hancock County.
Burke said the Bay Harbor Fest and the Bridge Fest “are two big marquee events starting and ending the summer.” Both will help to keep Bay St. Louis on people’s minds and encourage them to return or even move to the area, Burke said.
Main Street merchant Nancy Moynan supports the new venture for the exposure it will bring to the city. She owns LuLu’s What’s for Lunch inside Maggie May’s Art Gallery on Main Street.
“When you open your front door to thousands and thousands of people and give them a good experience, they will come back and they will tell their friends about it.”
Moynan said every event including Bridge Fest and Second Saturday helps to cultivate repeat customers and visitors. “It’s such a boon for our economy, for our town, to show it off,” she said.
Rosato said his festival is good business for the city, the region and for the state.
“My proposal has the best of Jazz Fest, Mobile’s Bay Fest and Gulf Shores’ Hangout Fest, all built into one, and we have the facilities here in Bay St. Louis to blend those three models.”
Music fans will find Zydeco, Cajun, jazz, funk, Southern rock and independent country. Vendors will set up art booths intermixed with the local shops.
The art vendor portion of the festival will be free but Rosato said a $5 appreciation fee is recommended.
There will be a $25 daily entry fee for the music area only. That’s a change from the Bridge Fest which was all free. The three festivals Rosato is modeling Bay Harbor Fest after all charge admission “to ensure profitability,” he said.
Last year’s Bridge Fest had an economic impact of $2.5 million, which he thinks this year’s Bay Harbor Fest could come close to matching “even though this is a first-time festival.”
As the festival grows each year and add ons such as charter boat cruises to the barrier islands are offered, Rosato said, “The sky is the limit.”
For information about discounted early bird and advance tickets and VIP, vendor and sponsor packages, visit www.bayharborfest.com.
— LISA MONTI