GLOUCESTER – Centerfield at Stage Fort Park's Salvatore "Sammy" Parisi baseball diamond will be dominated by a 60- by 40-foot stage.
The rest of the field will be blanketed — literally — by anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 alternative music fans, organizers say. And the vast majority of those fans will be getting to Stage Fort Park via shuttle bus after parking at Magnolia Woods and in the lots of Gloucester High and O'Maley Innovation Middle schools.
Organizers with WXRV/92.5 the River and city officials say they're ready and have plans in place for handling the Haverhill-based radio station's signature Riverfest Seaside Music Festival, set to run from noon to 6 p.m. at the park after a 17-year run in Newburyport. Guster headlines the festival, preceded by Noah Kahan, Mt. Joy and Tall Heights.
"It may not be the biggest event we've ever had, but it is one that is new to us and one where the whole event is squeezed into six hours," said Gloucester police Lt. Joseph Fitzgerald. As the department's director of operations, Fitzgerald has been meeting for months with River organizers, city Public Works Director Mike Hale and others to map and go over plans for the event.
"Between beach traffic, the (A. Piatt Andrew) bridge traffic and everything else we experience around the city, especially in the summer, we'll be ready," Fitzgerald said. "A lot of work has gone into this."
Donald St. Sauveur, general manager for WXRV/92.5, recalled that last year when he joined other sponsors at Gloucester's Bluefin Blowout event — just up Essex Avenue from Stage Fort Park — they talked about bringing the station's music festival to Gloucester.
"We were just joking at first," St. Sauveur says now. In 17 years in Newburyport, the extensive free concert had drawn upwards of 10,000 fans to that city's waterfront.
But on his way out of town that day, St. Sauveur took some colleagues up on suggestions that he check out Gloucester's State Fort Park as a potential venue.
"As soon as I saw it, I thought, 'This is awesome'," he says. "The way that part of it forms a bowl, and being right on the water as it is, it's perfect. We started talking (to city officials) and working on it right after Labor Day weekend."
That work and festival plans include:
Parking: There will be up to 800 parking places on site at Stage Fort, including the main beach lot and the grassy area known as The Orchards to the left of Hough Avenue as motorists enter from the Stacy Boulevard side. But most parking will be at Gloucester High, O'Maley and at Magnolia Woods. The River has leased four buses from the Gloucester School District to provide shuttle service to Magnolia Woods and to O'Maley, where three of the buses will be utilized to transport festival-goers to and from the site every 15 minutes. There will be no shuttle service to the Gloucester High because of its proximity to Stage Fort, St. Sauveur said. Parking at Stage Fort will be the usual $20 per vehicle for non-residents or those without resident stickers, while parking in the satellite lots will be $10. Gloucester Public Works will staff all of the lots and get the proceeds.
Traffic: Hough Avenue will be restricted to one way, beginning from the Stacey Boulevard entrance, Fitzgerald said. Police will be stationed at Western and Centennial avenues to direct pedestrians heading to and from the Gloucester High lots to cross and use the Stacy Boulevard walkways rather than trying to cross at Kent Circle, Fitzgerald said. The festival will not spur any additional street closures or changes. Fitzgerald noted that concertgoers may arrive throughout the day, building toward the 6 p.m. finish. And while traffic will likely jam after it's over, any gridlock should be no worse than that following Gloucester's fireworks displays over the harbor — and on some of the same roads. "We've handled those pretty well," he said.
CATA Service: Cape Ann Transportation Authority administrator Felicia Webb said CATA is not adding any buses for the festival, but emphasized that the agency will operate on its regular Saturday schedule, which includes a Stage Fort Park route taking visitors to and from the downtown area and the MBTA station. The River is encouraging fans to use public transportation, including commuter rail.
Traffic/Parking info: The city will place electronic signs along Route 128 and elsewhere to provide concertgoers with updates regarding where it's best to park, Hale said. WXRV/92.5 will also provide traffic and parking updates.
Coolers? Concertgoers will be allowed to bring in coolers, but no alcoholic beverages are permitted.
Staging: Unlike events like the Gloucester Blues Festival, where a much smaller stage is positioned across from The Cupboard restaurant and faces the park's western entrance, with spectators limited to the green space between Hough Avenue and the harbor, the Riverfest stage will be in the Parisi Field outfield and face home plate. Gloucester Harbor will be the backdrop seen by the fans. The layout creates a bowl just beyond the playing field, where the land slopes up a hill toward the main gazebo and city visitors' center, and will extend across from just below Tablet Rock to the volleyball court area.
Opening time: The music won't start until noon, but the gates will open at 9 a.m. Bands are expected to begin sound checks around 10, St. Sauveur said. "Call it kind of a soft opening," he said.
Vendors/Sponsors: A series of 28 sponsor tents will be lined up in two sections, with one group along the first and third base lines of the ballfield, and another closer to the Stage Fort volleyball courts. In addition to the tents — including a beer garden — EMS personnel and other services will be stationed on scene.
What about the beaches?: Hale said the Stage Fort beaches will remain open, with a lifeguard at Half Moon, though not at Cressy's Beach. He added that anyone who is not planning to attend Riverfest "might want to avoid the area."
The festival, which features four generally alternative music acts, is being headlined by the Boston-based band Guster, which has long been a regular part of The River's playlist. Guster burst into the music mainstream with a rousing set at Woodstock '99 — the 30th anniversary of the iconic 1969 festival— in Rome, New York.
Stage Fort has hosted the Gloucester Blues Festival for the past eight years, including two weekends ago. A country music festival that ran for three years was essentially replaced by a Rock on the Water concert earlier this month.
Those shows' audiences topped out at around 1,000 music lovers or fewer; this year's Blues Festival drew about 800, while the Rock on the Water concert attracted just 250, said Brent "Ringo" Tarr, who promoted the rock event and helped with the blues fest.
By comparison, last year's free Riverfest in Newburyport drew a crowd estimated at anywhere from 10,000 to 15,000, said St. Sauveur, who said he began looking for a larger site shortly after that. While Newburyport's Waterfront Park festival site covers 2 1/2 acres, Stage Fort offers 8.6 acres, St. Sauveur said.
Karen Carone, office administrator at the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce, said she's sensed a palpable buzz about the festival.
"We've been getting a lot of calls about it — calls like what can they bring, where do they park," she said. The chamber will have a sponsor booth at the festival, as will the Discover Gloucester tourism organization, she said.
"I think we're going to have a lot of people here; it's going to be a big draw," she added. "Gloucester is so beautiful, and then you've got the backdrop of the ocean. How can you beat that?"
Ray Lamont can be reached at 978-675-2705 or rlamont@gloucestertimes,com.