Charity or chaos? Wildwood heads to court over concert controversy

(Image via BeachGlow.org)

(Image via BeachGlow.org)

In July, thousands of music-lovers plan to hit the beach in Wildwood for a two-day festival featuring electronic, pop and alternative music performers.

But is it a charity concert that deserves applause for raising money for poor children in Wildwood and Philadelphia?

Or is it a noisy, nightmarish rave that will alienate the family-friendly beach city visitors with profane performers and a wild, crude crowd of underage drinkers and drug-users?

That is the question critics of the BeachGlow Music Festival have asked a judge to decide.

The Morey’s Organization, which operates several piers, waterparks and hotels in Wildwood, filed lawsuits in New Jersey Superior Court in April against the city, mayor, city commission and BeachGlow to stop the festival, which is set for July 8 and 9 on the beach near Morey’s Pier.

Monday, Morey’s attorneys will ask Judge Nelson C. Johnson to void commissioners’ decision to approve a concert permit, arguing that Wildwood’s city solicitor – in response to Morey’s concerns about electronic-dance music, or EDM, concerts – agreed in April 2015 not to allow EDM concerts in Wildwood through 2017.

Morey’s has been fighting BeachGlow since its July 2014 Wildwood show, which Morey’s attorney Steven J. Fram claimed featured performers who used foul language so much onstage that they drove scores of offended families off the boardwalk, and so much boozing and drug use by the 7,000 concert-goers that authorities made dozens of arrests and hospital transports.

“Wildwood has worked hard to improve its image and establish a successful family resort environment,” Morey’s spokeswoman Maggie Warner said. “EDM concerts, increasingly known for drug- and alcohol-fueled behavior that has resulted in overdoses and deaths as well as profane language, have no role in our family resort setting.”

But attorney George J. Singley, who represents BeachGlow, and BeachGlow founder Dane Kunkel denied such nuisance claims and accused Morey’s of trying to kill the concert “in an effort to unreasonably restrict competitive businesses” in a “monopolistic claim to the entire Wildwood beach.”

In a court filing, Kunkel acknowledged some alcohol and disorderly conduct issues arose at the 2014 concert, saying: “It should not come as a surprise to anyone with any understanding of the Jersey Shore on a summer weekend that unwanted and unexpected incidents occur.”

Still, he wrote, organizers made changes to address critics’ concerns, such as adding “foul-language clauses” to performers’ contracts that forbid them from cursing and allow organizers to cut off offenders’ microphones.

Promoters agreed to other changes – such as raising the age of entry to 18, beefing up security, moving the concert further from the boardwalk and directing speakers toward the ocean – to respond to critics’ complaints, Wildwood Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr. added.

“The last concert was too close to the boardwalk and created somewhat of a hysteria by some people, in some cases warranted. It’s not OK to throw the F-bomb over the PA system where everybody can hear it,” Troiano said. “But we think we got a little better handle on it (this year). If the promoter is willing to make all the concessions that we’ve asked them to do, then you give them another shot.”

Steve Tecco, who owns the Armada By-the-Sea motel nearby, was once an outspoken critic of the 2014 BeachGlow concert.

Now he’s changed his tune.

“Is this my cup of tea personally? No,” Tecco said.”But we try to have as many events – monster truck and Shakespeare festivals, Roar to the Shore – to have as broad an appeal as possible within certain family guidelines. I think they (BeachGlow) have taken our concerns and made enough changes that I’m optimistic.”

Troiano said he worries what precedent could be set by a merchant meddling in community events. “If we lose this case, I will immediately, immediately appeal it,” Troiano said. “I’m concerned when a business tries to control what comes in and what doesn’t come in to the community. I’m not saying they don’t have a right to be concerned, but I think this goes a little bit beyond being concerned. This is controlling.”

But Warner said Morey’s was merely holding public officials to past promises.

“The city of Wildwood made a commitment to our company and to the community in 2015 that EDM concerts would not be permitted in July and August (prime family vacation months) or to return at all in 2016 or 2017,” Warner said. “We told the people at BeachGlow … that we would go to court to stop another EDM concert if the city approved it… We expect public officials to honor their commitments and, with respect to issues that are important to our community, will go to court to require that they do so.”

BeachGlow is a nonprofit, and past concerts have raised thousands for charities. The 2014 Wildwood concert, for example, raised $40,000 for the American Red Cross, Kunkel said. BeachGlow moved its concert last summer to Atlantic City and raised $30,000 for Little Kids Rock, a nonprofit that funds music programs in needy schools. This year’s concert in Wildwood, if it happens, would benefit Little Kids Rock.

Tickets cost $39 to $89.

BeachGlow will pay the city $18,000 for use of the beach, Troiano said.

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