Vince Martell has headlined every BayFest in recent memory. It's time for a change.

Last night’s BayFest 2011 planning meeting kicked off without a hitch, but with only four people in attendance the group’s challenges for the “biggest BayFest ever” were clear.

Most of the evening was spent discussing how to rival their 10th anniversary bash. In 2001, the group had hundreds of members and more than 50 volunteers cobbled together to throw the biggest event Sheepshead Bay had seen in generations, with the entire waterfront down to Ocean Avenue shut off to traffic as tens of thousands of attendees flooded the streets. Fifteen bands played along the piers and the main stage, and entire blocks were dedicated to vendors, street performances and live demonstrations.

“Standing on the stage and looking all the way down to Lundy’s and seeing a sea of people” was an extraordinary feeling incomparable to recent events, said Bay Improvement Group President Steve Barrison.

In the past few years the show has dwindled to one main stage and two sparsely populated blocks.

The change is reflected in the organization itself. Most of the members have moved or gotten old and ill, with many passing away. The meeting room in the Golden Gate Inn catering hall was set up with scores of empty chairs, showing the organizers still have the optimism, but not the manpower.

Barrison said the neighborhood’s demographic changes have played into the group’s wane. Eastern Europeans are not as likely to be involved in the community, and so the group has lost the volunteer corps necessary to throw a huge event. This year’s event, he said, ended up being thrown together in the last few weeks.

But that’s not stopping the group from a major BayFest overhaul this year. Planning went forward to bring in at least the same size attendance and activities as ten years ago. They’re drawing up a list of corporate sponsors to give away freebies and put on demonstrations, as well as fund other efforts. They’ll also be approaching the boat owners to use the piers for bands and performances, as they did in 2001. And, after many years of having Vince Martell as the main act, they’re looking for a fresh, big name group to take the stage and draw visitors from afar.

There are some new hurdles, for sure. The city, for example, has scared off some BayFest mainstays with requests for permits and insurance. The New York Aquarium, Children’s Museum and Department of Environmental Conservation used to provide entertainment for attendees, with live animal demonstrations and performances. But several years ago, the city’s sudden request for licenses convinced many that it wasn’t worth the effort.

In a way, the dearth of manpower presents an opportunity. Bay Improvement Group’s mission is as faded in relevancy as the event itself. Originally formed to combat irresponsible development and safeguard the waterfront businesses, the large condominiums along the water’s edge make clear who won that battle. And while the group still has a purpose, a shot of fresh blood could provide the group with new ideas and relevancy. Not to mention a bigger, better BayFest.

Now is the time to join Bay Improvement Group. Not just because they need you, but because the entire community needs organizations with strength drawn from a wide swath of Sheepshead Bay’s demographics. BayFest’s success is a reflection of BIG’s muscle, and participating here will inevitably lead to a Sheepshead Bay built more directly by its residents, and not from city planners who’ve never paid a visit.

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  • Rocker

    They should have a few different bands play at Bay Fest. I think that would bring more people to the festival. ;)

  • Jeanette

    I would recommend they get some Bay Ridge bands like the Piranha Brothers or Prodigal Child…..similar to what Brighton Beach does. Good music is always a draw. Also, asking for volunteers is does not get the same results as meeting face to face with someone and asking for them to help out.

  • Samantha

    I just read this more fully. I have more than enough contacts of various genres (rock, classic rock, emo, latin, hip hop, etc) and friends with equipment. I'd love to lend a hand. In addition, I have some ideas about things to add– and ways to promote and archive the day. I want in!! :)

  • http://www.njluxurymotors.com Arthur Borko

    I said it before and I said it again, they need to have food and drink vendors at the event. People will stay longer and have a much better time if they could eat. In the past few years various food service trucks have gotten very popular in the city and they travel the boroughs going to various events. Asking them to attend would be a great improvement.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

    Unless memory fails fails me the earliest Bayfests did have food vendors. Very often its the vendors that contact event organizers, but no matter, vendors will work an event only if there is a seeable profit in it. Bayfest organizers have to promote well before the event.

    I do remember that years ago they did manage to attract large crowds. In fact, since I am not a crowd person I stopped going.

    The withdrawal of various institutions from the event doesn't help. The insurance requirements are absurd. So are the permits, which is another way that the city get revenue from sources other than those who can afford it. In Bloombergworld, culture is wasted on the masses. But since the bloodsuckers want their money Bayfest needs to tap local businesses more effectively for funds that would pay the costs for groups that would participate. The Children's Musuem or NY Aquarium would participate if their costs were manageable,

    You won't get food vendors unless you have a real event.

  • http://www.njluxurymotors.com Arthur Borko

    I think you're wrong Lisanne, the food truck guys that are popular in the
    city the ones that sell cupcakes (cupcakestop.com) and others that sell
    smoothies, some sell pizza, they already have their permits worked out to
    park somewhere all day and sell food. I've no doubt some of them would be
    more then happy to come, if the crowd i saw this year was any indication
    anyway.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

    I didn't say they wouldn't come. But vendors need assurance that they will make money at an event. It's early in the season, but even in May they might have other choices as to where to go. As I did write, however, it's been some time since I have been there. But a larger event does impress more, and help make people's minds up.

  • Amy5f

    when will this fest be next year? I am planning a trip back home and perhaps I can coincide the dates!!!

  • Nik

    If I would have known about the meeting I would have been there!
    I would like to get involved this year!!!

  • Whwsailboat

    Bay Improvement Group: check out our New Website>http://bigbayfest.org/
    Sunday May 15th, 2011, when we do it again!

  • jlaz

    I just saw the Amazing Pontani Sisters at Coney Island, they should totally play this. http://www.pontanisisters.com/

  • Mitchfurlonger

    kenny chesney! get him and it will be packed!

  • Tammypayne80

    Justin bieber for bayfest 2011 its also a group created on facebook!