Now that the August alt-rock festival at East Hampton Airport has received a green light, the promoters and town officials will have to work overtime to assure that disruptions are kept to a minimum. Plenty of people have complained that the 18-band, two-day event, with a hoped-for 9,500 fans, will create traffic and noise. And some pilots and service providers say they are worried about the effect on airport operations. On the other hand, prospective concertgoers have joined the promoters and town officials in saying all will be fine.
The East Hampton Town Board’s decision to move the concert to the airport from the site in Amagansett for which it had initially been approved, was a step in the right direction. The second weekend of August is among the busiest, if not the single most crowded, part of the summer season. Were the festival, giant by East Hampton standards, in Amagansett, it would have caused maddening delays on Montauk Highway, resulted in unacceptable noise for neighbors, and generally upset the peace for thousands of residents and non-rocking visitors.
It is generally agreed that the festival should not have been so hastily approved for the Amagansett site in the first place. The town board majority was apparently swayed by the promoters’ promise that it would create jobs and their offer of $100,000 in charitable donations. Given the nearly $2 million in anticipated ticket sales, that sum is modest. By comparison, the half-hour-long polar bear plunge at Main Beach on Jan. 1 raised about $20,000 and didn’t disturb a soul save a few nonplused seagulls.
Opponents of the Amagansett site quickly rallied and hired a lawyer, who argued that under the town code a large for-profit gathering is not permitted on residential property. The new location is at the southern end of a disused runway, and, although adjacent to the main one, it is not, in the view of Federal Aviation Administration officials, a hazard to aircraft. Nevertheless, the event, with 22 hours of music, a roster of chefs, beer-makers and wineries, fashion boutiques, and rows of portable lavatories, is bound to affect aircraft coming and going, as well as the narrow, two-lane road leading to and from the site. (Just imagine what the sound effect on concertgoers will be when one of those Gulfstream IV jets powers up for takeoff.) We hope that all goes well, and that the disruptions are all but forgotten the morning after. But an important issue remains unresolved.
The South Fork is a summertime magnet for pop-up events. Those that are fund-raisers for nonprofit organizations are permitted under the code. Were this festival to have taken place at the Amagansett site, however, it may have set a precedent for big gatherings on residential property. It would be unfortunate if, as the concert moves to the airport, the underlying issue regarding commercialization of noncommcerial lots was not more widely understood and ultimately resolved.