An end-of-summer Island institution is officially cancelled for this year and, after nearly 30 years, may be history.
The Island Beach Blast, a concert of multiple bands, go-go dancers, jugglers, food vendors and a pig roast traditionally held at Wades Beach the second Saturday after Labor Day, “has lost its momentum.” That’s according to Joe Lauro, the musician, bandleader and promoter who has organized the annual event.
The beach party, which has benefited the Island Gift of Life charity in recent years, has become less profitable because of steadily dropping attendance, Mr. Lauro said. This is partly due to rainouts three of the last four years.
“People start to make other plans because it’s not on their radar as much,” he added.
Another reason for the attendance drop has been an overbearing Shelter Island Police Department presence at the event, Mr. Lauro said.
“A lot of people were complaining to me that for the past couple of years there was so much police presence it was intimidating,” Mr. Lauro said. “This is a party, people are going to have a beer.”
He noted that the audience has been divided about equally between Islanders and visitors. People have called him and said they weren’t coming to the Island because officers were pulling them over simply because they didn’t recognize their vehicles when pulling into or out of the parking lot.
“Times have changed,” Mr. Lauro said. “We’re losing our liberties slowly and this is one example.”
Police Chief James Read said he was surprised by Mr. Lauro’s characterization. “You always have people who think there is too much or too little police presence,” the chief said. His department seeks to have a “balance so it won’t be perceived as over-the-top or not enough. We want people to know we’re there to make sure unlawful activity isn’t hampering the event.”
Officers, including one in plain clothes, have been in the crowd in past years because of reports of underage drinking and marijuana smoking, Chief Read said.
James Eklund, former president of the Island Gift of Life, acknowledged a drop in attendance. He said the Beach Blast is “not a reliably viable vehicle to generate money,” because of uncertain weather conditions, expenses that have to be paid whether the show goes on or not and insurance companies who are stingy about paying when cancellations occur.