Gloucester has a reputation as a vibrant hot spot of activity during the summer, but Saturday’s Radio 92.5 Seaside River Festival summoned seemingly unparalleled bustle to the city’s shores.
“Come on, give me a break. There’s 10,000 people here! I can’t hear you!” Gloucester’s Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken said Saturday, attempting to hype up the crowd before the concert began. On Sunday, the mayor said in a Facebook post that more than 11,000 people attended the 2019 Radio 92.5 Seaside River Festival, or “Riverfest.”
Riverfest was the 18th annual free music festival hosted by Boston radio station 92.5 The River. This year marked a departure from the festival’s tradition, however, as Gloucester’s Stage Fort Park took the reins from the usual Newburyport venue to host Riverfest for the first time in the event’s history. Featuring a star-studded lineup composed of indie folk-rock group Tall Heights, indie-rock group Mt. Joy, indie-pop singer Noah Kahan, and alt-rock band Guster, the venue change was not enough to deter music lovers from coming in droves to have a good time.
Not everybody was ready to embrace the switch immediately, though. Rachel Boucher, 40, a veteran Riverfest-goer from Plaistow, New Hampshire, initially disapproved of the venue change after “amazing” Riverfest experiences in Newburyport. However, by the time she settled down to take in the Gloucester atmosphere, she had changed her mind.
“It’s beautiful. They’re doing a good job so far,” Boucher said.
With the park’s vast green area, temperatures in the high 60s, and a cool ocean breeze dancing to the music, Gloucester itself seemed to emanate approval and joy. Locals in attendance agreed, happy to welcome an event that would benefit the city so profoundly.
“I was pretty pumped that something was happening on the island,” first-time Riverfest-goer and Gloucester resident Marcie Sidlowski, 33, said. “I think it’s nice to see an intersectional swathe of people outside to listen to some music.”
Mindful of what could go awry trying something new, those associated with running the festival smoothly were optimistic and were satisfied with how their trial worked out.
“There’s been talk of up to 10,000 people,” Gloucester police Lt. Joseph Fitzgerald said before the show. “We have many events throughout the years that draw out large crowds so I think we're well-prepared to handle it.”
Because it was the show's first time in Gloucester, organizers were expecting at least 5,000 and up to 10,000, the attendance at the last few show's in Newburyport.
Signs came early that the audience would be around 10,000. Satellite parking filled up at Magnolia Woods at 12:15 p.m. and a little over a half hour later, the lots at Stage Fort Park and Gloucester High were full too. By 2:50 p.m., most event lots were at capacity. Guests were told to seek parking downtown and walk or take CATA to Stage Fort Park.
Police did ticket and tow some cars that were parked on Western Avenue.
The smooth transition reassured 92.5 The River General Manager Donald St. Sauveur, who helmed 11 prior Riverfest concerts, that his organization’s decision to make the switch from Newburyport to Gloucester was a smart one, citing this year’s destination as more fitting for such an event.
“This is more truly a festival in the sense of the site,” St. Sauveur said. “In Newburyport, it’s more like you’re renting the town.”
“The new town has been so easy to work with," he said. "It’s just been a phenomenal experience. Everyone’s been great to work with. I can’t imagine it going any smoother.”
“I think people are just so surprised that there’s such a world-class lineup,” St. Sauveur said. “People are surprised that it’s free.”
So far, all signs point toward Gloucester as a likely destination to host future Riverfests, according to St. Sauveur. For the city of Gloucester, this means increased notoriety as a destination for more star power come summertime.
“I think it’s a great boost for the economy,” Fitzgerald said. “It puts Gloucester on the map more than it already is. It’s great for our businesses and it puts people on to our beautiful beaches.”