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Festival promoter bets on jam bands and ‘Jaws’

VINEYARD HAVEN — Adam Epstein fell in love with the live music scene on Martha’s Vineyard when he first stayed on the island as a college student during the summer of 1988. Those memories inspired him to start promoting concerts on the Vineyard in 2014, an endeavor that blossomed into the Martha’s Vineyard Concert Series in 2016.

Now Epstein, a New York native who splits his time between Chicago and the Vineyard, is preparing for the biggest undertaking of his career: Beach Road Weekend, a three-day music festival that will take place Aug. 9-11 at Veterans Memorial Park in Vineyard Haven.

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“I had been looking to do something larger scale for a few years,” Epstein says. “Something outdoors and fun.”

The culmination of Epstein’s planning is a musical event unlike anything the Vineyard has seen. He secured John Fogerty and Phil Lesh and Friends as the festival’s headliners, with a supporting cast that includes Dispatch, Grace Potter, Galactic, Matisyahu, and Alejandro Escovedo, among others. The three-day celebration will kick off with a Friday showing of “Jaws” on three massive LED screens while the Cape Symphony performs the film’s score.

“We were looking for a lineup that celebrated the diversity of the island,” Epstein says. “We always wanted to start this festival with the Friday night thing with “Jaws” — that was always at the core. We were looking for a mix of Americana and jam music, because there’s a big part of the island that celebrates and enjoys that music.”

Epstein is no stranger to organizing concerts. In 2000, he founded Innovation Arts and Entertainment, a Chicago-based company that specializes in concerts, theatrical events, and public speaking engagements. He’s produced between 14 to 16 shows on the island each summer since launching the Martha Vineyard’s Concert Series.

But Epstein will be the first to tell you Beach Road Weekend is different than his previous projects. While the series typically attracts a couple hundred people to its events, he’s anticipating between 6,000 to 8,000 people will attend each day of the festival.

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Figuring out how to build a festival site on the Vineyard has been a tricky venture.

“Most of the actual production equipment is coming from off the island,” he says. “At every turn, we’re trying our best to find what we need on the island, everything from school buses for the shuttles to video equipment and that kind of gear. In order to do it the way we want and at the level the bands expect us to do it, we’re having to go off island for most of the equipment.”

Epstein isn’t working alone. He’s tabbed Benny Tucker, who has a long history of working for festivals throughout the Northeast, as his site operations manager. Tucker will lead the charge as Veterans Memorial Park, which is typically used for adult softball leagues and youth sports activities, transforms into an elaborate festival site.

More than 60 semi trailers and buses are scheduled to begin arriving on the Vineyard Monday via the Steamship Authority ferry. Some of the buses will be used to transport concertgoers around the island, while semi trailers carry the stage, lights, and sound equipment.

The construction crews working on the site this week will certainly have a presence around the park, which is located a short walk away from the Vineyard Haven ferry port. Still, even with the commotion that’s due to arrive, town officials are confident the island is prepared.

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“This is an island that has been home to two presidents in the last 20 years,” says Tisbury selectman Jeff Kristal, referring to Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, who vacationed on the Vineyard during their presidencies. “When the president is here, they shut down roads and change traffic patterns and we still manage.”

Brad Joyal