Running a first-time event is a bit of gamble. It’s hard to know if anyone will bother to show up, especially when you’re at the tip of New Jersey’s most isolated barrier island.
That’s how the Jersey-based surf and skate brand, Jetty, felt last spring when they threw their inaugural Hop Sauce Festival. They were expecting 1,500 people. But some 3,000 folks came through the gate.
While this was Jetty’s gig, or more accurately, their non-profit arm, the Jetty Rock Foundation working with Spice It Up, a local gourmet specialty store, and Shore Point Promotions, Beach Haven is no stranger to events. Each fall, it hosts the wildly successful Chowderfest in the very same field.
But Hop Sauce Fest was more of a reach. People who come here love chowder as much as they love cover bands playing tired classics and tapped kegs. But craft beer? Hot sauces? Original music is a foreign language on that part of the state.
But the tenets on which this festival was based—various degrees of hand-crafted, unique, DIY, and organic—are a bigger draw now than ever before. People want quality, originality…something with a story behind it. And so Hop Sauce is now in the ranks of the most successful festivals at the shore.
For headliners, Jukebox The Ghost, this festival represents a chance to indulge their other tastes.
“We are intrigued and excited to play any festival where the focus isn’t just music,” says drummer Jesse Kristin. “After so many summers of touring, we get the gist of music festivals, exciting as they can be, so spicing things up a bit—pun intended—can’t hurt. Some of us are into both hot sauce and craft beer. I hardly eat a single meal without hot sauce…or beer. We’re big fans of hot sauces that aren’t too vinegary, but have interesting flavors, whether fresh citrusy green ones or roasted dark ones. For beer we tend to like pale ales that are somewhat hoppy but not overly so and refreshing bright pilsners that are sessionable, but flowery and flavorful. Ciders can hang with us too. ”
This year, Hop Sauce Fest is May 30, a good reason for folks to head back down to the beach for the weekend after Memorial Day. And the festival has grown considerably—25 microbrews including an Indie Craft Beer tent, 18 hot sauces and other spicy specialties, and food from 11 local eateries. So you’ve got everything in the culinary canon from fish tacos to summer ale, pineapple habanero sauce to hard cider and flavored pickles.
But of perhaps most interest to the festival type is the lineup on the Hop Sauce stage.
“As with the first year of Hop Sauce, our mission is far from over with bringing new, original music to audiences in LBI,” says Music Director Joe Belsh. “I think people better get ready to move, because the lineup definitely has a dancier feel overall than last year. It’s sure to be another great time.”
Opening the event is Bobcat Rob Armenti, a tradition-steeped, banjo-pickin’ boot stomper. He’s followed by The Yetis, a young, poppy, surf-inspired four-piece from Allentown, PA. Next up is Stone Cold Fox, a unique outfit that own a space between rock and electronica.
By 2 p.m., the day is sure to be in full swing when Brooklyn’s Ski Lodge fills the festival with its jangly sound reminiscent of ’80s Britpop. Getting into the meat of the lineup, Leisure Cruise will rock their hypnotic, danceable synth-based anthems. Savoir Adore, the Nettwerk Records duet that has supported MGMT, Toro Y Moi, and Ra Ra Riot, will take the late afternoon crowd into dreamland with their spacey, dance-laden sonic delivery.
The biggest draw should be DC-based pop rock trio, Jukebox The Ghost. These 10-year veterans—pianist/vocalist Ben Thornewill, guitarist/vocalist Tommy Siegel and drummer Kristin—have been noted for intricate rock arrangements juxtaposed with sing-along choruses and a warm presence.
“We’re playing some great festivals and venues this summer with some familiar faces and many new ones. It’s going to be a good one. And we unanimously appreciate that ‘Long Beach Island’ is both a specific place and an unspecific descriptive phrase,” jokes Kristin.
“Overall, I think we’ve got a great lineup to add to the great food and craft beer,” adds Belsh. “Jukebox The Ghost has been featured on shows like Conan and Letterman so we’ve already been hearing that diehard fans want to show up with cupcakes and other gifts for them.”
After a few May dates that wrap up with Hop Sauce, Jukebox, now on Cherrytree Records (Feist, Royksopp, Disclosure), hit the road, returning to play Central Park’s SummerStage on June 29 and the Skyline Stage at Philly’s Mann Music Center on June 30. They’ve certainly seen a more energized fanbase since the release of their self-titled album last October.
“Being able to play on television gives our fans energy and excitement, which they bring to the shows, and while we can’t say how much a TV spot brings a new audience, it certainly helps with exposure and word-of-mouth growth,” Kristin adds.
Hop Sauce Festival has become something of an entire weekend on LBI, with tap takeovers and after-parties. More information can be found at hopsaucefest.com.