WILDWOOD — As the sun peaked out from behind a few rain clouds early Sunday afternoon, puddles were left on areas of the beach.
It didn’t deter the tens of thousands of country music fans in town over the weekend. In fact, some were already embracing the namesake of the festival, ditching their shoes and flip flops as they made their way out onto the beach for the final day of the Barefoot Country Music Fest.
Wildwood Mayor Pete Byron planned on being shoeless Sunday night.
“Nothing, no pun intended, has dampened the enthusiasm,” said Bryon, who has been on the beach all four days for the festival.
The four-day festival capped off a busy 10 days for the Jersey Shore from Atlantic City to Cape May County.
Last weekend, the jam band Phish played three nights on the beach in Atlantic City on the north side of Playground Pier. At least 30,000 people filled the beach each night for those shows.
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On Wednesday, the Atlantic City Airshow drew tens of thousands more to the beach. This weekend, Byron estimated 25,000 packed the Wildwood beach each night of the four-day festival.
“The crowds, 99% of the time, have been great,” Byron said. “Certainly a lot of beer flowing. Other than when the main act comes on, which started around 8:30, and people are jockeying for position. People get a little antsy, but there really hasn’t been anything to write home about on the negative side.”
Barefoot Country Music Fest featured four headliners: Lee Brice on Thursday, Dan + Shay on Friday, Carrie Underwood on Saturday and Zac Brown Band on Sunday. Over 30 different country music artists and bands played this weekend, scattered over three stages.
Zac Brown Band was scheduled to close out Sunday on the main stage that had its back facing the Atlantic Ocean.
Country music fans, easily identified by their cowboy hats, boots and T-shirts sporting their favorite acts, were sprinkled along the Boardwalk on Sunday afternoon.
Some stopped and peered through the fence along the Boardwalk, hoping to get a glimpse of the main stage that could be seen off in the distance. A smaller stage was set up closer to the Boardwalk, and music coming from the early performers Sunday could be easily heard.
Kate Petro, from Philadelphia, and Nicole Fillman, of Lindenwold, Camden County, drove to Wildwood on Sunday. They didn’t purchase tickets. Instead, they decided to take advantage of being able to hear the music from Boardwalk and were enjoying some of the earlier acts.
Debbie Stanfield, 53, and Jon Serenceses, 56, both from Toms River, attended Friday through Sunday. They were most excited for Sunday’s lineup, which included legendary Southern rock band Lynryd Skynyrd.
The spacing on the beach worked in their favor as they didn’t want to be in the thick of the crowd or have to music get too loud. They loved that video monitors were scattered throughout to make it easy to enjoy the shows from anywhere on the beach.
“There was a little bit for everybody. You look around in there and there’s kids and there’s adults,” Serenceses said. “It was all age groups, and you see no problems.”
Damon Ippolito and Zach Martis, both 20 and from Union County, made the drive down Saturday night to catch Underwood and attend the festival all day Sunday.
“She was good. It was really cool with the rain coming down. Everyone was enjoying it,” Ippolito said. It rained for most of Underwood’s set Saturday.
They met up with friends Stephanie DeAngelis, 25, of Brooklyn, New York, Jared Van Oostendorp, 21, of Union County, and Damon’s older brother Andrew Ippolito, 24. They all stayed in the city this weekend.
“I was pretty excited to be here. I wanted to see everybody. They’re all big names on the list,” Andrew Ippolito said.
Van Oostendorp has never been to shows on the beach before. He said he hopes something like this returns to Wildwood next year.
“With the layout, it seems crowded once you’re in there, but it’s not really crowded until the acts come on, so there’s a lot of space to walk around and check out all the venders and drinks and such,” Van Oostendorp said.
Byron said this weekend was the largest event held in Wildwood during his 10-year tenure as mayor, especially over four days. Event organizers describe it as the largest outdoor country music fest in the Northeast and the only one held on a beach. It had been in the works for a year and a half, Byron said.
The city is getting a percentage of ticket revenue. Byron said Sunday he did not have an estimate of how much the city would make, but said it would be a healthy amount. The four days mostly sold out, Byron said. The city has a five-year contract with the promoter, Southern Entertainment, he said.
Business on the Boardwalk on Sunday afternoon seemed like a typical summer weekend. But Byron has no doubt that business was up throughout the city, even at bars, restaurants and shops located on the city blocks.
“On any given weekend in the summer you’re gonna have a couple hundred thousand people in town, anyway,” Byron said. “Add into the mix another 25-30,000 who may have been coming in for the concert, it’s gonna add to the volume of business.”
In the coming years, Byron is hoping to have two events planned through the promoter, one in June and another in September to stretch the peak of the summer season. Late Sunday, the festival tweeted from its official account that it will return to Wildwood on June 16-19, 2022.
“The type of music will be different genres but still at the same level of entertainer,” Byron said earlier in the day. “We might have another country show next year, and the second will be a different type of music. But it will be equally spectacular.”
Contact John Russo: 609-272-7184