By: Gina Columbus, Asbury Park Press
The murmur of laughter, a few warm greetings and singers belting out the seasonal favorites perched atop a stage.
Add the smoke swirling in the air from vendors cooking burgers, lobster tails and crab cakes on the grill or fryer.
It’s not summer without the festivals.
The casual, flip-flop and sunglasses-wearing events where people flock to craft and specialty vendors while tapping their feet to the eclectic music playing nearby.
They could be strolling Arnold Avenue at the Festival of the Sea in Point Pleasant Beach, or perhaps sampling flavors at the annual New Jersey Ice Cream Festival in downtown Toms River.
Or, they might catch the piglets racing at the Monmouth County and Ocean County fairs.
“Monmouth County is gearing up for another great season of special events and festivals,” Monmouth County Freeholder Director Thomas A. Arnone said. “Memorial Day parades get things started and then it’s on to the Belmar Seafood Festival, Long Branch’s Oceanfest, the Monmouth County Fair, the Haskell Race and the Open Space Pace.”
And all ages attend. Little ones can be seen leaping on inflatable rides or circling around on ponies. Couples walk hand in hand and stroll through displays of paintings, jewelry and an abundance of craft vendors.
Shore residents, both year-round and seasonal, and visitors snack on coconut shrimp from their favorite local seafood eateries.
It was unclear after superstorm Sandy whether event organizers would have the financial means or energy to continue so many traditional festivities.
But both event schedules for Monmouth County and Ocean County have them booked throughout the summer.
“There are big and small events almost every weekend; town festivals, car shows, live music shows, 5K Races,” said Arnone. “And there is always great food and activities for families.”
Kerri McQuilken of Brick said festivals are a great way to unite communities — whether it’s your own town or one a few extra miles away.
“They are a great childhood memory in the sense of coming together with your family and friends just for a good time,” said McQuilken, 23. “When I was a kid, there were always so many things to do, like games and, sometimes, live music. One time, at Brielle Day, there was a firetruck, and as kids, my brothers and I thought it was the coolest thing that they let us ride on it. Everyone always seemed to get along great because we were out doing something different and fun, instead of hanging inside with the conditioning.”
Bruce Marshall of Brick said the best area summer festival is in Point Pleasant Beach.
“The Festival of the Sea — great food,” Marshall, 55, said. “I love the crafts and wine garden.”
Arnone added that with all the planned events for this year, there’s nothing quite like summer at the Jersey Shore.
“Residents and visitors to Monmouth County this summer can expect to see many of their favorite places and activities,” Arnone said. “They can also expect to see some changes and improvements. We are confident that we will all make some great summer memories again this summer.”
And what’s a festival without some music? The options range from The Beach Boys to Bruce Springsteen.
McQuilken said with every festival she’s been to, music is always playing. She once saw Jersey Boys (a local tribute act) play at Summerfest at Windward Beach in Brick. She said it was exciting to watch a live performance.
“It sets the mood,” said McQuilken. “The music at any festival is always louder and fun. And it’s the Jersey Shore, so Bruce and Bon Jovi are always blasting at some point, which will get anyone from here pretty pumped up.”
And even though they’re not in Nashville, some residents think country tunes are the best to play at the Jersey Shore in the summertime, especially at festivals.
Chris Orlando of Wall is heading to a Luke Brian concert in June, where he’ll also see Florida Georgia Line.
“I’m hoping they play ‘Cruise’,” said Orlando, 20. “These songs are perfect for driving down the coast with the windows down… you can’t beat that feeling.”
McQuilken agrees, adding that country songs get played often at festivals because they have a laid-back vibe to them.
Eileen McCabe, director of Point Pleasant Borough Chamber of Commerce, loves incorporating fun music into the organized festivities.
This year, she wonders if there will be the “Harlem Shake” at one of the borough’s festivals.
So slide on those shades, and bring an empty stomach and a good ear. If you do festivals right, you’ll be eating and jammin’ out to the live entertainment all day. The complete lineup of Monmouth County and Ocean County festivals is at www.app.com/summerguide.