PUT-IN-BAY, Ohio — Tim Niese remembers Toby Keith standing on stage last August at Put-in-Bay’s inaugural Bash on the Bay country music festival, surveying the 10,000 people gathered on the grounds of the island’s airport.
“He was blown away by the island setting,” recalled Niese, a Put-in-Bay business owner and festival organizer. “He even said on stage, ‘I’m coming back here for vacation.’ These [entertainers] go and travel all over the place, and for a guy to say that about this little island impressed me.”
This week, one day short of a year later, Rascal Flatts will load tour buses and trucks full of equipment on a ferry to travel to Put-in-Bay’s to headline the second Bash on the Bay music festival that starts at 3 p.m. Thursday. The country band with Columbus roots, featuring Gary LeVox, Jay DeMarcus, and Joe Don Rooney, will headline the Thursday event.
The group is known for such No. 1 hits as “Mayberry,” “What Hurts the Most,” “Fast Cars and Freedom,” “Bless the Broken Road,” and “Yours if You Want It.”
■ More than 10,000 people are expected this year’s Bash on the Bay.
■ 20 semis, 10 buses, and 10 food trucks will board a ferry to bring provisions and equipment to the island.
■ About $6 million was generated for Put-in-Bay and surrounding area when Toby Keith headlined the island’s first festival in 2017.
■ About 250 people will work security, ranging from the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department, Jackson County (Ohio) Sheriff’s Department, and the Contemporary Services Corp., which also works security for the Cleveland Browns’ stadium.
■ Jet Express and Miller Boat Line will offer visitors rides from the mainland to the island and expects to transport nearly 3,000 people to Put-in-Bay in an hour on Thursday.
The event also features opening acts Chris Lane, Joe Nichols, the Cory Farley Band, and Paulina Jayne.
Organizers expect more than 10,000 people to attend the Thursday night concert.
Last year’s Toby Keith-helmed festival had a $6 million economic impact on the area; guests stayed in hotels, ate at restaurants, and shopped at local businesses.
Niese said the festival is designed to attract people to the island during a time of year when business is generally slow and school is back in session.
“The economic gain at a time when we're not doing business is really huge,” he said.
Staging this year’s festival will require 20 semis, 10 buses, and 10 food trucks, all of which will make their way to the island by Miller Boat Line or the Jet Express.
That doesn’t include the thousands of concert-goers who will arrive via the ferries or their own watercraft.
Niese said it’s rare that artists play a venue that requires traveling from the mainland to an island.
“There’s almost nowhere they go where they put all of their gear on a ferry to get to the venue,” he said. “That’s a challenge, but at the same time it’s [drawing people] to something that’s not an arena or amphitheater. You’re going to a unique setting.”
The island is capable of accommodating up to 7,500 people who can stay overnight at Put-in-Bay in hotel rooms, bed and breakfasts, campsites, and marinas. Nearly 3,000 others will need to board a ferry to return to the mainland after the show.
Billy Market, owner of Miller Boat Line, said crews will start transporting equipment such as the stage, portable restrooms, and lights Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by tour buses and semis for the bands.
More than 1,600 people can be transported from the mainland to the island each hour on Miller Boat Line alone, he said.
“We did it last year and it went off without a hitch. We hope this year will be drama free. That’s how we look at it,” Market said.
The Federal Aviation Administration granted approval to close the Put-in-Bay Airport starting at 11 a.m. Wednesday for organizers to prepare for the festival. The airport re-opens at noon Friday.
Rosann Keiser, Put-in-Bay’s port authority secretary, said she submitted a proposal six months in advance of the festival to the FAA asking for the OK to shut down the airport. She said the proposal included proving the festival would make money and would be held at a time of year when air traffic is light.
“For us to ask them to shut it down is a big deal,” Keiser said. “I have to prove that it’s not impacting a lot of our pilots coming in and it has a positive financial impact on the island.”
Fans watch as the sun sets and Toby Keith performs during the Bash On The Bay country music festival at Put-in-Bay, Ohio, on Thursday, August 31, 2017. Keith headlined the event.
Last year’s festival generated about $50,000 for the airport.
Many of the island’s residents say they are looking forward to the second Bash on the Bay.
Island resident Jack Zimmerman, 57, said he lives about 200 feet from the airport’s fence and didn’t have any issues with the people or traffic during last year’s music festival.
After attending the festival in 2017, he said he plans a return visit this year.
“They had plenty of security,” Zimmerman said. “They cleaned the area up immediately following. Everyone was well-behaved.”
Ray Fogg, 54, who also lives close to the airport, said it’s not unusual for thousands of people to visit Put-in-Bay on the weekends, and he wasn’t affected by the festival’s heavy foot traffic in 2017.
“I thought last year it was organized very well,” he said. “There was plenty of law enforcement here. It was a big crowd to have on our airport, but it was really well-run.”
About 250 people will work security at this year’s festival.
Ottawa County Sheriff Stephen Levorchick said concert-goers will notice the same type of security this year, which includes patrol boats on the water, both local and regional police officers, and personnel from Contemporary Services Corp., who also guard the Cleveland Browns’ stadium.
“We tried to have a presence that was a visual deterrent to anyone who would think of doing anything that would challenge the safety of any of our villagers and anyone on the island that day,” he said. “We wanted to make sure we had that presence that showed it was a safe environment.”
Larry Fletcher, president of Lake Erie’s Shores and Islands, said Bash on the Bay is the largest one-day event of the year for the island, and organizers were able to accommodate heavy foot traffic safely.
“They had a plan in place to get those people from different locations where they came on to the island and out to the concert site. It was a system that worked,” Fletcher said. “Normally people are spread out [when they come to Put-in-Bay]. This was a situation where there was a large concentration of people in one place, but they did a very effective job at handling that dynamic.”
To purchase tickets, visit etix.com or bashonthebay.com.
“There were very few people who thought we would ever pull this off,” Niese said. “To bring a person or an entertainer of this scale to [Put-in-Bay] is a big deal for this little island.”
Rascal Flatts declined an interview before press time.
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