Keansburg Locals Welcome Gratitude Migration's Return This Weekend
This weekend, July 15 - 17, Gratitude Migration festival returns to Keansburg, New Jersey. On a stretch of beach nicknamed “hELLO Beach” for the zip code 07734 upside down, visitors from all over New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia and the northeast will gather to dance to music both live and electronic, appreciate art installations and immersive experiences, watch dance and fire performances, and learn from educational workshops and speakers set up in an interactive environment of villages and theme camps along the beach. Over three days, the beach will be transformed - and so will festival goers, attendees, and the town around it.
Hosting a festival in the midst of a local community isn’t easy. While Burning Man’s Black Rock City has no year-round residents and Bethel Woods is a historic site of its own, what happens when you host a festival smack in the middle of a town complete with local year-round and seasonal residents; businesses and homeowners? Last year, Gratitude Migration festival arrived in Keansburg, NJ to some scepticism among locals. With an expectation of music festivals and the trash and rowdy noise that came with it, neighbors of hELLO Beach were concerned, and a local News12 article thought the festival was disruptive and titled their article covering it accordingly. It was the residents who jumped to the festival’s defense, fiercely arguing that it brought creative opportunities and a good time to a town that sorely needed it after the struggles of Hurricane Sandy.
“It was a great time and it just shows how great Keansburg is to everyone, and hopefully it draws other people back,” local resident Sweetriver Baines commented on a News12.com article on Facebook. “It’s good to see people coming to visit our town and enjoying it as much as us locals do,” he added in 2016. “Hopefully your event will be as successful as last year!”
While some complained about traffic or noise, most residents expressed how excited they were to see this event. “As a resident, I was thrilled to see this kind of event in our small town,” commented Gina Allen. Acknowledging that traffic and noise are commonplace in the summer, she referenced other noises as far more disruptive, before welcoming the festival back. “I really hope the complainers don’t discourage this group or others like it from visiting our town in future. Thank you for bringing good, positive attention to our beach and community!”
“Keansburg as the go-to place for all New Yorkers back in the day,” asserted Karen van Wagner Agar, but has recently suffered from being “misunderstood”, according to Carrie Wiggett Berry, the voice who asked the article’s heading be changed. “It has the reputation of being scrappy and rough around the edges. I disagree – there are a lot of people here who would give you the shirt off your back. I saw it first hand after Sandy and the devastation the storm caused to this town. I am grateful for the respectful manner that those who attended the festival treated our beach and their patronage of local businesses. ”
Referencing the recent history of Hurricane Sandy, it’s clear the natural disaster left a mark on this town that the festival and its visitors are helping to heal.
“We need more events like this so people can see the great things our town has to offer!” Wiggett Berry commented on Facebook. “I am excited that the festival will be returning. This is a great thing for Keansburg. This town has so much potential - a breathtaking view of NYC, big beaches, the boardwalk, etc. Just need more people to see all the great things it offers.” Terri P also marvelled at the popularity of Keansburg’s beach, now known as “hELLO Beach”. “It was such a nice sight to see so many cars parked and so many out of towners visiting our neck of the woods. Was it my type of crowd, hell no, did I enjoy myself none the less, heck yeah!”
Marineless Bird, a homewoner, was amazed. “It was like Woodstock on the beach! Everyone was out enjoying the beach, the town, music playing and having fun. It was an amazing weekend in Keansburg. I hope they continue it and have more events like this!” she said.
“Since you have had your festival, people have been coming and using our beach, it’s been wonderful,” said resident Lee Ann via Facebook message. “I have never seen that many people at the beach – that was awesome!” She recounted meeting up with some residents waiting for the bus who were “very, very polite.”
At a festival called Gratitude Migration, that seems to be the occupational hazard. Resident Carlos Pernett marvelled at the phenomenon. “Not only was it completely under control, the festival attendees expressed how grateful they were that the Keansburg township allowed them to stay there. I can’t wait for next year.” On following up before the event this year, he continued in the same vein. “Everybody was friendly,” says Pernett. “From what I hear, that’s what seems to have won over most of the town folk. In the past, when groups have come through here, it seems to be the rowdy ones that don’t last.”
As the town gears up for this year’s Gratitude Migration, the sentiment from last year continues to echo across Keansburg: Come back again.
Jackie Belotti, a 49 year old homeowner in Keansburg works for the Keansburg Police dept as a dispatcher. “I love this town, and raised all my kids (three daughters and three grandkids, the oldest 29 years old) here.” Last year, Jackie commented, “I think it was a great idea! I hope they have it next year!” Heidi from local business East Coast Ink and Body Piercing echoed her sentiments, “We think the festival is a great thing for the community. We're looking forward to seeing the crowd. Thank you for having it in this little beach town.”
“Please come back next year.. they are more than welcome!” David Clayton commented on the disputed News12 article. Amid other comments of “Come back again”, it was Terri P who summed it up perfectly: “So glad that the majority of residents are truly open minded about bringing Keansburg up instead of tearing it down!”
Chelsea Stankard 27 and David Goodman 28, are both Keansburg residents who are enthusiastic about the opportunities the festival brings to the town. "Words can't express how excited Dave and I are to be a part of this movement" Stankard said. “Beyond the art and cultural exposure being brought to our little seaside town, Gratitude Migration is making huge strides to make economic and social change in town, something not seen here for a long time. For the first time in my life, I can say I am inspired to take ownership of my own impact locally.”
“I feel this is a great opportunity for this town,” Goodman added. “The continued progress that has taken place will only be accelerated by a socially conscious event like this.”
The festival organizers have already been in talks with locals from the Mayor's office, local Chamber of Commerce, and other key organizations to find ways to infuse Keansburg with gratitude for hosting the event this weekend. Gratitude Migration has announced a series of initiatives to show their gratitude for Keansburg, including a move to clean up the beach for what is known as a "Leave a Positive Trace" event. Nightly parades will include sweeping the area for debris, known as "MOOP" (Matter Out of Place) in this culture, and the goal is to leave the beach cleaner than they found it.
In a move to bring benefits to the town through tourism, festival goers are encouraged to tweet or Instagram using the hashtag "hELLOBeach" as the place becomes a tourist destination alongside other beaches in Sandy Hook Bay; and buses provided by the Monmouth County Transportation Authority will bring guests from the festival grounds to the downtown shopping area on Saturday. In addition, the festival has teamed up with Keansburg charity Project Paul to collect donations of non-perishable food items and baby diapers brought by festival goers as a gift to the town for their hospitality.
The festival community, comprised of creatives, artists, musicians and visionaries from the New York area - particularly Brooklyn - are looking forward to bringing more collaboration and community to Keansburg through connection with young people such as Stankard. "Gratitude begins with gratitude for the environment, and we're just so happy to be here.”