2008-06-20 / Front Page

Summer Concert Series In Jeopardy

By Howard Schwach

The Rockaway Music and Arts Council's Sunset Concert Picnic series, which has brought hundreds to Fort Tilden on hot summer Sunday evenings, is in jeopardy of being cancelled this summer over demands by the National Park Service that the popular concerts move from their traditional venue to Riis Park.

A large crowd gathers on the lawn at Fort Tilden last summer for an RMAC Sunset Picnic Concert featuring the Celtic rhythms of Mac Talla Mor. The concerts may be cancelled this summer due to a dispute between the RMAC and the National Park Service over a change in venue for the concerts. A large crowd gathers on the lawn at Fort Tilden last summer for an RMAC Sunset Picnic Concert featuring the Celtic rhythms of Mac Talla Mor. The concerts may be cancelled this summer due to a dispute between the RMAC and the National Park Service over a change in venue for the concerts. That demand, which was made earlier this year, and the ongoing failed negotiations to keep the concerts at Fort Tilden, have led to the possibility that there will be no Sunset Concert Picnics this summer.

Stephen Yaeger, the president of the RMAC, thinks that the local group has received a raw deal from the National Park Service, which runs the Gateway National Recreation Area.

"We're really not happy with the way we've been treated by the Parks people," Yaeger told The Wave. "The community was waiting for a final decision and we couldn't schedule anything until we heard from them. Now, it may be too late to schedule anybody for this summer."

"We've always run five or six concerts at Fort Tilden and now they tell us that everything has to be at Riis Park, which is not a very good venue for our type of concert," Yaeger added, saying that many people who came to the Fort Tilden concerts sat on the grass, ate and enjoyed the music. There is no grass at Riis Park where the park service wants the concerts held, he pointed out.

Yaeger says that Gateway officials have offered the RMAC three concerts in the courtyard in front of the bathhouse, which is under reconstruction.

"They said they would set up a small stage for us, but the courtyard is not completed and it's full of sand. That is no place to put a concert where people sit and listen to music," Yaeger said.

A spokesperson for Gateway told reporters that the concerts were moved to provide better parking, particularly handicapped parking and to provide better access to food services and restrooms more appropriate for the large number of people who attend the concerts.

Yaeger, however, does not buy that explanation, and neither does Senator Charles Schumer, who once represented Rockaway in the House of Representatives.

In early June, Schumer sent a letter to Lisa Eckert, the superintendent Gateway's Jamaica Bay Unit.

"For decades RMAC has provided a wonderful service to the Rockaways and surrounding communities through its annual summer concert series," Schumer wrote. "These concerts are a fine opportunity for all members of the community, young and old, to come together and enjoy beautiful music in a picturesque setting. Many of my constituents have told me about how they look forward to the concerts each summer and how Fort Tilden provides the perfect backdrop for these performances, free from traffic and beach noise and close to parking."

"I urge you to permit the concerts to be held at Fort Tilden, as they have been for many years" he concluded. "Please ensure that this wonderful tradition be preserved."

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