A decade ago, a handful of LGBT residents in Asbury Park, N. J., opened their homes to friends throughout the region for a weekend that sought to showcase the LGBT potential abounding in the shore town.
This year, up to 5,000 gays and lesbians are expected to head to the event in a town now saturated in LGBT culture.
Sand Blast Weekend, July 20-24, will feature parties, socials, entertainment and activities that will bring together guests from around the region to take in the sights and sounds of historic Asbury Park.
When the weekend got its start 10 years ago, the town was just a shadow of what it used to be — and what it is today — said organizer Brad Hurtado.
“Back then it was really a faded ghosttown, when it used to be this glamorous, fantastic beach community,” Hurtado said. “Up and down the Jersey shore, there are these adorable beach towns one after the other and then you got to Asbury Park and it was like, ‘What happened?’ But gays and lesbians usually aren’t afraid of going into a bad neighborhood and making it their own, and when we found this, we wanted to show other people what we imagined for Asbury Park and hopefully they’d be as turned on to it as we were.”
The first Sand Blast, then dubbed “Road Trip,” focused on one event, a performance by Cyndi Lauper. There were no hotels or bed-and-breakfasts in the area at the time, so guests largely bunked in the spare bedrooms of the town’s LGBT homeowners.
The following year, organizers incorporated real-estate tours, and as the tradition grew each year, activities extended to include trolley tours, comedy shows and beach parties.
In the past decade, Hurtado said the town has seen an impressive influx of LGBTs purchasing and renovating Victorian cottages and mansions.
“Realtors’ phones started ringing off the hook, and you could see the Range Rovers slowly driving down the street with a group of gay guys sticking their heads out to look at the houses,” he said. “We knew we had something. We knew we had this jewel that needed some polishing and the gay community embraced that.”
Hurtado estimated that Asbury Park is now home to about 500 LGBT households, and the town now has a gay mayor, gay city councilmembers and more than a dozen LGBT-owned businesses, in addition to numerous gay-focused and gay-friendly clubs and hotels.
The development of the event mirrored the LGBT rejuvenation of Asbury Park — with the 2011 festivities, renamed Sand Blast this year after the weekend’s popular beach party, now featuring a dozen ticketed events and the largest crowd yet expected.
The parties will stretch from one end of the weekend to the other — from the kickoff “Lost at Sea” party Friday night at Convention Hall, featuring three open-air balconies overlooking the beach, to the daylong beach party on Saturday to the closing pool party and tea dance on Sunday at the Berkley Hotel.
Hurtado said organizers this year placed an increased emphasis on women’s activities, with a number of new female-focused offerings, like an opening karaoke party at Georgie’s Bar July 20, a women’s pool party July 23 at Hotel Tides with a performance by musician Christine Martucci and a women’s jazz brunch July 24.
Between all the parties, there’s a wealth of other activities for guests, such as the Asbury Park Volleyball Beach Open July 22, the Asbury Park Art Crawl July 23 and ReVision Theater Company’s production of “Xanadu.”
Hurtado said Sand Blast guests typically hail from throughout the region.
The event originally drew a large contingent from New York but in the past several years has gained traction throughout the Garden State and the Philadelphia area, and this year organizers have also focused on Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
With so many people converging on the small beach town, hotels typically sell out quickly, but guests can stay at the nearby Ocean Grove bed-and-breakfasts.
No matter where guests stay, Hurtado said Sand Blast will provide ample opportunities for LGBTs to get to know community members from the region and revel in the success of their influence on Asbury Park.
“This is a classic Jersey shore getaway — you can hang out on the beach, take swan-boat rides on the lake, ride a tandem bike with your friends and hit the parties. We want people to grab their friends, make a beeline for the shore and come celebrate the gay community that’s taken this town and helped it rise from the ashes.”
For more information on Sand Blast or to purchase tickets, visit www.sandblastweekend.com.
Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].