When big names take the stage this summer as part of a new statewide celebration of music, culture and technology, New Jersey officials are hoping that big bucks will follow. Scheduled to unfold over three consecutive weekends in Atlantic City (June 7-11), Asbury Park (June 14-18) and Newark (June 21-25), North to Shore will feature more than 100 events, including comedy shows, concerts and film screenings as well as presentations from business and technology entrepreneurs.
Headliners announced so far include: The B-52s, Southside Johnny, Stephen Colbert with Jim Gaffigan, Alanis Morissette with Aimee Mann, Daymond John, Brian Fallon, Colbie Caillat, Demi Lovato, Halsey, Santana, Jay Wheeler, Natalie Merchant, Gavin DeGraw and The Smithereens.
In unveiling North to Shore during a March 13 news conference at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Gov. Phil Murphy said he believes the “superstar event” will give tourists “another great reason to visit the Garden State, as well as opportunities for local businesses in three of our iconic cities to shine.”
“We have been through so much together. It is time for New Jersey to gather with friends, to celebrate, to let our hair down and to showcase more creativity than has been presented in one state in one month ever,” said Murphy, before joking that it’s why he has been letting his hair grow out.
The Democratic governor then went on to compare it to the acclaimed South by Southwest festival held annually in Austin, Texas, but noted that North to Shore will be all about “shining a light on the diversity, creativity and energy that makes New Jersey unique.”
Murphy said, “Austin is a great American city, and, I’m not going to get political, but it’s a ‘blue’ in a very red state. I’ve got nothing against Austin, but I’ve got a lot against the freedoms that Texas takes away from its residents.”
“We said, ‘you know what, to hell with that, man. Let’s do this in Jersey. Let’s start our own unique brand of festival. Let’s do it our way,” he said. “And, hopefully, a few years from now, we’ll be able to look down on what Texas is doing, not trying to emulate it.”
Founded in 1987 as a music festival, SXSW expanded over the years to also spotlight film, technology, education, gaming and politics, drawing appearances from celebrities, business leaders and innovators.
Held over a two-week period each March, the festival’s showcases, screenings, concerts and networking opportunities typically attract over 300,000 attendees, making it the most profitable event for Austin’s hospitality industry.
City officials and event organizers say the economic impact is on par with hosting the Super Bowl every year, a sporting event that brings thousands of jobs and can generate anywhere from $230 million to $475 million.
Austin’s reputation for arts and innovation has been a big factor in SXSW’s growth.
Considered one of the most music-friendly and business-friendly cities in the U.S., as well as the state’s lack of property taxes and individual income tax, has made it an appealing place for many executives, creatives and rising entrepreneurs. For instance, the number of tech companies that have set up shop in Austin over the last five years has jumped 47% to more than 9,500 ventures
After being called off entirely in 2020 due to the pandemic and held virtually in 2021, SXSW returned last year in full force, delivering a $280.7 million economic impact, according to an analysis conducted on behalf of the festival’s organizers.
Attendance accounted for $164.8 million, a sum that includes payments from credentialed participants and single-ticket holders made to get into SXSW events. Another portion ($78.4 million) came from operational impacts, which, SXSW said, includes year-round operations along with full-time, temporary and seasonal staff workers needed to produce the large-scale event. The final chunk – $37.5 million – was attributed to “partner impact,” defined as expenditures by SXSW exhibitors and sponsors and events hosted by SXSW and third parties.
However, 2022’s total was 21% lower than SXSW’s last pre-COVID festival in 2019, which had an estimated impact of $355.9 million—the biggest since the event debuted three decades ago.
Despite being below pre-pandemic figures, economists say the ripple effects of 2022’s festival gave a much-needed shot in the arm to local hotels, restaurants, music venues, retailers, taxi companies and shuttle bus operators, and that SXSW continues to represent a “huge piece of their annual revenue.”
New Jersey isn’t the only place aware of the impact that a big festival can have.
More and more multi-day, multi-stage events have popped up across the country in recent years, with an estimated 250-plus such festivals alone in the U.S., such as Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, Calif., The Governor’s Ball Music Festival in Queens, N.Y., Lollapalooza in Chicago, and the San Francisco International Arts Festival.
Besides bringing in huge numbers of tourists and revenue, such events can help build the brand of a city or state. Through N2S, Murphy said New Jersey will reclaim its “heritage as the world’s center of innovation.”
“We are a state that attracts and grows top-notch talent. It is far past time that we shine a light on all that sets our state apart, our diversity, our creativity, and our unmistakable New Jersey energy,” he said.
First Lady Tammy Murphy added that officials are looking forward to “showing the rest of the country what we have always known – that there is simply no place like New Jersey, a state where ideas originate and grow, where talent is nurtured and where festivals are like no other.”
Efforts to improve the state’s overall approach to tourism are nothing new. Under Gov. Chris Christie’s administration, a March 2012 report by the New Jersey Gaming, Sports & Entertainment Advisory Commission described tourism efforts at the time as “disconnected” and said little was being done to take advantage of the state’s “significant sports, entertainment and recreation resource base” to compete with other national destinations.
As a solution, the commission recommended that the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority operate with a tourism-centric purpose, becoming a “one-stop shop for tourism, travel, exhibitions and athletic events.”
The Garden State has hosted some planned mega-events in recent years. MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford was the venue chosen for Super Bowl XLVIII in February 2014 and Wrestlemania 35 in April 2019.
The state’s travel and tourism industry – which spans many sectors, ranging from lodging to recreation to retail to food and beverage to transportation – was pummeled by the pandemic, but the latest data indicates a rebound is well underway. According to the New Jersey Division of Travel & Tourism, in 2021 the state welcomed 96.6 million visitors, a 14% increase from 2020 but 17% below 2019’s record levels.
Visitor spending surged to $37.3 billion – which generated a total of $4.6 billion in state and local taxes, helping New Jersey regain nearly half of its pandemic losses, state tourism officials reported. The industry also supported over 430,000 jobs and nearly $20 billion in state gross domestic product in 2021, representing 2.8% of the state economy.
The state has not yet released 2022 figures, but forecasts 12% growth to 108 million visitors, recovering about 75% of visitation losses from the prolonged public health emergency. Additionally, visitor spending was projected to surpass $44 billion, a 19% increase, pushing it to 90% of pre-COVID levels with a full recovery expected this year.
To encourage continued growth of the tourism industry, the Murphy administration got serious about bringing a large-scale festival to the Garden State.
In December 2021, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority put out a call for applications for the NJ Arts and Innovation Festival Challenge Grant, a $2 million competitive grant to support operational costs for a festival that incorporates live music and arts, as well as tech demonstrations, panel discussions with innovators and other activities.
The grant, which was allocated in the fiscal year 2022 budget and assigned to the economic recovery fund, was ultimately awarded to nonprofit NJPAC.
In a statement following the March 13 press conference, NJEDA Chief Executive Officer Tim Sullivan said, “This festival aligns with Gov. Murphy’s mission to make New Jersey the best state in the nation live, work, and play all while providing an economic boost to Newark, Asbury Park, and Atlantic City, by attracting visitors, generating spending, and showcasing the strength of New Jersey’s arts, culture, and innovation scenes.”
Additional information was not immediately available from the NJEDA regarding projected economic impacts of the festival.
NJPAC, one of the largest performing arts centers in the U.S., has been busy planning a world-class festival that will not only bring attention and resources to New Jersey, but also set the stage for long-term growth.
NJPAC will produce North to Shore in collaboration with partners including Montclair Film, Newark International Film Festival, TechUnited/Propelify and MediaSense. Music and comedy programming will be presented in partnership with SJ Presents, Madison Marquette, Live Nation, Platinum Productions and Absolutely Live!
Leadership support for the event is being provided by Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, the New Jersey Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, New Jersey Travel and Tourism, NJM Insurance, PSEG and RWJBarnabas Health, according to the governor’s office.
John Schreiber, president and CEO of NJPAC, said, “Over a hundred events in three cities during the month of June will headline not only the biggest names in music, comedy, film, innovation and technology, but also brilliant New Jersey-based creatives who make the arts hum up and down our state all year long.” He noted that more events will be added to the festival.
“Every memorable festival needs inspired founders,” Schreiber said. “This festival is a reality because Gov. Murphy and our First Lady had a really good idea and NJPAC is proud to have been chosen as producer. We’re lucky and grateful that while they and their team solve the issues that confront us as New Jerseyans every day, the Murphys have always kept the arts front and center. They understand the power of culture and technology to enhance and transform the quality of their lives.
“We got here because so many people participated in the creation and the development of this idea. And that’s one of the great things about New Jersey – the way we all try to work together with each other for the greater good,” Schreiber stated.
Local producers and art organizations in all three cities can apply online for stipends of up to $5,000 to present events showcasing their unique cultural community. Applications will be accepted through March 24.
Murphy said, “When Tammy and I first had the germ of an idea for a festival, we knew we could not put it together on our own. We knew bringing together a tremendous lineup of talent would take the commitment and leadership of so many, including the folks at the Economic Development Authority, the world class entertainment pros here at NJPAC and the willingness of so many creative legends to sign-on.”e