By Brian Deakyne
SEA BRIGHT – Few things have been the same in Sea Bright and neighboring towns since Super Storm Sandy devastated the area last fall.
But on Saturday, at a new home, a touch of normalcy was restored to the borough with the return of Dunesday. With Donovan’s Reef – the regular home for the event – destroyed during the storm, the annual beach party for a charity was held at the Mad Hatter.
“This is about as special as Dunesday can be,” said Brian Kirk, who has run the event for two decades. “Not only is it the 20th anniversary, but to be able to bring people and money back to a town that needs it, it’s really special.”
Despite the Mad Hatter also being damaged in the storm, owners decided to stay open outside for the summer, and give Dunesday a new Sea Bright home.
“Brian approached me in January about having it here, and I just didn’t know if we would even be open,” Mad Hatter owner Scott Kelly said. “We were able to make it manageable for the summer.”
The Mad Hatter will be knocked down and rebuilt in the fall. Because of the extent of the damage, most of the indoor facility has been destroyed and is not repairable, Kelly said.
All proceeds from this year’s edition of Dunesday went to Sea Bright fire and first aid squads, which played a major role in the post-storm recovery in the town.
“It was something that I can do, so I felt obligated to help,” Kirk said. “I’m fortunate that I have the ability to do something like this and to make Dunesday what it is.”
Because of the storm, the Mad Hatter had to bring in food trucks and bathrooms plus get permission from the borough and state to run the event.
Even with a different location, Kirk said the event came together smoothly and it was done without major media advertising.
“Every Dunesday is different, but everyone came together once we found out we could do it here,” he said. “People tend to think that musicians should perform for free, and that annoys me. But, for a cause like this, they were happy to do it and I can say that I’m proud to be a part of this.”
The 10-hour long event that ran from noon to 10 p.m. featured 10 bands and singers throughout the day.
Dunesday was staffed by Donovan’s Reef employees who had lost their jobs after last year’s storm.
“I’m nothing but gracious about this event here,” Donovan’s Reef manager Susie Markson said, “to be able to bring this back to Sea Bright is great.”
Markson, who said that she still has not returned home since the storm, said she is appreciative that Donovan’s employees were given an opportunity to work the event.
“This year is much different,” Markson said. “The logistics of putting this together – between the portable bathrooms and ice truck and that stuff – compared to Donovan’s, where everything was controlled and fenced in, it’s really amazing.”
Although Kirk said there was no monetary goal for Sea Bright fire and first aid squads, he said that any amount of money donated would be appreciated.
“We just want to set it up and let it run,” he said.
“I was out here every day after the storm,” Markson said, “and every day” Sea Bright fire and first aid squad members “were heroes.”
Kirk projected that there would be approximately 3,000 attendees for the event at its peak near 5 p.m.
“It’s great to have an idea 20 years ago and it turns into this,” Kirk said.
“This is the Jersey Shore,” said Tim O’Neill, who has worked with Kirk at Dunesday since its inception. “If this happened anywhere else, they probably wouldn’t be able to bounce back like this. People here take pride in this because it’s their beach and they didn’t want to lose it.”