NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The unofficial start of summer in Hampton Roads typically is a slower weekend for many businesses in downtown Norfolk, however, there are high hopes the Patriotic Festival will change that.
Thursday evening as an army of technicians began setting up the main 40-by-50 foot-stage on Waterside Drive, staff at Baxter’s Sports Bar — a mile away — were making sure they had enough food and drink for a Memorial Day weekend the likes they have never seen before.
“We are very excited. We are expecting a lot of flow down here,” Megan Harrison, a server at the restaurant, said. “We are double-stocked on food of course. We’re ready.”
Traditionally, the downtown Norfolk sports bar is the least of owner Baxter Simmons worries on Memorial Day weekend. His other restaurant is the Paradise Ocean Club in Hampton: a sprawling beachfront bar, restaurant and entertainment venue that is a magnet when the weather turns warm.
“That Friday night concert will keep us busy in Norfolk though,” Simmons said Thursday. “This will boost all of downtown on a normally quiet weekend.”
Friday night, country star Jon Pardi will take the stage inside neighboring Scope Arena as the first of three headliners for the festival. Saturday night, Kane Brown will break in the venue being built along Waterside Drive. Sunday night, Morgan Wallen will play to a sold-out crowd.
The Patriotic Festival made the high-profile move to downtown Norfolk following 18 years at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront.
During the announcement last October, Patriotic Festival President Ira Agricola cited the need to have an indoor venue to go to in case of poor weather. However, he also hinted that Virginia Beach’s bureaucratic process became discouraging.
Following several violent and deadly incidents in its downtown arts and entertainment district, the importance of pulling off a festival safely has become even greater for Norfolk. Harrison feels they will be successful.
Increased police patrols and new mobile surveillance cameras have been put into place in recent months.
“It’s slown down a lot of the activity that’s been going on. It’s gotten way better. [Police] walk the streets patrolling and that makes it easier on us,” Harrison said.
Security will also be heightened near the ticketed venue. Everyone will have to pass through a metal detector to get in. Norfolk city dump trucks will block off the street in order to make sure nobody can drive through into the crowds.
“Nobody has ever shut this down before,” said Glen Robertson, a Patriotic Festival board member. “It’s a historic day. Historic weekend in Norfolk.”