Environmental

Gulf coast beaches encourage tourism with free concerts

Tourism officials all along the Gulf Coast are working hard to keep vacationers up-to-date on the state of the beaches, and to encourage people to make or keep plans in the area. The region has taken an economic hit at what would be the start of its busiest tourist season, as potential visitors are scared away by reports of oil washing ashore and waters closed to swimming. A series of television ads – most financed by BP – are running in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana promoting tourism in the area. And, individual beach communities and their supporters are planning special events to draw visitors. Both Destin/Fort Walton Beach, Florida; and Gulf Shores, Alabama, are touting free concerts from big-name entertainers.

On Sunday, June 27, Florida’s Emerald Coast, which represents Destin and Fort Walton, is promoting a “Rock the Beach” concert. The free event, which will be held at The Boardwalk on Okaloosa Island, will feature classic rock-n-rollers Kenny Loggins and The Doobie Brothers. The free event will begin at 5 p.m. Promoters say they are hoping this will be the first in a series of free concert events throughout the summer to lure tourists to the area. The organization’s website, www.destin-fwb.com, features a live “beach conditions” update, which provides current information about water and beach conditions. Destin has experienced some tar balls on its otherwise pristine white-sand beaches, but tourism officials say cleanup has been quick and efficient, and that the oil is not significantly affecting them.

Kicking off the July 4 holiday weekend, the king of the “beach bums,” Jimmy Buffett, has announced a free concert in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Buffett got his start singing along the Alabama Gulf Coast, and his sister owns and operates the popular LuLu’s restaurant in the area. She has taken to the airwaves herself, appearing in television ads encouraging visitors to keep their plans to visit Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.

Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band will be joined in the Gulf Shores concert on Thursday, July 1, by such headliners as county music superstar Kenny Chesney and the popular Zac Brown Band, among others. The concert is being presented by Country Music Television (CMT) and is being billed as “CMT Presents Jimmy Buffett and Friends Live from the Alabama Gulf Coast.” Tickets are free, but are limited. They are available on a first-come, first-served basis through Ticketmaster, beginning tomorrow morning, June 23, at 10 a.m. CT. Limit is four tickets per person. Organizers are expecting attendance around 35,000 people. Gates will open at 3 p.m. and the concert will begin at 5 p.m. Visit CMT online for more information and links.

The Alabama Tourism Department hopes this is just the spark folks need to come down early for the concert and spend the entire holiday weekend at Alabama’s coast. If people want to help the Gulf Coast, says Alabama Tourism director Lee Sentell, the best and easiest thing they can do is simply vacation there. The businesses need your dollars, he says.