Sand Blast: A World of Hurtado in AP

It’s Sand Blast Weekend in Asbury Park — and “Reality TV Bad Boy” Austin Armacost of Logo Network’s THE A-LIST NEW YORK is the special guest poolside during the Riptide Pool Party and Sand Blast Tea Dance, Sunday at the Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel.

When we finally managed to catch up to Brad Hurtado, and right in the middle of some detail-intensive preparations for Sand Blast Weekend in Asbury Park, the subject was drapes — what kind, what color, how best to festoon the decks of the newish Aqua Restaurant & Bar so’s to create a more self-contained environment for Friday night’s flagship party.

After a full decade of successful Road Trip Weekend extravaganzas — a slate of multi-day Gay and Lesbian themed parties, dances, concerts, tours, streetfairs and tournaments that have served more than any other annual event to rebuild, rebrand and ready the salty old city for the new century — the Road has reached the end of the line. Not out of any diminished level of interest — and not, as some might speculate, because gas is four bucks a gallon — but because, as Hurtado suggests, the event that was Road Trip has done its job here on earth. In other words, those drapes might just as logically be replaced by a Dubya-era MISSION ACCOMPLISHED banner.

Emmy winning TV producer Brad Hurtado has expanded the super-successful Sand Blast beach dance into the centerpiece and rebranded identity of the event formerly known as Road Trip Weekend.

“Road Trip originated with the idea of promoting Asbury Park as a gay destination,” says Hurtado, a volunteer with the event marketing committee from the outset, and the weekend’s sole producer for its last two years.

Hurtado, who credits vanguard gay-wave pioneer Michael Liberatore and others for mapping out the phenomenon that would become Road Trip Weekend (“I just followed where other people were pointing”), explains how this seemingly happy-go-lucky hullabaloo of hi-octane hedonism was infused from the start with a real sense of purpose — an aim toward drawing together a community, and rescuing a still-beautiful city that had been all but blotted out from the Rand McNally.

“The idea was that you’d invite your friends from out of town to stay in your guest room that weekend…friends who might invest in Asbury Park; buy a house, start a business.”

This of course was back in the early phases of the city’s recent renaissance, when a leading-edge wave of gay investment — sparked by a few well-placed articles and a whole lot of visionary thinking — began to reclaim some of the town’s grand old homes from saggy-floored squalor; carve out destination shops and boites in the dingiest corners of downtown; transform moldering motels and other mersh properties in ways that seem almost more “surreal estate” than real.

“The message that was being put out was that you could come down here and buy a house for $70,000 before everyone else gets here,” Hurtado recalls. “Suddenly those houses were going for $280,000, then $540,000 and beyond.”

“At some point we all kind of decided that we weren’t going to go down to Belmar anymore; that we would make the Fifth Avenue beach ours right here in Asbury…the best spot in town, right by Convention Hall; a really cool place where you could walk down the boardwalk holding hands.”

Just as the most epic road trips and quests tend to pick up extra passengers and new converts along the way, it didn’t take long for the Road Trip event to grow exponentially into a full weekend — adding a Friday night Lost At Sea party in 2002; taking over the cavernous Grand Arcade space in its third year; gaining big-ticket sponsorships and the cooperation of boardwalk developer Madison Marquette; booking RuPaul and other celebs for guest appearances and crucial party-hosting duties.

Proof of Asbury Park’s having “arrived” (in a field that features Fire Island, Miami and other well-established haunts) was made manifest with Sand Blast’s nomination by as Best Beach Party of the Year — and Road Trip’s nomination in 2010 as Best New Circuit Weekend, as well as (nothing to sneeze at in this economic climate) Best Value.

So yes, mission accomplished to a great extent on that front — but, as Hurtado sees it, that in and of itself is scarcely any reason to break up the party. In fact, Sand Blast Weekend is a thing that can be viewed through the prism of celebration — a celebration of community and cooperation; to say nothing of beats and booze and beachy pleasures, and the eternal promise of that Hottie waiting just round the next portable vodka bar.

While some components of the schedule have been trial-and-errored into the dustbin (the discontinued Gay History Trolley Tours; the downtown bears ‘n bikers Street Festival), perhaps the most successful addition to the weekend was a relatively recent one — the 2008 debut of Sand Blast, the Brad-concepted beachtop hop that would quickly become the centerpiece event (and, as of 2011, the bearer of the brand).

“The Sand Blast Dance has put it over the top for most people,” says Hurtado of the open-air, ocean’s-edge workout that plants a full-size dance floor and state of the art sound system just a crabwalk from the Atlantic surf. “You’ve got the sun in your face, the waves crashing behind you, great music, and a whole lot of people having fun on a bouncy dance floor.”

“This isn’t the thunka-thunka-thunka of a midnight event…in the daytime you want to hear pop songs you know; put your hands in the air and go I LOVE THIS SONG!”

Top-shelf DJs Corey Craig, Susan Levine, Joe Gauthreaux, Roland Belmares and Vito Fun work the spiral scratch at various events in the Sand Blast Weekend, July 22-24 in Asbury Park.

Here in the maiden year of the rebranded event, the Sand Blast Dance has relocated to the Sixth Avenue Beach on the north side “frontier” of the Convention Hall complex — a move that didn’t come without its own set of reservations.

“You can’t just tell us to move to the ‘ugly’ side of the building,” says Hurtado of his initial talks with the city. “But the city has been terrific throughout the whole process — the Mayor, (Councilman) John Loffredo, the police, Public Works, everybody.”

“They leveled off the North Beach surface where it had a pronounced slope, since we need a nice level area for our dance floor. Now people are playing volleyball there!”

That impromptu V-ball court will play a keynote role in the weekend’s festivities on Friday morning, as “the hottest gay volleyball players on the east coast” compete in free exhibition open play and host free clinics for those looking to sharpen up and/or show off their skills on the sands. It’s an offering that takes over from the “Gay Dodgeball” tourney of a few years back, and, as Hurtado, points out, not the only new feature under the sun.

“We’ll be having a 60 foot, two-lane Slip ‘N Slide for the first time,” he says with evident glee. “Because there’s nothing like a cute gay boy in a Speedo sliding by with a drink in his hand.”

There’s also an effort at “bringing all the places around the city together” in a more organic fashion than with past attempts at coordinating time-intensive ancillary events in the downtown and boardwalk areas. That means a general open-ended invitation to explore the city’s shops, theaters, and restaurants at one’s own pace; take in a performance of Xanadu at the Carousel House or Cirque Ziva at the Paramount; hit the herringboned hardwoods of the boardwalk for anything from a vintage pinball game to a psychic reading at Madam Marie’s.

At the heart of the Sand Blast Weekend is the soundtrack to the slate of tea dances, pool parties, beach rave-ups, fashion shows, burlesque bump-‘n-grinds and afterburns — a nuanced, multi-genre card of top-shelf DJs who were “cast” by Hurtado with the expert assistance of Mark Nelson (of F Word fame in NYC, as well as Gay Day at Six Flags) and Alex Breitman (of Miami’s huge Winter Party). It’s an allstar lineup of spiral scratch artistes that includes returning superstar Corey Craig (at Convention Hall’s Beach Bar during Friday night’s Lost At Sea bash); Rich King (at Aqua Bar during that same event); Max Rodriguez (at Friday’s Shipwrecked afterparty); Guy Smith (Friday’s Beats & Booze 70s Disco Bowling Nite at Asbury Lanes); Susan Levine (Saturday’s Siren of the Sea pool party at the Hotel Tides); Joe Gauthreaux and David Marc (at Saturday’s Sand Blast); Michael Formika Jones (Saturday’s Gutter Ball afterparty at the Lanes); Roland Belmares and Steve Sidewalk (Sunday’s Riptide Pool Party at the Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel) and DJ Vito Fun closing out the weekend at the Berkeley’s Sunday evening Tea Dance.

All of this is in addition to the live music by Shore-based Christine Martucci at the Tides, and the Saturday slink by Philly’s own Peek-A-Boo Revue at the Lanes, that atom-age retro rec room turned biggest Burlesquerie this side of Coney Island.

But wait, there’s more — order in the next ten minutes and you’ll get a chance to party poolside at the Berk with none other than Austin Armacost, “Reality TV Bad Boy” and one of the “housewives” of Logo network’s The A List: New York. With the second-season premiere of the series (a show for which Hurtado is editor) set to air this coming Monday, July 25, the A-Lister is reportedly looking forward to “being in a place where real people can have an easy going good time.”

“I’m so excited about coming to the Riptide Pool Party at Sand Blast with my husband Jake Lees,” said Armacost (currently in the midst of planning a lavish New York wedding ceremony) in a press release. “After going through a TON of DRAMA already for Season 2, I’m ready to have a great time dancing, playing and getting loose with all the hot guys there.”

All drama aside, there’s a TON of useful information and deep-dish detail on the weekend’s event breakdown — including women’s events, tix/passes, lodgings, sponsors, directions and Asbury side-trip tips — up for the looking on the Sand Blast website.