By Jim Roberts

The small staff at the Virginia Beach Neptune Festival is gearing up for a number of large events the last weekend in September: the Neptune Festival Art & Craft Show, the 49th Annual Boardwalk Weekend, and the Neptune Festival Grand Parade, among others.

But first, they will host the Coastal Craft Beer Festival on Aug. 26 and the Fall Wine Festival on Sept. 16 and 17. Those two events serve as major fund-raisers to keep most of the later events free. (The ever-popular International Sandsculpting Championship, for example, still charges a $7 admission.)

“We rely on ticket sales from events like our beer and wine festivals,” said Melanie Gazzolo, who started as an intern at the Neptune Festival in 2005 and is now the director of marketing. “That helps to make things at Boardwalk Weekend—all of the live concerts and all that kind of good stuff—free for everyone who wants to come down to it.”

This year’s beer festival will feature nearly 30 breweries—half from Hampton Roads. The wine festival will feature 14 wineries—all from Virginia. Both events will include live music and food trucks.

What sets the Neptune Festival’s events apart from other local beer and wine festivals is the venue: 31st Street Park. 

“We’re just so lucky to have the incredible beach and the ocean right at our fingertips,” Gazzolo said. “Having the events right under the King Neptune statue that the Neptune Festival helped create—it’s just icing on the cake.”

The beer and wine festivals also cap out at 1,200 attendees, which can feel intimate compared to other events, like the spring and fall wine festivals at Town Point in Norfolk. “You see a lot more interaction with the brewers and a lot more interaction with the winemakers,” Gazzolo said. “They have a little bit more of a chance to talk one on one with some of the people that are there on site.”

The smallness also applies to the Neptune Festival staff that works the two events. 

“We have just eight full-time employees,” Gazzolo said. “Everything else is really volunteer based. So anyone you see at our festivals—all of our ticket-takers and wrist-banders and all that good stuff—they’re all volunteers. We’re a non-profit organization. We’re small but mighty.”

Edie Banatt has volunteered for Neptune Festival events—including the beer and wine festivals—for 16 years. “Each and every one of them is a little different,” she said. “The music’s always great. The company, the volunteers are great. … It’s just a fun day. I look forward to being out there with them. I really miss it in the wintertime.”

While the staff and volunteers don’t get to partake in the beer and wine, they do celebrate at the end of each festival.

“It’s always fun toward the end of the day,” Gazzolo said. “We get to go line up behind the band and just watch everyone dancing and having a really good time. That’s what makes all of us feel good about what we’re doing. Everyone’s having a great time and smiling and enjoying each other’s company, and that’s very rewarding. … It just feels really good. You feel rejuvenated about the area and all the people who are there and just having a great time.”

The 8th annual Coastal Craft Beer Festival will take place from 1 to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 26 at 31st Street Park in Virginia Beach. Ticket prices start at $45. The 26th annual Fall Wine Festival will take place from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 16 and 17 at 31st Street Park in Virginia Beach. Ticket prices start at $40, and VIP tables are available for $380 and up. For tickets or more information—or to volunteer—visit: