Harrison County

Prepare for record crowds at Black Spring Break 2018. And no, the name is not changing.

Spring breakers cross U. S. 90 at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum to attend Biloxi Black Beach Weekend on Saturday, April 11, 2015.
Spring breakers cross U. S. 90 at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum to attend Biloxi Black Beach Weekend on Saturday, April 11, 2015. Sun Herald File

It’s supposed to be a “three-day event on the grounds of the Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center,” but it’s more than that. Way more than that.

It is Black Spring Break, and in 2017 it brought about 60,000 to 70,000 visitors to the Coast, creating traffic jams for miles and miles and sold-out hotel rooms as far west as Slidell.

With a concert that includes A-listers like Lil’ Wayne, 2Chainz and Rick Ross, festival organizers predict it’s going to be bigger than ever, possibly attracting people in the range of six digits. If that’s the case, what’s going to be different about Black Spring Break 2018?

And no, the event’s promoters are not changing the name.

What is Black Spring Break?

Black Spring Break, also known as Biloxi Black Beach Weekend, runs April 13-15, with most of the events taking place on Saturday, April 14. The biggest event on Saturday is the Gulf Coast Spring Fest concert at the Coliseum. There’s a twerk contest on Friday night and car show on Saturday, but the Saturday night concert is still the weekend’s biggest draw. The concert is an independent event.

Black Spring Break is promoted by Maurice Bryant and Derrian Burns.

“We promote the ‘Twerk Fest’ and we promote the car and bike show and that’s two big days right there,” Burns said. “This is our fifth year to do it.”

Expect it to be ‘bigger’

For Biloxi Police Chief John Miller, Black Spring Break is something that requires advanced planning. Miller and Biloxi officials started meeting and discussing the 2018 event before the dust had even settled on the 2017 festival.

“We cannot and will not have a repeat of what was experienced,” said Biloxi Mayor Andrew ‘FoFo” Gilich at the Biloxi City Council meeting that followed the 2017 event.

But Miller is realistic in his expectations.

“You’re trying to fit 70,000 vehicles into a place that holds 7,000 people, and we just don’t have the infrastructure for it,” he said. “And I really expect it to be bigger than last year.”

Lanes closed on US 90

If it is bigger than last year, that could mean more than 100,000 additional visitors to the Coast — and the traffic that comes with it.

“We have additional officers and personnel and we’ve been planning for a year, but we’re going to hear from some people regardless of what our plan is,” he said.

To help with the flow, especially for emergency vehicles, Miller’s plan will reduce U.S. 90 traffic along the beach down to one eastbound lane and one westbound lane on Friday and Saturday. The other lane in each direction would be restricted to police, fire and ambulance, extending 6 miles in each direction from the I-110 on-ramp near the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino to the Gulfport line at DeBuys Road.

“I know this isn’t going to reduce the number of vehicles in the congested area, but it will allow us to move emergency vehicles should we need to — I know it’s going to be an inconvenience, but I’m willing to bet it will be better to have one lane of moving traffic than two lanes not moving at all.”

The concert

Last year’s Gulf Coast Spring Fest was the top draw of 2017 for the arena, bringing in almost $1 million in ticket sales. At $816,072 , the concert featuring Migos and other hip hop artists doubled the ticket revenue of the venue’s second largest show in 2017 — country artist Thomas Rhett, which pulled in $416,099.

Burns and Bryant only help promote the annual Saturday night concert. The liability falls on We Do It Entertainment, which means We Do It puts up any up front money and makes sure the artists get their guarantees. Coliseum officials said the show had sold more than 100 tickets before the 2018 lineup was announced.

Since the lineup was released on social media, ticket sales have been swift, prompting many to think 2018 attendance numbers will be up.

Both Coliseum officials and associates of We Do It insist Spring Fest is not a part of Black Spring Break and it is an independent event. However, in its four years of existence, it has always taken place during the Saturday night of the spring break festivities.

But if the capacity for the show is about 11,000, where do the other spring breakers go?

Other activities?

Miller said most of the attendees of the three-day event are contained in area of about one mile along Highway 90. He said he would like to see other activities pop up along the Coast.

“The Coliseum does a lot to promote the events on the Coliseum grounds, but I would love to see some more promoters come in and plan some additional activities that were more spread out along the Coast,” Miller. “The promoters keep comparing their event to Crusin’ The Coast but in reality, Cruisin’ takes place over a week and it extends from Waveland to Pascagoula — this event is nothing like that.”

An additional event was planned during the 2017 spring break but it was a logistical disaster.

Spring Break Explosion was a concert booked at MGM Park on April 7 — the Friday of Black Spring Break. It was not promoted by Bryant or Burns. It was promoted by Splash Life Booking and Ade Kemp. In short, only about 300 people turned up to the show and artists on the bill such as Kodak Black and Lil’ Uzi Vert were no-shows.

Former Saints linebacker Junior Galette was one of the show’s investors. He was arrested at MGM Park after a scuffle with the promoters. He has since filed a lawsuit against Kemp.

The name is not changing

Although the event at the Coliseum is a success, the promoters say that Black Spring Break gets a bad reputation with the media and community.

“I think that knocking down a lane of traffic, some people perceive that as the city doesn’t want the guests that are coming,” Bryant said. “I don’t think the city is against the event because they know the money it brings, but the venting of traffic means that customers won’t be able to get to the businesses — this thing brings in a lot of people, you can ride down the beach every day and not see hardly any people. Spring Break sells out hotels and brings a lot of people to the Coast who are spending money here. Other cities embrace urban events like this.”

Miller said the traffic plan has nothing to do with the spring breakers.

“This has absolutely nothing to do with that,” he said. “Our job is to respond to the situation at hand and the situation is 70,000 people filling into a mile stretch along the beach — if Cruisin’ The Coast or Mardi Gras created this kind of traffic, we would certainly adjust our plan for it. This is about responding to the situation at hand.”

And the name Black Spring Break or Biloxi Black Weekend, Bryant said, makes many uncomfortable.

“It’s an urban event — we hear it all the time, ‘Why don’t we have a white spring break?’ That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard in my life,” he said. It’s like changing the name of Black History Month or not calling an historically black university an historically black university — it’s open to everyone,” Bryant said. “But at the end of the day, even if you change the name, you’re not going to change the culture.”