Beaufort News

Organizers of a popular Beaufort sandbar concert step away after fatal boat crash

Organizers of a rocking, summer sandbar party are stepping away from the event they created after a recent fatal boat crash involving alcohol.

The Beaufort sandbar concert has been a hit since it debuted in 2016. Falling on the same day as the Beaufort Water Festival’s annual concert held in Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park, though not affiliated with the festival, hundreds crowd the sandbar in the Beaufort River not far from downtown to hear country artist Pat Cooper perform.

The event has grown to include numerous sponsors. River revelers and boats with flags waving surrounding Cooper on a floating barge have served as a backdrop for the Nashville singer’s music videos.

Though the event is expected to go on as planned July 13, the friends who hatched the idea several years ago will no longer be involved in hosting after a fatal boat crash near Parris Island in February that killed Hampton teenager Mallory Beach. The boating death played a part in the decision, said Blake Gruel, who formed the concert with Jarrett Owens and Chris Waters.

“You just never know,” Gruel said. “It was a good three years. We’re just three average Joes, and we can’t afford for anything like that to happen.”

Additionally, Gruel noted that Owens will be out of town for the summer, and the event’s growth the past three years has made for a growing time commitment to put on the event. But Gruel’s announcement on Facebook this week made clear the decision to step away was “with all due respect to the recent event and tragedy that has occurred within our Beaufort community.”

Police have said all those aboard the boat had been drinking before the crash. A 20-year-old man, Paul Murdaugh, is charged with three counts of boating under the influence related to the incident.

Beach’s mother is suing members of the Murdaugh family, a local convenience store and downtown restaurant, alleging each provided alcohol to the underage boaters before the crash.

Gruel said that, with no tickets or alcohol sales, he didn’t feel concert organizers would be liable in the event of a similar tragedy, but the friends didn’t want to take a chance.

In a post on the concert’s Facebook page, Cooper said he respected the decision but that the event would go on as planned and that sponsorship opportunities are available.

“With that being said, let’s all have a great time on the sandbar while also remembering to be safe and responsible!” Cooper wrote. “We cannot wait to be out there with all of you again for the fourth year in a row playing country music in the Lowcountry!”