When World Cafe Live severed ties with The Queen last year, it seemed like an ominous sign that things just weren’t working for downtown.
World Cafe Live’s president, Hal Real, was quoted in the News Journal saying that “revitalization has just not been strong enough and fast enough to support our robust 7-day/week WCL model.” It felt like downtown was about to take several steps back as a cool destination.
Then came the news that Live Nation, the country’s largest live entertainment company, was taking over.
It was an exciting prospect, and a big deal when it was announced. A year on, Live Nation is supporting the city, not just by holding events at The Queen, but by supporting existing events in the city — events that are shaping the city, including two of its biggest: The People’s Festival Tribute to Bob Marley and The Ladybug Festival.
It was an act of nature that first brought the People’s Festival to The Queen. The festival has long established itself as a premier reggae and world beats music festival, giving Delawareans a sense of pride that Bob Marley once lived here. In 2017, not long after Live Nation took it over, torrential rains threatened to cancel the event for the first time in 24 years.
“I said, ‘That’s not happening,'” said Genoveva Pitts, the festival’s founder. Determined not to cancel, organizers explored options to bring it indoors. The suggestion of The Queen seemed like a long shot two days before the event, but they made the call. “It was pretty quickly that we got a call back, and they said yes,” said Pitts. “The rest is history.”
This year, the People’s Festival was planned to be held in and around The Queen from the start, moving from Tubman-Garret Park to Market Street for a downtown street festival with lots of music both indoors and out — all for free.
Compare that to the $35–$75 ticket prices from 2017, and the festival has become more accessible and, potentially, even more a part of downtown’s fabric.
The localized approach may be unexpected for a giant corporation, but it’s helped Live Nation become successful in its many markets.
“As we got closer to the contract being finalized and were starting to game-plan what [the Wilmington] market was going to look like, we looked at how we could best support things that are going on in the community,” said Live Nation’s Trenton Banks, the general manager of The Queen. “Whenever we go into a city and start a new venue in a city where we don’t have a presence, it’s just leaving ourselves open to any opportunities that really come about.”
Gayle Dillman, cofounder of Gable Music Ventures, whose Ladybug Festival is the younger, rapidly growing summer festival that pays tribute to female artists, has worked with The Queen since it was under World Cafe Live management. When they held their Wilmo Rock Circus at World Cafe Live at The Queen, there were no rental fees.
“They were open and generous to us,” said Dillman. But its “clubhouse for musicians” model turned out to be unsustainable.
With Live Nation, it’s more business than clubhouse.
“When Live Nation took it over, there certainly were some transitions,” said Dillman. “They’re a big company, they need to run their business. It’s an expensive building. They’re more particular about opening the doors.”
Ladybug seemed like the right event to allow people to experience The Queen as part of the local community. Live Nation agreed.
“It’s really through their generosity and their willingness to establish Wilmington as a really strong market for music that has let us do something like this,” said Dillman. “It’s pretty amazing and it’s pretty incredible. And it’s also reflective of Wilmington. We are a unique community. We’re close knit, we all know each other, we work together — or try to — and I think this shows that Live Nation is willing to be a partner and really wants to embrace the community.”
One event Live Nation is bringing to Wilmington is Local Brews, Local Grooves on Sept. 29, featuring Delaware breweries and live local music. It’s an event that’s held in cities all over the country.
“We asked ourselves if we wanted to reach out to Philadelphia [breweries],” said Banks. “The answer was no.”
Instead, they decided to focus only on beers brewed in Delaware. It’s what a local Wilmington company would do.
Want to help Live Nation celebrate its first birthday in Wilmington? They’re having a one-year anniversary event featuring G. Love on July 20.
The 2018 People’s Festival will be held on July 28. Click here for more info.
The 2018 Ladybug Festival will take place on July 20 and 21 in Wilmington, and Sept. 22 in Milford. Click here for more info.-30-