For Gable Music Ventures, the company behind the Ladybug Music Festival and many other live music events in Delaware, the COVID-19 shutdown was an unimaginable turn of events.
Like other businesses in the creative economy that rely on gatherings of people, its leaders couldn’t switch to takeout or simply transition to work-from-home.
But they did adapt. A YouTube channel that had been rarely used came to life with music industry advice and livestream music events. A Paycheck Protection Program loan helped them stay afloat, but the real game-changer was when Chase signed the company on to help create the recently launched G.O.A.T (GET OUT AROUND TOWN) campaign.
At the time, multiple organizations were approaching the bank with ideas for economic recovery projects in Wilmington. Instead of handing out funding to individual projects, Chase pulled together different organizations, including Gable, INWilmington, Out & About and It’s Time Wilmington, for a cohesive campaign with a clear marketing strategy. The focus? Outdoor events in the city.
“We’ve come together to add a method to the madness,” Gable cofounder Gayle Dillman told Technical.ly. “It’s part of a longer-term strategy to help build a creative community for Wilmington. It’s not just about what’s going on this summer, it’s all about keeping this energy going in the creative economy and how important it is.”
As part of the G.O.A.T. Campaign, the Gable team is booking multiple shows per week in New Castle County.
“We were only asked to book two things a week, but there’s money in the budget to do a lot more,” said Gable cofounder Jeremy Hebbel, who says he’s lost count of how many bookings he’s done since G.O.A.T. began. “We’re doing every Friday and Saturday at Maker’s Alley, we’re doing every Friday and Saturday at Blue Earl in Smyrna, Rockford Park on Mondays, Concord, The Sugar Bowl, Glasgow, Smyrna concert series, Riverfront concert series — we’re having a blast.”
They remain aware that, while restrictions have eased to allow a busy summer of live music, COVID-19 hasn’t disappeared. This year’s events are smaller, and distancing remains a consideration. Smyrna at Night, which last year was a virtual streaming event, won’t be downtown when it returns on Aug. 28. Instead, it will be held in the 30-acre municipal park, where attendees can spread out.
“What hasn’t come back yet, and won’t come back until next year, are the really big events in the way that they looked before,” Dillman said. “For the Ladybug Festival, we’re not going to have a big event downtown, but we’re going to do a couple of smaller things the week of July 12 to 17, which we’re branding Music by Women Week. We’re also targeting a date in August to do something similar to what we did a couple of years ago with the Ladybug Crawl, with multiple venues and artists over the course of one evening.”
"I think we have a very unique time in front of us in Wilmington where we can create experiences for people that either may not have been available or they wouldn't have known about before."
The downstate Ladybug Festival in Milford is still in talks for 2021. If it happens, expect to see it some time in October.
Even as they look forward toward 2022 and the return of the full-sized Ladybug Festival, the Gable team — which now includes Nathalie Antonov, Danielle Johnson and Amy Bish doing online content creation — doesn’t plan to go back to the way things were entirely.
“It’s been a challenge to navigate these waters and it continues to be a challenge because it’s not over yet,” Dillman said. “It’s like there’s this cloud that we see, and we wonder, is it going to form a big storm or is it just going to blow by? There’s an uncertainty to everything we’re doing and everything we’re planning. That’s made us look differently at how to do business. We’ve got a number of hats that we’re wearing now.”
Video will continue to play a part, including as part of live shows.
“The big thing about what Gable is doing right now is balance,” Dillman said. “We’re doing online things as well, so we have our YouTube and we’re working on putting together larger events for next year. Events like Field Jam and Friday Night Lights will hopefully come back next year, but we’re going to structure ourselves moving forward to where we’re going to strive to have a live component that is enhanced by a virtual component to reach out to an international audience.”
For now, the G.O.A.T. collaboration is the focus, and Dillman sees it as not only long-term, but potentially putting Delaware on the map as a place people come to for the arts — and not just for Ladybug and Dover’s Firefly Music Festival.
“I think we have a very unique time in front of us in Wilmington where we can create experiences for people that either may not have been available or they wouldn’t have known about before,” Dillman said. “It’s regenerating the creative economy, which ultimately fuels everything else. You can’t have a business economy without a creative economy. I think this is a very big step toward making Wilmington a very unique place to be.”
“We have been graced with a spotlight on us through Biden,” she said. “We’ve become very attractive to other people coming through, so we have the opportunity to shine and give people reasons to continue to come to Wilmington, and give them a reason to come back.”-30-