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Christmas Time (is Here Again):

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Wilmington Unplugged: A Beatles Christmas
Featuring a host of local performers
The Whiskey • 1 S. Front Street
December 7th, 7 p.m. – 11 p.m.

2010 has been a charmed year for Wilmington Unplugged. As one of the area’s most popular and organic promotional brands, its monthly and quarterly concert series saw musical talent and fan attendance reach new heights. Taking the monthly installation that had been in place for several years and adding a quarterly—and sometimes more frequent—“super concert,“ organizer Billy Mellon solidified his series as one of the most music-friendly in the area.

“I was able to expand to the ‘super unplugged’ concept I had dreamed up, which was taking the most polished performers from the monthly and putting them in a true ‘listening room,’ with an enthusiastic audience on a quarterly schedule,” Mellon says.  “Those ‘super’ successes allowed me the opportunity to lure regional acts to the area, [like] Rayland Baxter, Gabriel Kelley, Deadstring Brothers, Rachael Sage, Southern Trails Tour, and support them with great local musicians and a fantastic supporting group of listeners. All the artists live to play in front of those types of crowds.”

Unlike open mics or other forms of performer-led jams, Unplugged is a well-designed, pre-planned concert series with line-ups decided well in advance. Not a musician himself, Mellon approaches the shows as a promoter, constructing each event with a final product in mind. The format has given the series structure while allowing the feel from the performers and audiences to ebb and flow. The result is an identity that music lovers in the area have come to expect.

“The consistency of the product has to be the major attribute to the ‘success,’” he says. “I’ve been getting better attendance from an older crowd who enjoy entertainment, and I think there are some people who, for some reason, trust my musical taste. There are many repeat attendees, which is always helpful. The talent level has risen, too. Where I would normally have two great performances on a night, now they seem to all be fantastic.”

This month Mellon pairs two concepts that have worked in previous Unpluggeds: a music theme and a charitable cause. Just like last year’s holiday extravaganza, the cover charge for the December 7th event will be canned goods, which go to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina. While Mellon has helped raise money for various organizations, he says holiday philanthropy seemed best suited to help combat hunger. Add to it a theme that asks all participants to perform Beatles’ songs, and the show will certainly be a raucous and spirited end to 2010.

“From time to time, it’s nice to have themed nights,” Mellon says. “I thought the Beatles would be attractive to a lot of the listening folks, and I thought the performers probably know at least one of [the band’s] songs. Themed nights seem to be cohesive. Who knows, we might be in for several impromptu collaborations and many sing-alongs, at the very least.”

Already many performers have signed on including Lincoln Morris, John Fonvielle, Big Al Hal, Sean Thomas Gerard and Jeff Reid. Unplugged’s continuous influx of talent is something Mellon looks forward to expanding in 2011, too.

“I hope to continue to build the brand and encourage more people to perform and support the idea of our local scene,” he says.  “It’d be nice to get the place packed all the time, maybe do more ‘supers’ and then one day, maybe Bonnaroo. The sky’s the limit—at least until we run out of oxygen.”

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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