Our town clearly loves music—especially live music. Weekly, Greenfield Lake Amphitheater (voted Best Music Venue >600 in encore’s annual readers’ poll) packs folks of all walks of life, all summer long—and, yes, this includes kids. My 15-month-old already has been to more concerts than I had been to in the first 25 years of my life—and it has a lot to do with living in Wilmington.
“I used to spend my summers following Phish and the remaining members of The Grateful Dead around the country,” says Tony McEwen, assistant to the city manager for legislative and intergovernmental affairs for the City of Wilmington. The self-proclaimed Dead Head brings his own kids to GLA shows often as well.
“I’ve been to almost every venue you can imagine—Red Rocks and the like—and Greenfield Lake Amphitheater is one of my favorites in the entire nation,” he continues. “Not just because it’s in our backyard . . . . I mean, how many venues are on a swamp and people can pull up with kayaks? [And] we have really top-notch musicians willing to come here and play for a smaller audience than they typically could. Case in point: Lukas Nelson.”
While ILM may have a ways to go before it’s another Nashville, Asheville or Austin, Wilmington is becoming a music mecca along the southeast coast. At least, according to McEwen, we’re taking the right steps.
“Obviously we’ve got this northern Riverfront Park that’s going to be opening later next year,” he continues. “Then we’re just going to blast off with this new venue.”
Aside from hosting big names, benefit concerts also embed music appreciation in the community. Saturday’s Jam to Help the Kids at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater is one of them. In collaboration with Mayor Bill Saffo, McEwen has organized the second annual jam to benefit NourishNC’s Summer Break Box program and United Way of Cape Fear Area children’s programs.
United Way of the Cape Fear is a City of Wilmington employee-driven campaign. A few years ago McEwen was approached to coordinate fundraising efforts. “I guess I’m good at bugging people or something,” he quips. “So I thought, Why don’t we do something a little bit different to bring the community into this? ”
No stranger to combining passion for music within other endeavors, the UNCW graduate had organized similar fundraisers at downtown’s Ice House for environmental nonprofits 15-plus years ago. Engaging the community in a positive way remains at the forefront.
“My dream is to have the two concerts we did last year kind of exist in perpetuity, and one was Jam to Help the Kids,” he says. “And the other is Port City Jerry Day for the United Way on August 17.”
Hosted by City of Wilmington and sponsored by Wrightsville Beach Brewery, Jam to Help the Kids features three bands: Wavy Train, who plays originals among covers of The Grateful Dead, Phish, and Talking Heads. Bluegrass band The Casserole also will take the stage. Finally, Wilmington’s Coastal Collective will play a reunion show. A few weeks back, the hip-hop, jazz and electronica fusion band released a promo video featuring frontman Jared Sales freestyling in Mayor Saffo’s office in City Hall.
“I believe hip-hop should be a transfer of knowledge and positive energy,” Sales says. The MC worked with McEwen and Saffo on the city’s hurricane relief concert, which raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. “I believe we both have the right intention when it comes to entertainment, love, positivity, education and enforcing the community vibe is on the forefront of our list.”
The Coastal Collective went on hiatus last year so everyone could “level up” in their respective fields of music studies. Keyboardist Cameron Tinklenberg just got his graduate diploma in Toronto last week; alto sax player Sean Meade earned a masters at Berklee College of Music—Valencia, Spain; drummer Mike D’Angelo is getting his PhD at University of Colorado Boulder since leaving his UNCW post as a jazz teacher; and soprano player Rhiannon Dewey is in Boulder earning a masters.
“Tristan Burns, our tenor player, has been in Savannah, Georgia, growing in his craft and playing the scene out there,” Sales continues, “and I have been in Wilmington deejaying and hosting events—playing about four times a week and holding down the local scene.”
While apart The Coastal Collective have continued to work on new music from their respective parts of the world. They’ll debut some at the upcoming reunion show and play from their EP, “The Revolution Awaits.”
“Everyone has grown so much on each respective instrument, and I can’t wait to hear it firsthand,” Sales excites. “Having all jazz majors in a band with a hip-hop artist is a lot of fun. You can expect to hear a range of hip-hop and jazz-influenced tunes.”
While Saturday’s show is a free concert to benefit programs that support Wilmington area children, it’s not a concert strictly catering to kids. Though, they are welcome as always.
“There’s always kids at concerts there, which is unique about that venue,” McEwen says. “Though, there will be more kids at this than your average concert, obviously. . . . But adults shouldn’t expect there to be bouncy houses. [laughs]”
Because of a generous contribution from Intracoastal Realty, McEwen and company have reached their initial fundraising goal. Therefore, Jam to Help the Kids is free to attend with donations accepted at the door. Folks can bring cash or card donations, or nonperishable food donations for D.R. Horton Home’s food drive for NourishNC.
“We’re encouraging people to get there when the doors open,” McEwen suggests. “Because if our hurricane relief concert was any indication—when it’s a free event like that—people tend to be even more generous at the door, but it also fills up pretty quick.”