Something steamy has been heating up our area in 2011: a palpable magnetism of timbres and sounds, and the pattering of dancing feet, air guitaring and sing-along crowds. Wilmington, NC, is finally catching up with what its citizens have desired for so long: a fully encompassed music scene.
For 16 years, 12 of which working for encore, I have felt that tinge of something—like Wilmington had its finger on the pulse, as if on the verge of … something. Now, it’s finally evolving. For so long, we’ve had our share of local bands and a few venues carrying the scene on their shoulders with limited support. We’ve seen acts like The Rosebuds and Love Language “make it,” with a few others garnering minute fame. It’s not because Wilmington lacks talented players by any means. Thankfully, in the past five years, we’ve moved beyond the old, because the times, well, they are a changin’.
Matt Keen, owner of Gravity Records, also sees the growth. “There are more local bands coming out to each other’s shows and supporting one another online in promoting events,” he says. “More local bands seem to be gathering around their local record store (not the case 10 years ago), which has traditionally been how most other cities and their artists behave. More and more venues have been receptive to local bands performing, and that has been huge in the local music scene.”
Alongside the growth of local band camaraderie at venues like Soapbox, The Whiskey and Reggie’s 42nd Street has been the influx of promoters taking on larger acts and actually having a place to book them. The opening of Greenfield Lake Amphitheater, Brooklyn Arts Center, not to mention the use of Battleship Park, has made all the difference. IBX Promotions has booked national acts, as has The Penguin’s Beau Gunn, who is no stranger to the protocol. He’s sold-out concerts like Bob Weir and Old Crow Medicine Show in town.
“There has been an upsurge of talented promoters, who are willing to risk a little bit to further expand the culture of live music within our community,” Gunn credits, himself included. That officials are understanding the impact of monies brought to the community from concerts is also appealing. For years, Wilmingtonians have had to travel to Myrtle Beach’s House of Blues or Raleigh’s Cat’s Cradle and Walnut Creek to see bigger bands. Thus, it actually sent money outside of our local economy. When we continue to get larger shows in our own backyard, it expands opportunity, including local bands who have a chance to open for larger acts. Hence, it’s a win-win for everyone.
“I would like to see the City of Wilmington ease up some of their strict policies regarding the rental agreements on some of the larger potential venues, like Legion Stadium and Civic Center,” Gunn continues. “From there, we would see an increase in larger acts to our community.”
Living in an appealing area, where the beach and historic downtown beckons artistic swagger, in essence growth of everything, from an audience to promoters to bands, will demand betterment. To Kevin Rhodes, drummer for Onward, Soldiers, founder of Winoca Records and head of WinocaFest—which is bringing Gillian Welch to Wilmington in three weeks—it’s inevitable. “All these factors combine to make for the rise of art and culture,” he says. “It’s important to note that culturally rich areas thrive economically. Read ‘The Rise of the Creative Class’ [by Richard Florida].”