Wilmington bands talk about opening of Riverfront Park Amphitheater concert
If things turn out the way they should, a half-dozen bands and comedians from Wilmington will perform to the biggest crowd of their careers on July 4th.
It was then that the brand new headquarters of 7,200 Riverfront Park Amphitheater on the Northside of downtown Wilmington will open to the public for the first time. Admission is free, and as part of an inaugural celebration hosted by the City of Wilmington, five local bands and two Port City comedians will perform between 1 p.m. and 8 p.m. in the Must-See Venue, which is managed for the city by entertainment company Live Nation.
One of those acts will be the Benny Hill Trio. The combo is led by saxophonist Hill, a Wilmington native who graduated from New Hanover High School in 1989 and the Music Department at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington in 1994, and saw the city’s music scene at both go up and down over the years.
“It is truly an honor” to be selected for the show, said Hill. “I’m just a native of Wilmington and just saw the changes, I mean I remember driving on Oleander (Drive) and it was all wooded.”
Hill said his father was one of the construction workers who helped build Independence Mall, so he’s happy to follow in his father’s footsteps in helping to open what is destined to become another Wilmington landmark. .
Photo gallery:Wilmington’s Independence Mall over the years
To mark the occasion, Hill said, he will do something a little different.
“Normally I do traditional jazz,” Hill said.
But with guitarist Taylor Lee and drummer Jon Hill, Benny Hill said he plans to deliver jazz fused with rock as they put their own twist on tracks from everyone from Michael Jackson to Nirvana.
Hill has hinted that his trio might have a special guest vocalist for a song or two: Jared Sales, whose event band The Coastal Collective is also playing, which will be hosted by Brandon “Bigg B” Hickman and Sandra “The Midday Miss. “McClammy of Wilmington WMNX Coast radio station 97.3 FM.
“I am incredibly happy,” said Sales, who thanked the city for donating a place to The Coastal Collective.
“They reached out to us and said, ‘We want to have diverse music,’” Sales said. “Wilmington is a diverse population, and the music doesn’t always reflect that. It would have been easy for them to put all of America into it.”
“I’m just glad they gave the first crack to local bands,” he added.
The Coastal Collective mixes genres such as jazz, hip-hop and R&B, and Sales said they would add a few members for the show to create a group of at least 11 musicians. He will also invite special guests like the rapper from Wilmington Louis. and frontman Daniel Barrett of the band Unity, as well as Benny Hill and members of the reggae band Signal Fire, who also perform the concert.
Beyond the July 4 eruption, Sales said he was interested to see how the location is changing downtown.
With thousands of people coming for every show, it’s inevitable.
“The city center seems less busy than it has been in a long time, and it’s crazy,” said Sales, adding that small businesses have closed and sites have closed, both before and after COVID. “The city center needed this.”
“The hotels are going to be full. People are going to flood the downtown area,” he said. “I just wish this happened two years ago before we lost all of our sites.”
Ideally, Sales said, the amphitheater could further rejuvenate the local scene and lead to new venues in Wilmington by convincing “people to be less afraid of getting into the music business.”
Eric Miller, whose country / bluegrass / Americana band L Shape Lot has been around for almost 20 years and also participates in the event, said he believes the amphitheater “will do only good things” for the stage and the local economy.
“The more people in town who are music lovers, the better,” said Miller, who is also familiar to local music fans as a DJ on the popular Penguin radio station, 98.3 FM. He added that some people who come to town to see the larger groups will inevitably know more about the Wilmington groups.
“The way I’ve always looked at it is ‘One Fan at a Time’,” Miller said, adding that something as big as the amphitheater has the potential to build that base.
Also on view in the amphitheater on July 4 are two former Port City Top Comic contest winners, Matt White and Timmy Sherrill.
“This will be my first time in front of something this big for sure,” said Sherrill, a stand-up comedy veteran. “I think it’s a good thing for this city.
Sherrill is also known as one of the owners of Wilmington’s Dead Crow comedy venue, which is slated to reopen in a new location later this summer. Two of the comics slated to play at the Amphitheater later this year actually played their first concerts in Wilmington at Dead Crow (Jim Gaffigan) and its predecessor, the Nutt Street Comedy Room (Trevor Noah).
The first act to go on the stage of the amphitheater? This honor will go to the Omni Percussion Ensemble, which features a mix of dance and percussion from around the world, including Africa, Cuba, the Middle East and Brazil.
“The cast is really excited about this,” said Omni founder Ron Wilson. “It’s the whole interest of the group, to present percussions from all over the world.”
Sales said that after July 4, “I don’t see a ton of local actors coming up” to perform on the amphitheater stage. Eventually, however, he said he would like to see the venue fill its schedule with events featuring local artists, much like the Red Hat Amphitheater, which is also run by Live Nation, in Raleigh.
Either way, the amphitheater is sure to continue to make Wilmington an entertainment destination.
“Once the acts start to happen, people are going to realize how important this is,” Benny Hill said. “It’s going to be monumental. You always had to go somewhere to see concerts: Raleigh, Charlotte, the House of Blues in Myrtle Beach. We never got the big guys.
“Now we can just buy a ticket and go downtown … To see that happen here, it’s amazing.”
Contact John Staton at 910-343-2343 or [email protected]
Want to go?
What: Riverfront Park Amphitheater Grand Opening Celebration
When: 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday July 4
Or: Riverfront Park Amphitheater, 10 Cowan Street, Wilmington
Info: Free, no ticket required. The park will be closed for fireworks in downtown Wilmington at 9 p.m. on July 4.
Details: 910-341-7855 or WilmingtonNC.gov/juillet4th
- 1:00 p.m. Doors open
- 2 p.m. Omni Percussions Ensemble
- 2:10 p.m. Benny Hill Band (jazz, fusion)
- 2:50 p.m. Matt White (comedy)
- 3:20 p.m. The Coastal Collective (hip-hop, jazz, R&B)
- 4 p.m. Timmy Sherrill (comedy)
- 4.30 p.m. Signal Fire (reggae, rock)
- 5:40 p.m. L Shape Lot (folk, country, bluegrass, Americana)
- 8 p.m. Doors close