Wilmington’s entertainment venues are attracting bigger acts, putting the city on the map for major headliners and the crowds that follow.
With the Wilmington City Council’s approval, Live Nation, which manages the city-owned Live Oak Bank Pavilion, has expanded to 30 shows a year, up from 20 previously.
At the city’s Hugh Morton Amphitheater at Greenfield Lake, organizers are planning for the largest number of shows this year, with 40 planned thus far.
Live Oak Bank Pavilion and Greenfield Lake Amphitheater also have expanded their variety.
“Between both venues, we al-ready have shows that have been announced that feature [alternative] rock, funk, reggae, indie rock, country, Mexican acoustic guitar, and other genre-blending acts,” said Amy Beatty, the city’s community services director.
In addition, Live Nation recently secured large touring acts that have long been unusual for the size of Wilmington’s market, such as Phish and Dave Matthews Band.
“Phish can sell out a three-night run at Madison Square Garden, so Live Nation booking them here is
a big deal for Wilmington,” Beatty said. “It speaks to the popularity of the venue among artists that have played at Live Oak Bank and rein-forces the investment the city made in the venue.”
Demand has been strong for the larger names this season. Lawn seats for Dave Matthews Band, for ex-ample, sold out during presale and general sale times within minutes last month, with resale tickets going for $100 for lawn seats and more than twice that for seated areas.
While Live Oak Bank Pavilion has become popular, the smaller Green-field Lake Amphitheater continues to attract artists.
“It has ripple effects that extend to Greenfield, already a sought-after venue among artists because of its atmosphere” Beatty explained.
Both venues’ draw has a positive effect on the city’s bottom line.
In 2022, Live Nation held 22 concerts and sold about 111,000 tickets, resulting in nearly $222,000 in direct revenues to the city in addition to the $200,000 in annual fixed rent received. Total attendance for all events (hosted by the city, independent parties and Live Nation) was about 147,000 last year, an increase of 22,000 over 2021. Revenue increased by 57%, with the total collected top-ping $472,000, according to Beatty.
“Attendance both in 2021 and 2022 exceeded expectations, leading to multiple sellouts throughout the season,” Beatty said. “Word has quickly spread throughout the industry that Wilmington is [a] desirable place to play and interest from musicians to tour here is strong.”
The effects spill over to the workforce as well, as Beatty shared that the operation of the performance venue resulted in 620 new, local jobs created during the first concert season in 2021. That’s in addition to 385 Live Nation employees, ranging from entry-level positions to profession-al-level, and 235 contracted vendors.
Businesses in the surrounding downtown area are benefiting from the large crowds the venues attract.
“The ability of concertgoers to spend the evening downtown at a bar or restaurant both before and after events has been so beneficial to local businesses,” Beatty said. “Anecdotally, business owners downtown, and especially hotel operators, have expressed their pleasure for the foot traffic being generated by the events at Live Oak Bank Pavilion.”
Greenfield Lake Amphitheater creates seasonal jobs for the facility itself, according to Beau Gunn, with The Penguin radio station, general manager of Local Daily Media and talent buyer for the Greenfield Lake Amphitheater concerts. It also creates a ripple effect for the area.
“It of course has a much larger impact on the surrounding businesses like restaurants, hotels, and nightlife. In years past roughly 35% of concertgoers were from out-of-town zip codes. Multiply that by the number of shows we host each year, and the economic impact is quite large,” Gunn said.
Rising interest has created new logistical hurdles. Downtown, dealing with large audiences is compounded by the construction of apartments adjacent to the Live Oak Bank Pavilion, which will demand a keener sense of crowd management.
“We continue to focus on how to make customers’ experience the safest and most enjoyable it can be. Ongoing construction of the Metropolitan, the residential development being built right next to the main pedestrian entrance to the park, will require intense coordination this summer to ensure adequate ingress and egress is maintained,” Beatty said.
While the city decides how many shows the venues may host, Live Nation is solely responsible for scheduling the acts at Live Oak Bank Pavilion. The factors that affect why the acts were chosen include travel logistics associated with touring acts and understanding what will sell well based on consumer demands.
For Greenfield Lake, Gunn has a team of talent buyers who actively reach out to artist agents to make sure they know Wilmington and its venues are an option.
“Most of the acts that end up get-ting confirmed at GLA are routed in the Southeast through their agents,” Gunn said. “We seek out other artists and hope that we can convince them to add us to their routing.”
Gunn said Greenfield Lake Amphitheater’s unique size and atmosphere offer artists a great opportunity.
“It can act as a stepping stone for artists on the rise or can act as the right size venue for artists whose fan base has consolidated over the years,” Gunn said. “More than that though, I think it has a special mystique and magic about it that artists and fans recognize.”