More shows, more diversity? Calls for variety increase as concert season approaches

Indie rock, jam bands, and country music make up the majority of shows playing Wilmington, leaving people asking what it will take to bring a wider range of music to town.
Who gets to pick the music? It’s a question that has caused plenty of arguments from house parties to road trips—but what about who picks the music that comes t
Published: Jan. 19, 2023 at 3:07 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – Who gets to pick the music? It’s a question that has caused plenty of arguments from house parties to road trips—but what about who picks the music that comes to Wilmington’s music venues?

With two city-owned venues operated by Live Nation, Wilmington is quickly becoming a popular destination for music lovers.

The Live Oak Bank Pavilion and Greenfield Lake Amphitheater attract some big acts, and as the music scene grows in southeastern North Carolina there are questions when it comes to the bands that decide to make a stop in the Port City.

The logistics behind booking a concert aren’t as simple as asking a band to play your city. Conflicting dates, geographical location, weather, and the cost to get a particular artist to somewhere like Wilmington take a lot of effort to sort out.

Still, some folks in Wilmington are asking about bringing a more diverse range of acts to places like the Live Oak Bank Pavilion.

Wilmington City Councilman Kevin Spears said he’s been asked about the majority of the shows that are booked. Spears said he’s seeing a lot of country music and indie rock, and he’d like to see the concert calendar include more genres to appeal to more people.

“There are a lot of citizens in our, in our city, and ultimately, surrounding areas who are wondering, you know, what’s going on with all this country music?” Spears said. “There is a lack of diversity in the in the concerts that are being had here.”

Live Oak Bank Pavilion at Riverfront Park welcomed visitors for the first time in 2021 after facing setbacks and delays due to cost increases, COVID-19, and supply chain shortages. Over the past two concert seasons, Spears said he’s seen a trend with the types of music and bands being booked in Wilmington.

“It’s overwhelmingly country or in Indie Rock,” he said.

When reached for a statement, a spokesperson for the Live Oak Bank Pavilion said the venue has hosted shows of all genres and Live Nation is already planning more shows this coming year—which can help bring even more acts.

“We are gearing up for a memorable summer concert season in Wilmington. In 2022, we brought a diverse lineup of shows to the venue including rock, pop, R&B, soul, Indie rock, country, opera and more. In 2023, we are increasing our show count, and this will allow us to offer fans a variety of shows. We’ve already announced country, rock and reggae shows, with more shows to be announced in the coming weeks. We look forward to another exciting summer concert season,” according to the statement.

The concert calendar did indeed include these genres, and classifying music can be tricky because musicians often span genres, but Spears and others agree the lineups weren’t balanced in terms of the types of acts playing.

Both country music and indie rock are popular genres, and the concerts in Wilmington sell tickets, but heading into the third concert season there is a sentiment that people want to see more diversity in genres.

Spears worries that, if these shows cater towards just a few groups of people, then the venue itself might be written off by people.

“You don’t want people to start saying, well, Live Oak Pavilion is not for us… How long has been two years where you just see the certain same type of acts repeatedly? And then people start feeling a certain way,” he said.

Disappointment in the past season’s lineups doesn’t mean these things can’t be corrected. Program Director of Coast 93.7 Brandon Hickman, better known as ‘Bigg B’, along with others who spoke on the topic, aren’t upset these bands are playing Wilmington. Instead, they say the successes are a positive for Wilmington, and want to make sure the city sees more diversity with the bands that play here.

“I think they’ve had some amazing shows. It’s an amazing venue, but I don’t think it’s totally been all-inclusive,” Hickman said.

“If you love country music, you love country music. If you love bluegrass, you love it. But there’s also jazz, there’s also blues, there’s also R&B, there’s go-go, there’s rock, you know, like rock, rock… you want to kind of spread the wealth,” Hickman said.

A city venue, a private company

Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo helped lead the efforts to construct the park and amphitheater and he says so far the venue has exceeded expectations, but he too wants to see even more bands hit the stages here in Wilmington.

“I would like to see a variety of different music, and a diverse variety of music that comes to the area, I think it’s important for the community because we all don’t listen to the same music,” he said.

Wilmington taxpayers paid for the bulk of the Riverfront Park project and amphitheater, but concert operations are run by Live Nation. That means when it comes to booking shows, Wilmington doesn’t have a final say, but Saffo said that doesn’t mean they can’t work with Live Nation to make the amphitheater more inclusive for everyone.

“We’ve got a pretty good thing going here is just a matter of us making certain that we get all the types of music that we want here so it’s definitely something that we’ll be broaching with Live Nation… they’ve been very, very open about I’m having open dialogue with us about different things and this is just one of the things that we want to do,” Saffo said.

The agreement with Live Nation is still relatively new, as is the Live Oak Bank Pavilion. Saffo said now that things are up and running, he’s hopeful Wilmington will see more acts attracting a wider audience.

“Every year we learn something different, something that’s going to be challenging to us. This is something that I definitely think that we need to have some additional commentary on, and I would welcome people to send me that so I can share with Live Nation,” he said.

The Live Oak Bank Pavilion isn’t the only game in town; Greenfield Lake Amphitheater has attracted bands for years and has a history of bringing in some big acts as well — but Slack questions whether Live Nation’s selections are a holdover from past performances in Wilmington and knowing what sells.

“I feel like traditionally, the concerts that have come to Wilmington, since I’ve been here, and even before certain promoters get a lot of feel like influence on what shows come to town. And I feel like there’s that audience expectation that maybe from Live Nation, they feel like those are the only kind of concerts they can bring,” he said.

With any business, the goal is to make money and selling tickets to shows you know there is an audience for makes sense. Both Slack and Hickman agree if more mainstream rock bands, hip-hop, R&B, Jazz, Blues or any mix of them came to town, they’d sell.

“There’s a huge audience for it. It’s just a shame that they don’t come down here a lot of times that we have to send people to rally to go to those shows,” Slack said.

The economic impact of the Live Oak Bank Pavilion has been significant, Saffo said, but the chance to capture even more entertainment revenue is there.

“It really does show that you know, more people are coming here to Wilmington in general that live here. And they want to spend their entertainment dollars here and in the area,” Modern Rock 98.7 morning show host Randy Slack said.

As a radio station, 98.7 often gives away tickets to concerts for the bands they play on air, but Slack said that means sending listeners out of town to places like Raleigh and Charlotte.

“It’s great that we give away tickets to all the shows at Coastal credit union Music Park at PNC, and Raleigh and all the different venues in Raleigh… but it would be great to see more of like our bands that we have, that we’re playing a ton of that our listeners it’d be great to see more of those bands here in town,” he said.

As far as working with the community to decide what acts to bring, Slack and Hickman said they haven’t had much input — but they’d be happy to contribute their knowledge of the bands they think would sell well.

“I wish we were included, I wish we were included in some of the conversations because sometimes again, bring a little bit a different light to what is popular,” Hickman said.

There’s general agreement that having these conversations will be an important step in bringing a more diverse lineup to Wilmington, and it’s something everyone said they’re excited to see happen moving forward.

“This will be a plus going forward, where we, you know, we initiate those conversations and hopefully, we, hopefully we create the change that people want to see,” Spears said.

Who do you want to see?

To emphasize the desire to see more diversity, WECT asked each person we interviewed who they would want to see here — some were similar but all of them wanted to see something new to town.

Bigg B: Let’s put Jill Scott and Erykah Badu together on stage here in Wilmington, to show that urban is just not hip hop. Urban is R&B it’s jazz and it’s blues. And we can just drop it right here on stage and folks of all genres will come and see the scene shows.

Mayor Saffo: “Without a doubt, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, that’s my number one band been a huge fan of them for years. I know if they came, we would sell out.”

Randy Slack: My first choice is, would definitely be Royal Blood. I’d love to get Royal Blood in town. I’d love to get Turnstile. If you haven’t seen turnstile — if you haven’t heard of Turnstile you have to check them out.

Councilman Spears: Erykah Badu or J Cole.