Changing of the Guard

Michelle Kramer-Fitzgerald

Delaware leaders help welcome world’s largest producer of live music concerts to Wilmington

Dylan, Bowie, Sam Cooke and Sheryl Crow all sang about change—the need for it, the inevitability of it, how it will “do you good.” Now, an exciting change has come to Wilmington with The Queen’s new caretakers, Live Nation, a live-events company based in Beverly Hills, Calif., whose website boasts that “somewhere in the world, there is a Live Nation event every 20 minutes.”

On June 14, a healthy mix of musicians, music fans, neighbors, politicians, non-profits and business leaders crowded the 500 block of Market Street to help welcome the new owners. Celebratory sounds from the Wild Bohemians brass band filled the air and three stoic “British guards” stood at attention onstage. (I caught Gov. John Carney trying to converse with one of the guards, to little avail, as she embraced her role.)

The excitement was palpable, especially after an enthusiastic welcome from Buccini/Pollin Group Co-President Chris Buccini and rousing words from Gov. Carney and Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki. Live Nation’s executive vice president for clubs and theaters, Michael Grozier, then stepped to the podium, channeling the Pointer Sisters with his first words to Wilmington. “I’m so excited, and I just can’t hide it!” he shouted.

Live Nation’s Regional President Geoff Gordon (who previously oversaw bookings at Wilmington’s own Kahunaville) joined him to launch a gigantic burst of confetti onto Market Street and usher in a new chapter for The Queen and her city.

“The bones of this building are just fantastic,” Grozier said when I asked about his first walk-through. “And we feel that we’ve got the resources that can build upon that.”

Inside, most of the grand edifice will remain, as will a few familiar faces (e.g., former World Cafe Live talent buyer Christiana LaBuz has moved to the Live Nation team to continue in that role), but there’s also plenty evidence of what will be built with Live Nation’s “toolbox.”

Gathering at the soft opening were (L to R): Jazzi Hall, operations supervisor for The Queen; new General Manager Trenton Banks; Jason Bray, Live Nation Philadelphia Market general manager, and Angela Depersia, operations manager for the Queen. (Photo by Joe del Tufo)

Gathering at the soft opening were (L to R): Jazzi Hall, operations supervisor for The Queen; new General Manager Trenton Banks; Jason Bray, Live Nation Philadelphia Market general manager, and Angela Depersia, operations manager for the Queen. (Photo by Joe del Tufo)

New Bar by Thanksgiving

Guests were greeted by sleek architectural renderings of the new front bar and box office, which Buccini hopes to have completed by Thanksgiving. Walls and hallways were adorned with large music/pop culture-inspired, neon-tinged installations by artists Louis St. Lewis and Nate Sheaffer. Posters touted some of the shows that have already been booked, including Cheap Trick, The Alarm and comedian Jim Breuer as well as longtime local favorites Ben LeRoy and The Snap and Montana Wildaxe.

“From a talent perspective, our plan is to bring in a mix spanning all genres,” said Jon Hampton, Live Nation’s senior vice president for talent. “I expect us to book close to 100 shows annually, keeping the venue active and ensuring the calendar offers something for everyone.”

Grozier concurred: “We hope to bring over 100,000 people downtown for the best in international, national, regional and local talent—in all forms for all members of the community.” It seems that our new neighbor wants to celebrate the local scene as much as endorse Wilmington as a place to draw big-name acts.

“The level of financial, social and emotional investment in this city is amazing,” Grozier said, noting the enthusiasm he’s seen from surrounding businesses and residents alike. “We want to be sure to honor that.”

Community engagement will surely be part of the responsibilities of Trenton Banks, the new general manager of The Queen. Banks—now a downtown Wilmingtonian along with wife Jaclyn and their two young sons—has been busy discovering the surroundings of his new gig.

“We’ve definitely been exploring,” he said. They’ve traveled along Market Street, down to the Riverfront, and have made visits to La Fia and Chelsea Tavern. “As a [new] Wilmington resident, I’m excited to meet fellow residents and support neighboring businesses,” Banks said.

He seems enamored with his new venue and what it offers. “It’s such a gorgeous, spacious building, the possibilities are endless,” he said. “There is underutilized space; we’ll look at how best to serve the needs of the community as we get up and running.”

Banks and Live Nation have plans for concerts, special events and local nights. He noted the addition of the bar inside the corner of 5th and Market, which he envisions as a great enhancement to the neighborhood on both show and off nights, since it will be accessible to both concertgoers and the public.

Shine a Light to Return

Banks said that Live Nation’s involvement will encompass the larger community. “We’re 100 percent committed to supporting and advocating for local arts and community initiatives, and plan to be an active partner,” he said. In fact, at the June 14 event, the team confirmed Saturday, March 3, as the return of Shine a Light, the annual fundraising concert for the Light Up the Queen Foundation. Banks also announced a July 23 job fair for local staffing at all levels.

Asked how the community can support in return, he said, “We only ask that you come out to shows, embrace live music and give us your feedback and ideas so we can work to deliver a world-class venue in the heart of Wilmington.”

Buccini/Pollin Group’s overall vision for The Queen seems to align well with Live Nation’s plans. “Our goal is to fully maximize this space and the music experience in downtown Wilmington, but also to create a more varied talent base—everything from music to comedy,” said Buccini. “Live Nation has the ability to make that happen for us.”

Smiling, he added, “Wilmington is growing up.”

Later, I walked back to my car at 6th and Shipley and noticed a band of blue confetti had migrated there. I smiled myself, hoping it was a symbol of the burgeoning excitement, liveliness and transformation that will benefit all parts of Wilmington.

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