Rockin’ the First State

Eight summer festivals—six of them in Wilmington—celebrate the performing arts from now until September

Delaware—and Wilmington in particular—has a long tradition of festivals lauding the performing arts and an impressive musical heritage that includes such iconic artists as Bob Marley and Clifford Brown, who both performed and lived in the city. Festivals began to spring up years ago in tribute to such artists, and in recent years the festival tradition has expanded, most notably to the state capital, where Firefly has become one of the major celebrations on the East Coast.

Firefly is one of the highlights for June, along with the DuPont Clifford Brown Jazz Festival, which marks its 30th anniversary. Founded by city Acting Director of Cultural Affairs Tina Betz, it was originally called Jazzin’ In the Square and was an idea she convinced then-mayor Dan Frawley to pursue. He agreed—as long as she could raise the funds. The idea met with much naysaying, but Betz pushed forward almost single-handedly, and Clifford Brown is now the largest free jazz festival on the East Coast.

“Each year that I have had the privilege to curate the Jazz Festival, my guiding philosophy has been to let the art form breathe rather than keeping it in a closed, airtight box that is sealed by what some call ‘tradition,’” says Betz.

“I’m not knocking tradition, but to survive, remain relevant and fresh, jazz music, as do all the arts, cannot be stifled by the boundaries of ‘this is the way it should be done,’ but needs to be allowed to evolve and to explore and give a platform to the vast and diverse contributions of artists—both young and established.”

In the spirit of such perseverance and originality, here are eight music festivals that will once again rock the First State this summer: 

Backyard Bash

Friday, June 1; 6-10 p.m.

Delaware Art Museum

2301 Kentmere Parkway, Wilmington

delart.org

The museum’s annual outdoor event returns with more sound, food, art and fun. The event features local musicians, food trucks from Rolling Revolution, family-friendly art activities, face-painting, arts vendors and lawn games. Guests are welcome to set up their own chairs or blankets in the Copeland Sculpture Garden. Tickets are $5 for members, $10 for non-members, free for youth members (ages 10 and under) and $5 for youth non-members.

Bromberg’s Big Noise Music Festival

Friday and Saturday, June 8-9

Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park

815 Justison St., Wilmington

bignoisefestival.com

Bromberg’s Big Noise is a Mid-Atlantic music celebration on the Riverfront. The intimate festival gives off a private party vibe without the usual large crowds. A wide selection of food and beverage options will be on hand, as well as artisan vendors from all over the country. Musicians include Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Los Lobos and more – plus event namesake David Bromberg & the Big Band, of course.

Firefly Music Festival

Thursday-Sunday, June 14-17

The Woodlands of Dover International Speedway

1131 N. Dupont Highway, Dover

fireflyfestival.com

This iconic annual festival will rock the Woodlands for the seventh year.

This year such superstars as Eminem, The Killers, Kendrick Lamar and others are scheduled to perform. The festival attracts tens of thousands of festival-goers and has become a summertime tradition for many. Patrons can support charity by helping fundraise with some cool rewards. For instance: Raise $750 and meet a Firefly artist; raise $1,250 and receive two free general admission tickets to the festival; raise $2,500 and receive two free VIP passes.

For more information on ticket prices, lodging, and transportation options, see the website.

The DuPont Clifford Brown Jazz Festival

Sunday, June 17-June 24

Rodney Square

1000 N. Market St., Wilmington

cliffordbrownjazzfest.org

Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, the Clifford Brown Jazz Festival has been a Rodney Square tradition that highlights exceptional jazz music and has grown into the largest free jazz festival on the East Coast.

The festival honors Clifford Brown, a native Wilmington jazz trumpeter who was tragically killed in a traffic accident in 1956 when he was only 25. The festival, which aims to keep Brown’s legacy alive, showcases a stellar lineup of artists who pay tribute to Brown as well as jazz music.

Artists include The Lao Tizer Band featuring Chieli Minucci, Eric Marienthal and Karen Briggs, Sammy Miller and The Congregation, Sidewalk Chalk and more.

Shady Grove Music Festival

Saturday, July 15; 11 a.m.

2126 The Hwy, Arden

shadygrovemusicfest.com

Originating in 2002 as a festival that featured mainly up-and-coming national rock bands, this has evolved into a music fest designed to promote local, original talent from the tristate area. This year’s lineup is not yet announced, but it undoubtedly will be stocked with talent.

This rain or shine festival is family friendly (but leave the pups at home). Attendees should bring a lawn chair or blanket. Food and beverages will be available for purchase, and proceeds will benefit the Arden Club’s Gild Hall restoration fund.

The Ladybug Music Festival

Friday and Saturday, July 20-21 • Downtown Wilmington

Saturday, Sept. 22 • Downtown Milford

theladybugfestival.com

Gable Music Ventures’ free “Celebration of Women in Music” is back for the seventh year. The successful female-fronted festival has jumped from 300 attendees in 2012 to 10,000 last year. And women aren’t taking the lead only on stage – in 2017 approximately 70 percent of event staff was female, including sound engineers and stage managers.

Among the dozens of performers, headliners include Nalani and Sarina on Friday, and on Saturday, Lauren Ruth Ward, Grace Vonderkuhn, Hoochi Coochi, and Angela Sheik. Friday night stages will be set up outside The Lofts at 2nd & LOMA, and Saturday the festival will be on the 500 block of Market Street.

Additionally, Gable Music Ventures and Downtown Milford, Inc. have come together to bring The Ladybug Festival to Milford on Saturday, Sept. 22. See the website for updates.

Peoples’ Festival 4Peace Tribute to Bob Marley

Saturday, July 28; 1-10 p.m.

The Queen Theater

500 N. Market St., Wilmington

peoplesfestival.com

This one-day, indoor-outdoor music festival is a tribute to Bob Marley and the virtues he believed in: peace, love and unity. The 24th annual event will take place both outside The Queen Theater as a free street festival, and inside the theater for a ticketed price. Headliners will perform inside. For the lineup, visit the website.

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