Shining A Light On Light Up The Queen

Michelle Kramer-Fitzgerald

Area musicians pay tribute to 1969 while raising funds for arts education


O
n Saturday, March 2, at 8 p.m., Light Up the Queen raises the curtain on the eighth edition of its largest fundraiser, the area’s ultimate rock super-show, Shine a Light.

The concert has been one of Greater Wilmington’s most popular events since its inception in 2011.

Indeed, it has grown with every iteration. It generates impressive audience numbers as well as thousands of dollars for its parent organization, Light Up The Queen Foundation (LUQ), a non-profit dedicated to the revival of the Queen Theater and to preserving arts education for area children, young adults and residents.

Each year, Shine a Light® taps a Who’s Who of Delaware’s music scene—some 50 artists, all of whom donate their time—to fill the Queen’s majestic stage in a rollicking, joyous, hours-long performance that rivals any Springsteen run time. (One year, my hubby and I left midway through to grab a snack across the street and still got back before the last song.)

This year will see a new theme and new personnel. Well-known (and loved) Delaware musician Tony Cappella steps in as Shine a Light’s Music Committee chair. Cappella is one of the busiest guys in Delaware, guest appearing and/or playing in multiple bands, including his newest, The Stone Shakers.

Tony Cappella (right) , performing with Mike Petrillo last year, is Music Committee chair this year. Photo Joe del Tufo

His first official move this year was to tap local musicians Joe Trainor and Nick Bucci as the show’s co-music directors. Trainor’s focus is on arrangements and overall performance, and Bucci’s is guitar structure and chord inversions.

“These two guys are perfectionists; they’ll make sure the performance is accurate and clean,” Cappella says. They’ve also added a few new players this year and hope to bring more young artists into the show for the future.

“The key factors to this show are commitment and being able to play Johnny Cash, then Earth, Wind and Fire accurately with the right feel,” says Cappella. That and, “…when you join up, your Sundays become the property of Shine A Light from January until March.”

Given all the long hours and hard work, the entire endeavor is a popular and meaningful one for the musicians, many of whom have participated since the first year. It’s an opportunity to support their community through music, but it’s also become an annual reunion of sorts. Trainor muses, “For musicians, if the [WSTW] Homey Awards are Delaware’s music ‘prom,’ this is music homecoming.”

Rehearsal began in earnest in mid-January, and Cappella says, “From the first note, it sounded great,” he says. “These musicians were like race horses at the gate, ready to bust out!”

“It always strikes me how genuinely happy everyone is to see one another when we get together, and how close everyone’s gotten over the years,” adds singer Kerry Kristine McElrone.

Party like It’s 1969
Per tradition, this year’s performance has a theme — the music (and associated nostalgia) of 1969. While they trip out to the tunes of the time, attendees can harken back to memories of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon; The Gap opening its first store in San Francisco; and the premiere of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

For the music, you think of the marquee names: The Beatles (absolutely), Elvis (of course), The Stones (a given), and The Doors, Bowie, Sly & the Family Stone. But one of the great things about this all-ages show is that this crew also unearths some long-forgotten gems. Could we also hear tunes from The Archies, Neil Diamond, Tom Jones, Dusty Springfield and/or John Denver?

Half the fun is trying to guess what’s next on the uber-secret set list—a surprise that’s locked up tighter than a national security brief.

So, why the choice of 1969? “The year was such a prolific one for music in many ways,” says Cappella. “Jimi Hendrix, Glenn Campbell, Johnny Cash, Philly soul…so many fantastic artists to pick from. And who could forget August 1969—400,000 fans, a dairy farm and legendary music!”

Cappella also notes this year will have a bit more emphasis on female vocalists—those who’ve appeared onstage in the past as well as some new faces. “1969 gave us a ton of great female artists that we’ll certainly highlight,” he says.

Michael Davis was among the 50 performers at the 2018 show. Photo Joe del Tufo

Music Benefits Music
For all its romp and rock, the essence of Shine a Light really is about “music helping music.”

The Light Up the Queen Foundation was originally created with the goal of raising funds for restoration of Wilmington’s historic Queen Theater. Now, LUQ has shifted its focus, developing community partnerships and providing high-impact arts education for Wilmington residents.

“Shine A Light has always been one of the most exciting and successful fundraising events in the city,” says new LUQ Executive Director Sarah Koon. “Yet many are still unaware of the great work the Foundation has been doing.”

Board Chair Tom Williams agrees that awareness is an ongoing process.  “If you look at the early years, hardly anyone made the connection [between Shine a Light and Light Up The Queen Foundation]. Every year it gets better, but [the connection] needs to be done subtly,” he says.

“We keep the rock ‘n roll vibe at the forefront and don’t beat people over the head about our cause, but we’re really looking on Shine a Light as the springboard to increase our profile in the community and expand our programming reach.”

LUQ’s notable programs include their in-school arts residencies, the Boysie Lowry Living Jazz Residency, On Screen/In Person film series and Smart Arts!, interactive music events geared for Pre-K to 4th Graders. With residencies and Smart Arts!, the Foundation partners with organizations like the Delaware Institute for the Arts in Education and the Mid Atlantic Jazz Touring Network to provide content to schools that lack arts education funding as well as to city populations without regular access to music and art.

In recent years, the organization has placed more emphasis on its outreach programs and mission, and Williams believes that has paid off.

“Many of our sponsors have been with us from the beginning, and we appreciate that loyalty and commitment. This year, we’re happy to announce that, for the first time, we have a presenting sponsor in Chase Bank.”

Other sponsors include Today Media, Out & About, SirSpeedy, The Bancorp, The Hotel du Pont, Buccini/Pollin Group, Tonic, MySherpa, Williams, Humphreys & Co., MG+M The Law Firm, APS, Twin Lakes Brewery, NüPoint Marketing, Heritage Concrete and Rockford Tavern.

While it may not have always been top-of-mind with attendees, Light Up the Queen Foundation and its mission have been part of the show’s culture from the beginning, both onstage and behind the scenes. The Shine a Light Committee includes four LUQ board members, and two LUQ board members are regular Shine a Light musicians.

“To be sure, everyone [the musicians] knows why we’re here and what we’re about,” says McElrone.

“I want folks to get a good feel for what Light Up The Queen Foundation does,” Cappella says of his goals for show night. “And, of course walk out of the show saying, ‘Damn! That was fantastic and so much fun.’”

“Ultimately, we just want to share our excitement about the Foundation’s work with our Shine A Light concertgoers,” says Koon. “After all, it’s because of our sponsors and donors that we’re able to do the work we’re doing.” Koons points out that proceeds from Shine A Light ticket sales directly benefit LUQ’s programming costs which, in turn, support arts and music education and, ultimately, the Wilmington arts economy at large.   

What goals are ahead for LUQ in 2019? “Well, there are three,” Williams says. “We‘ve already achieved our first—hiring of our first full-time executive director in Sarah. Our second is to expand our footprint in Wilmington with new and existing outreach programs. Our third is to develop and present a second fundraising event to complement Shine a Light. We expect big things to come!”

Koon concurs. Her goals are to refine current programs and pilot fresh ones; increase efficiency and ensure best use of funding; begin creation of a new mission statement and a rebrand of the organization. “And, plan several new fundraising events. So, Shine A Light fans: Keep your ears open for more events to enjoy and new ways to give back.”

A Sneak Peek Into The Light
So while we can’t reveal the set list or every performer who’ll grace the stage, here are a few things you should know about Shine a Light on ’69:

The event is an assured sellout every year, so don’t wait to grab your spot. General admission tickets are $60 now at queenwilmington.org. There are a limited number of VIP tickets available, and the VIP experience is a truly splendid one. It includes celebrity chef-created and student-produced cuisine, an open bar with signature cocktails, front-row pit access and a sweeping and impressive balcony view (with seating) of the unforgettable night.

Koon notes that their culinary partner, The CROP Foundation, is key to the event and the VIP experience. CROP’s mission is to foster educational and employment opportunities for students who are driven to study and promote the art, science and soul of food. “We’re thrilled to have The CROP Foundation return to be featured this year,” she says. “Their students will be led by a renowned chef in creating artistic and delectable dining options for our VIP ticketholders.”

Williams says there also will be alumni of the Boysie Lowery Living Jazz Residency on hand entertaining VIP guests pre-show, and LUQ board members emcee-ing the VIP experience, detailing the Foundation’s programs and the “why” of the event.

Also, the $250 VIP ticket price entitles holders to a $125 tax-deductible donation to the Light Up The Queen Foundation.

“I’m looking forward to hearing the music surrounded by good people who’ve come together to have a wild night for a good cause,” says Koon.

Williams agrees. “What am I looking forward to that night? Same as every year: Attending the coolest rock ‘n roll show with 1,100 of my closest friends.”

“For me, it’s most exciting getting together with everyone again —rehearsing the tunes, watching the show grow into a dynamic night for a wonderful cause,” says Cappella. “But walking onstage to a full house is the best rush ever. I can’t wait to do it all again!”

One of Wilmington’s most popular events, Shine A Light on 1969 takes place Saturday, March 2 at The Queen. To get tickets and more information, go to: https://lightupthequeen.org/shinealight/

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