Not to be outdone by Dover and Harrington, Smyrna has joined the Kent County ranks of hosting musical talent and drawing big crowds in the process.
The town’s Smyrna at Night initiative continues tonight with a three-band show at the Smyrna Opera House.
Headlining is the Pittsburgh-based “Pioneers of Swagger Rock” group Lovebettie. Opening will be Australian pop rockers goodbyemotel and Smyrna’s own blues and soul band Richard Carl Band.
Smyrna at Night began last June on the weekend after Dover’s Firefly Music Festival, with 14 bands playing throughout the town, culminating with Lovebettie’s show at the opera house.
“Firefly really opened some eyes on how much of an economic impact having a music festival can have on a town,” said Jeremy Hebbel, co-owner of Wilmington-based Gable Music Ventures, an event planning and talent booking company.
Gable consulted with Wilmington’s Strongpoint Marketing and the town of Smyrna to put on the first installment, which saw bands perform in venues such as Painted Stave Distilling, Sheridan’s Irish Pub and Odd Fellows Cafe, along with an outdoor stage.
“We threw it all together in about six weeks,” Mr. Hebbel said.
Despite the tight planning window, the festival, which featured a wide variety of musical genres and food choices, was an instant hit.
“We were blown away,” said Mr. Hebbel, who co-owns Gable Music Ventures with Gayle Dillman.
“The estimate was about 1,600 people but I would bet it was more like 2,000. Everyone worked to pull it off and there was this huge grass-roots effort to make it happen.”
The June festival was loosely based on Gable’s Ladybug Festival, a downtown Wilmington musical block party featuring female artists, which was started in 2012 as an upstate answer to Firefly on a smaller scale. Taking place on July 16, this year’s festival will feature dozens of acts.
A second Smyrna at Night event followed in October with a country-themed night, which drew about 700 people.
“That was a lot of fun. We had line dancing on Market Street. At the June event, we were asked why we didn’t have any country music so we put this together and it turned out to be a big success,” Mr. Hebbel said.
The Smyrna at Night vibe continues with tonight’s concert featuring Lovebettie, which ignited the crowd at last year’s summer event.
Tonight’s show is co-sponsored by town manager David Hugg and his wife Jaci along with Comcast.
“Dave Hugg turned into a huge Lovebettie fan when they came through last year and wanted to get them back here as soon as possible,” Mr. Hebbel said.
“We found a date that worked and it coincided with goodbyemotel playing a date in Wilmington on Saturday. So we paired them together. Then we always try to put great touring bands with local bands. We called the guys from the Richard Carl Band from Smyrna and they jumped at the chance.”
While this is a smaller version of the previous two events, other bigger nights are in the works, including another block party targeted for the middle of June, which Mr. Hebbel says will be bigger than last year’s.
In the fall, look for yet another music event, which will be paired with a flea market.
“There’s definitely room to expand and grow the festival. Smyrna has just welcomed us with open arms and it’s been such a blast,” Mr. Hebbel said.
Smyrna at Night is not the end of Gable’s involvement with the town. Last week, Mr. Hebbel and Ms. Dillman formalized an agreement to be the talent bookers for the Smyrna Opera House, which recently named Dover couple Earl and Karen Robison as executive directors.
Mr. Hebbel said Gable, which already does programming for World Cafe Live at The Queen and other upstate venues, hopes to present up-and-coming musicians as well as standup and improv comedy and poetry readings.
“We absolutely love the theater. It’s such a great center for the community,” he said.
“Everyone has been so receptive. We’re really looking to bring in a much wider variety of acts to fill some holes and augment the existing schedule. We’re really excited about the possibilities.”
Tickets for tonight’s show at the Smyrna Opera House, which cost $10 to $15, are going fast but are still available by visiting www.brownpapertickets.com, www.smyrnaoperahouse.org or the box office at 7 W. South St.
Doors open at 7:30 p.m. with the music starting at 8.
Kaukonen at Schwartz
Like the Smyrna Opera House, the Schwartz Center for the Arts in Dover is seeing a revitalization.
The renewal stepped off in fine style last week when the Schwartz welcomed hundreds of people downtown as they celebrated the kickoff of the Rebirth of the Schwartz concert series featuring New Orleans’ Grammy Award-winning Rebirth Brass Band.
The evening began with a ribbon-cutting ceremony with Mayor Robin R. Christiansen and the Schwartz Center’s executive director Sydney Arzt, then continued with a short parade led by the Rebirth Brass Band and Delaware Tech Drumline, where patrons joined in the march decked out in their Mardi Gras-inspired best, followed by a concert inside the theater.
The series continues Wednesday night with a solo performance by renowned songwriter and guitar virtuoso, Jorma Kaukonen, original member of both Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna.
Tickets for the 7 p.m. show at the Schwartz, 226 S. State St., are $25 and can be purchased at SchwartzCenter.com or by calling the box office at (302) 678-5152.
Mr. Kaukonen’s latest release, “Ain’t in No Hurry, is a folk blues acoustic set. With his signature Piedmont fingerpicking style, Mr. Kaukonen continues to tour with Hot Tuna and holds music workshops at his home turned venue/school, The Fur Peace Ranch in Ohio.
As we told you a couple of weeks ago, top-selling country group Lonestar plays Dover Downs Hotel and Casino’s Rollins Center at 9 tonight. As of Thursday morning, there were a handful of tickets left for the show.
Known for merging its country roots with melodies and rich vocals, Lonestar has amassed RIAA-certified sales in excess of 10 million album units and achieved 10 No. 1 country hits, including their crossover smash “Amazed,” which was No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and won the ACM Single of the Year and Song of the Year. The band was also named the 2001 CMA Vocal Group of the Year.
Tickets are $25 to $45, and may be purchased by calling VIP services at (800) 711-5882.
Last but not least on this busy musical week for Kent County is a very special blues benefit at Dover’s Tom’s Bullpen on Sunday.
On Jan. 3, 25-year-old Justin Armstrong passed away after a lifelong battle with an aggressive form of multiple sclerosis.
After being born with this disease, he defied doctor’s expectations that he would live to be only 2 years old as he fought for 25 years
Mr. Armstrong was the son of Thomas Armstrong, owner of Tom’s Bullpen in the Hamlet Shopping Center at 1035 Walker Road, where Justin could be seen many Sundays watching football with his father.
To help raise funds for the family and as a tribute to Justin, an amazing amount of local blues musicians have gotten together for a daylong concert starting at 1 p.m.
Bands include Tom’s Bullpen regular Descendency, and a host of players affiliated with the Central Delaware Blues Society, including Bad Ave Band, Barrelhouse Blues Band, Bad Juju Blues, Joey Fulkerson, Wayne Dean, Michael Spike Bryant, Billy Pierce, Lin Doughten, Gerard de Vries and more.
A $10 donation will be taken at the door. A raffle, auction items and a 50-50 also will be included in the day.
Tom’s Bullpen is a 21-and-over establishment.
New in theaters this weekend is the Will Ferrell-Kevin Hart comedy “Get Hard,” the horror film “It Follows” and the animated film “Home.”
On DVD and download starting Tuesday are the Oscar-nominated films “The Imitation Game” and “Wild” along with the sci-fi film “Interstellar.”