WILMINGTON — When Wilmington Downtown Inc. announced last month it wouldn’t continue its Downtown Sundown concert series on the Riverwalk, one local swooped in at the opportunity to pick up the tradition. Haven Holsinger saw first-hand the popularity of the seasonal series; she helped plan the shows annually from 2013 to 2020 when she worked under former WDI president Ed Wolverton.
In 2021, Holsinger took over as events coordinator for Port City Marina and helped Marina Grill book local bands for its Saturday Sunset Series.
READ MORE: Downtown Sundown sets for good
“One of the main complaints that we used to hear with Downtown Sundown is that local bands weren’t featured,” Holsinger said. “And Marina Grill had been doing Saturday night concerts focused just on local and regional bands already. So we have found a balance.”
Twenty-eight bands are scheduled for the Saturday Sunset Series, while the new Friday Night Live! will feature nine tribute acts. Both series remain free and open to the public.
Live Oak Bank Pavilion at Riverfront Park neighbors the marina, so Holsinger said the Friday night tribute shows aren’t scheduled during the same nights as Live Nation-booked concerts. However, the local band series on Saturdays will go on, even if national headliners are performing next door.
Holsinger said the local bands normally play from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. but would take the stage earlier, around 5 p.m., to entertain crowds awaiting entry into the pavilion.
Saturday Sunset Series starts this weekend in the boatyard area at Marina Grill (18 Harnett St.). This year’s roster supersedes last year’s; Holsinger has booked 20 local bands versus 12 in 2021. While some are repeat performers between April and October, her goal by next year is to feature a different local act weekly.
“More local bands have contacted me since we announced the Saturday series this year,” she said.
So far she has on the roster singer-songwriter David Dixon, rockabilly act Phantom Playboys, Americana darlings Into the Fog, and bluegrass pickers Massive Grass, among others.
The nine tribute bands Holsinger booked for Friday Night Live! were culled from her Rolodex from Downtown Sundown. The tribute bands will play 7:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. under the shell at the end of the pier, between Memorial and Labor days. Port City Marina can hold up 3,000 people, according to Holsinger: “Sometimes Downtown Sundown would have that many individuals.”
She pinpointed bands that brought in the largest crowds and were the easiest — and nicest — to work with during Downtown Sundown. Not to mention, a few were her personal favorites.
“There’s a sense of nostalgia to tribute bands,” Holsinger said. “You can tell someone exactly the first time you heard a band or a specific song, and how that song impacted your life.”
Funky Monks will perform all Red Hot Chili Peppers tunes on June 24, while Breakfast Club takes the sounds back to the ‘80s on July 8.
“I’d probably get hunted down if I didn’t bring them in,” Holsinger said.
The kickoff show on May 27 will feature Tuesday’s Gone, a Lynyrd Skynyrd act out of Raleigh. Former Skynyrd drummer Delmer “Artimus” Pyle, who played with the Southern rock band from 1974 to 1977, will be joining the concert.
“We always tried to put the Zac Brown tribute, 20 Ride, close to Fourth of July,” she said, “because for some reason that brings up everybody’s patriotism.”
20 Ride performs July 1.
Holsinger also booked two new acts she has never worked with before: Cosmic Charlie (Grateful Dead) and Guardians of the Jukebox (playing MTV-era covers).
Bars will be set up throughout the marina area to sell beer, wine and spirits; concertgoers can pay cash or credit for their drinks. Wristbands will be required for those 21 and up who wish to drink alcohol — a safety measure Holsinger said also will create an opportunity to give back.
Similar to WDI’s program, a different nonprofit will be chosen weekly to receive half profits of wristband sales. The bands are $1 and the nonprofit provides eight volunteers to check IDs at the Friday Night Live! shows.
“Our bartenders will still card individuals because that is required,” Holsinger verified. “But the wristbands are our first line of defense. And up to $1,000 will be split fifty-fifty with the charity.”
So far Holsinger said she has received a dozen applications from local nonprofits but is expecting more to come in by next week. A committee will select the beneficiaries, though by next year Holsinger hopes to have a plan in place so the community can vote on who is chosen.
Friday Night Live! Schedule, 7:30 p.m. – 10 p.m
May 27 — Tuesday’s Gone (Lynyrd Skynyrd)
June 24 — Funky Monks (Red Hot Chili Peppers)
July 1 — 20 Ride (Zac Brown Band)
July 8 — Breakfast Club (‘80s band)
July 29 — Cosmic Charlie (Grateful Dead)
Aug. 5 — Fix You (Coldplay)
Aug. 12 — Guardians of the Jukebox (Tribute to MTV-era acts)
Aug. 19 — Abbey Road Live (Beatles)
Sept. 2 — Departure (Journey)
Saturday Night Series, 6 p.m. – 9 p.m. (unless otherwise noted)
Apr. 16 — Machine Gun (Downtown Thunder Bike Night)
Apr. 23 — Dekker Road
May 7 — David Dixon (5 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.)
May 14 — Chuck Mountain
May 21 — Lunar Tide
May 28 — TBA (Downtown Thunder Bike Night)
June 4 — Phantom Playboys (5 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.)
June 11 — Southern Trouble (Downtown Thunder Bike Night)
June 18 — AllGirl Rhythm (5 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.)
June 25 — Machine Gun
July 2 — The Conspiracy (5 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.)
July 9 — Dane Britt
July 16 — Massive Grass (Downtown Thunder Bike Night)
July 23 — Phantom Playboys (5 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.)
July 30 — Port City Shakedown
Aug. 6 — Medicated Sunfish (5 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.)
Aug. 13 — Trouble No More
Aug. 20 — Chuck Mountain (Downtown Thunder Bike Night)
Aug. 27 — Massive Grass
Sept. 3 — Into the Fog (5 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.)
Sept. 10 — Uptown Easy (Downtown Thunder Bike Night)
Sept. 17 — Port City Shakedown
Sept. 24 — Machine Gun
Oct. 1 — Juno
Oct. 8 — Steele Country Express
Oct. 15 — Parlay
Oct. 22 — Highway Miles Band
Oct. 29 — Uptown Easy
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