Friday, June 14, 2024

The Scene: NC jazz fest returns to downtown Wilmington this weekend

Legendary bop jazz artist Hod OBrien performs during this years N.C. Jazz Festival. Courtesy photos.
Legendary bop jazz artist Hod O’Brien performs during this year’s N.C. Jazz Festival. Courtesy photos.

It might be traditional but it’s certainly not passé.

Nearly four decades after it began, the N.C. Jazz Festival is still going strong. The 36th annual event hits downtown this weekend, bringing a variety of time-honored bebop, swing and Dixieland musicians to the Port City.

Touted as one of the top 20 events in the Southeast by the Southeast Tourism Society, the annual event gets underway at 7:30 tonight at the Hilton Wilmington Riverside, 301 N. Water St.

The festival got its start here in 1980 through the efforts of Dr. Harry VanVelsor, a local dermatologist and jazz aficionado.

Over the years, it has boasted big-name traditional jazz talents–Art Hodes, Milt Hinton, Kenny Davern, Keter Betts, Bobby Rosengarden, Tony DiNicola and Johnny Frigo, among them–to the area. The festival has also expanded and evolved to include performers across the nation and globe and has served to spotlight emerging talent, such as preteen violin prodigy Jonathan Russell, who shared the stage with legendary jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli.

Now under the leadership of Sandy Evans, former president of the Cape Fear Jazz Society, the event promises the same global draw as in years past.

It all kicks off with an old-school style that is new to the festival stage–“Gypsy Jazz,” performed by Galen and Friends. The performance will be followed by “Professor Cunningham’s Old School Tribute to the Big Band Era,” featuring Adrian Cunningham Randy Reinhart, Jim Fryer, Herman Burney and festival newcomers Quentin Baxter and Kevin Bales.

Then, jazz master pianist Hod O’Brien plays, marking the start of an anniversary tour in honor of his 80th birthday. O’Brien will be joined by jazz singer Stephanie Nakasian in a tribute to the ladies of jazz. The evening will come to a rousing close with a traditional jazz jam from “all-star” performers.

Concerts continue at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Hilton, featuring 14 festival “all-stars” in the conventional seven sets of six or seven musicians, with a new band leader for each set.

Admission is $40 tonight and $60 each for Friday and Saturday. Rates for members of the military are $35 each night and $15 per night for students.

If jazz just ain’t your bag, there’s lots more in store this weekend, from some twangy bluegrass to serious theatrical drama.

You’ll find the items listed below–and many more–on The Scene, where it is always free to post and peruse the latest happenings.


Flytrap Brewing presents a free live show from folk singer/songwriter Phil Kelly and slide guitarist Richard Welsh at 8 p.m. tonight (Thursday). 2 Bros. Coastal Cuisine will be onsite serving sandwiches and Poutine from 7 to 10. Folk and blues musician Rebekah Todd performs at 8 p.m. Friday, with Pepe’s Taco Truck serving up Mexican street food from 7 to 11. On Saturday, five-piece bluegrass band Massive Grass goes on at 8, and Catch the Food Truck will be on hand from 7 to 9.

Local folk and blues singer Rebekah Todd plays a free show at Flytrap Brewing Friday.
Local folk and blues singer Rebekah Todd plays a free show at Flytrap Brewing Friday.

Morning Glory Coffee House hosts Jazz and Java each Friday night from 7 to 9 p.m. The ongoing event features rotating line-ups of live jazz, fusion, blues and swing artists. Admission is free.

Durham-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Brett Harris takes the stage at Bourgie Nights Friday, with opening act Skylar Gudasz. Doors open at 8 p.m. and the music starts at 9. Tickets are $8 in advance and $10 the day of the show.

Local favorite L Shape Lot returns to Burnt Mill Creek Friday. The free show starts at 8 p.m.

Wilmington Symphony Orchestra performs Jean Sibelius’ “Symphony No. 5” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at UNC-Wilmington’s Kenan Auditorium. The winners of the annual Richard R. Deas Student Concerto Competition will also perform. Admission is $25-$27 ($6 for students).


Budding stand-ups can test their chops during Dead Crow Comedy Room’s weekly open mic night each Thursday. Sign-ups begin at 7 p.m., with comics taking the stage at 8. There is no cover charge.

Cape Fear Community College’s Humanities and Fine Arts Center presents “An Evening of Classic Lily Tomlin” at 7:30 p.m. tonight. The one-woman performance from Tomlin includes more than a dozen of her famous characters, including precocious six year old Edith Ann, telephone operator Ernestine, aging beauty adviser Madame Lupe and Trudy, the schizophrenic street lady who starred in “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe.” Tickets are $40-$99.

Comedian Dave Waite performs two shows both Friday and Saturday at Dead Crow Comedy Room.
Comedian Dave Waite performs two shows both Friday and Saturday at Dead Crow Comedy Room.

Fake Brothers Productions presents the sketch and improv show, “Beasts, with Two Backs,” at 7:30 p.m. tonight at City Stage. The performance includes a live performance from Will Small and the Regenades, featuring William Small, Justin Lacy and Phil Covington. Admission is $5.

Arthur Miller’s classic “Death of a Salesman” comes to Thalian’s Hall main stage at 7:30 p.m. tonight Shows will run at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $15 for tonight’s performance and $30 for all other shows ($15 for 17 and under).

Big Dawg Productions’ first performance of the 2016 season, Neil Simon’s iconic comedy, “The Odd Couple,” premieres at 8 p.m. tonight through Saturday at Cape Fear Playhouse. A matinee show is set for 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $15-$18.

Dave Waite brings his stand-up to Dead Crow Comedy Room this weekend. Waite has appeared on Comedy Central, “Last Comic Standing” and “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.” He will perform at 7 and 9:30 p.m. both Friday and Saturday. Tickets are $15-$19.


The Fisher Student Center at UNCW hosts the premiere of the latest student-produced film from Building a Better Wilmington Campaign, “Wilma Daniels: Living a Life of Legacy,” from 6 to 8 p.m. tonight. A panel discussion about community outreach, featuring representatives from the public, private and non-profit sectors, will follow the screening. Admission is free.

Cinematique presents “Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict” at 7 p.m. tonight and Friday at Thalian Hall. The historical documentary from Lisa Immordino Vreeland offers a portrait of Guggenheim, a patron of the arts who turned a modest fortune and impeccable taste into one of the premiere 20th century art collections. Tickets are $8.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at

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