New Bern seeks to build a music scene with a national artist


If you are a music lover and a fan of concerts in North Carolina, chances are you’ve seen a show at the Walnut Creek Amphitheater in Raleigh.

Over the years, the amphitheater itself has changed its name, but the call to load in a car with your friends or relatives and grab some grass on the lawn of the 20,000-seat venue was normally a highlight of summer.

The city of New Bern doesn’t have a big enough place, but it does have an appeal.

Lawson Creek Park, which runs along the Trent River, offers a similar experience: an open field for blankets or chairs, and a relaxed environment for those who wish to enjoy a concert.

Recently, the city’s July 4th festivities demonstrated the ability to safely perform whatever it takes to attract a large crowd, leading some of the country’s well-known musical groups to prepare to perform. in the field.

On October 8, Lawson Creek will host popular 90s rock band Sister Hazel, followed by three-time Grammy-winning artist Nelly on October 29 to close MumFest.

The point is, there is diversity with big names in music from all genres currently envisioning the city as a place to tour, which was almost unheard of 10-15 years ago.

New Bernese music scene:Country Grammar rapper Nelly to headline MumFest concert

Headliners in New Bern

Support but for White Umbrella Group Executive Director Chadwick Howard, it’s more than that.

Operating in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia, Howard and his band are tasked with bringing several major country music groups to Elizabethtown, just outside of Fayetteville, including Joe Nichols, Jo Dee Messina, and Uncle Cracker. .

He explained that the first hurdle to overcome was to have a venue in New Bern. Several have occurred to me.

“You have to have a place that can accommodate a lot of people who support these types of acts. There are a few good ones in Craven County that can do that like the Fairgrounds and Lawsons Creek, especially during COVID where the people want more outdoor concerts, ”Howard said.

Another factor that played into the introduction of the acts is that more and more bands are opening up to perform in more non-traditional venues, instead of a Walnut Creek, in order to put themselves in front of their fans during the pandemic. , according to Howard.

Once the deeds have been verbally agreed upon, comes the initial capital which costs between $ 30,000 and $ 70,000, with the help of a large investor or several small ones, to provide what the deeds need to to play. For example, the Travis Tritts scene costs around $ 10,000 on its own, according to Howard.

So far, Tritt and Nelly are expected to be a huge hit, but Sister Hazel’s night for a sold-out show is bleak with only a few weeks left for pre-sale tickets.

“Sometimes you hit a home run when it comes to promotions and sometimes you strike out,” Howard said. “On average, you would like to have about 50-70% of your tickets sold out before the shows but there will be tickets at the door for Sister Hazel. It’s just not ideal to have to sweat if you can threshold. profitability on the day of the show. “

Former promoter excited but hesitant

Bern’s new resident, Terry McElhennon, has been at the forefront of creating a music scene in the city since 2008 as a promoter and freelance rock concert musician.

McElhennon even worked with city staff to put on a festival called Bernaroo, a clever spin-off of the famous Tennessee Bonnaroo Music Festival.

The festival spotlighted dozens of North Carolina musicians between 2008 and 2018 at several different venues, including Union Point Park and Isaac Taylor Gardens.

To him, it seemed the city was reluctant at the time to stock up on live music and had to move the weekly shows he promoted to private venues.

A bitter end: It’s time to say goodbye to Bernaroo

“There was a lot less paperwork that way and we had more creative freedom,” McElhennon said. “But I am eternally grateful for our contacts in the city who believed in what we were doing and helped us in any way they could.”

Now he says the city is getting more and more enthusiastic about live music events and he can’t wait to see where it goes.

Based on his past experiences, McElhennon was surprised to learn that Nelly was the headliner of the MumFest concert series and never would have expected the city to give the green light to a hipster show. hop. However, bringing in more diverse groups could pave the way for other artists in the future.

McElhennon thinks most of these acts are a safe bet for any music fan in the area, but would like New Bern to explore North Carolina’s indie rock scene of touring local and national artists.

“As a music lover and former concert organizer, I always try to keep an eye on all the music events happening locally. If this city really wants to dedicate itself to being a place that supports live music, we we need a real place, not just a bar or a park, ”said McElhennon.

Martin Marietta maybe?

Site concept for Martin Marietta Park.

Reconstitute the group

Concerts are not just a one-person show.

For New Bern, White Umbrella, Craven County Tourism Development Authority and Swiss Bear, Inc. have teamed up to help create positive economic impact through music. Everyone has a role to play in the show, whether it’s promotion, logistics or talent recruitment.

Craven County Tourism Executive Director Melissa Riggle, herself a New Bern resident, knows the ups and downs the city has had in attracting great musical talent, but believes the biggest difference now is due to current leadership .

“I think it’s having the right people in the right places who understand the importance and value of hosting live music events from the perspective of giving locals something to do in the community,” said said Riggle. “Live music is something that people will travel to, stay in hotels, spend money in these counties to hear their favorite performers, and that’s a huge asset.”

The impact on Craven’s growth is already abundant, and Riggle knows that having a stable music scene will only help that growth. Riggle agreed with Howard about the non-traditional venues as the city uses the New Bern Convention Center as a concert venue.

“Live music caters to so many needs and demographics, it’s just universal appeal and those attractions come together,” Riggle said. “We were able to have a very open view when it comes to bringing in live music.”

After October, most music scenes tend to die out, but there are rumblings of a winter headliner to close the year, though Riggle said nothing is burned in yet. marble.

Journalist Trevor Dunnell can be contacted by email at [email protected] Please consider supporting local journalism by signing up for a digital subscription for as little as $ 1 per month.

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