A city is only as vibrant and alive as the culture within. Maybe you haven’t noticed, but Wilmington is awash in culture these days. Whether it’s sponsoring a blues festival or a charity marathon, Wilmington knows the importance of cultivating arts and entertainment.
Over the past few years, the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, in conjunction with Cityfest, Inc., has played a significant role in supporting and sponsoring many of Wilmington’s finest festivals, fundraisers and cultural programs. What follows is a sampling of some of the most exciting happenings.
For The Live Music Experience
Wilmington has earned quite the laudable reputation when it comes to annual summer music festivals. For several decades now, the city has offered its residents and visitors some of the finest outdoor jazz and blues experiences on the East Coast by way of The DuPont Clifford Brown Jazz Festival and the Riverfront Blues Festival.
From June 15-21, jazz fans can celebrate the 21st annual incarnation of a festival designed to honor the life and music of Wilmington’s own Clifford Brown who, at only 25, had already made an indelible mark on the jazz world. Since its inception in 1989, the DuPont Clifford Brown Jazz Festival has delivered some of the most exciting jazz musicians in the world, including Chuck Mangione, Branford Marsalis and Bootsie Barnes.
“We’re delighted to be part of the DuPont Clifford Brown Jazz Festival,” says Sylvia Banks, manager of corporate contributions at DuPont. “Not only does the festival provide our community with the opportunity to see and hear world-class jazz performances, but it also gives us a chance to show off downtown Wilmington as a vibrant and exciting city.”
Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park will rock to the sounds of the Riverfront Blues Festival August 7-9. Historically, this weekend-long extravaganza—which features more than a dozen performers on two stages—attracts thousands of blues fans who are not only there to hear the likes of Koko Taylor and Elvin Bishop (two of last summer’s headliners), but to also browse the many tables and tents that sell handcrafted jewelry, arts, and crafts. This year’s performers will include The Kinsey Report, Long John Hunter and Ronnie Baker Brooks.
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For The Running-Cycling Experience
Some cities are known for their cuisine, others for their parks. And some are known for the exciting marathons and bike races they hold every year. Over the past decade, Wilmington has slowly but surely been working its way into that last category. Consider, for example, the Wilmington Grand Prix.
“Wilmington is a great city, and hosting this event is an opportunity to show it off to a lot of people who might never know about it,” says local restaurateur Dan Butler, who helps organize the race. “Our goal is to present the kind of cycling event that’s helped spark revitalization in scores of other communities like Manayunk and West Chester.”
As former starting and ending point for the Tour DuPont and Tour de Trump stage races, Delaware’s largest municipality has a very active cycling community.
The Grand Prix—which is both a race and a street festival—debuted in 2007. It will celebrate its third year May 15-16. With the inaugural race attracting nearly 5,000 spectators and drawing 191 racers from 10 states and South America, this exciting event is here to stay. More than 200 racers are expected to compete this year for more than $25,000. The course is made up of a 0.9-mile rectangular circuit in the heart of the downtown.
“We’ve designed a course that’s really fun to watch, but also allows spectators to explore and enjoy the city and all the activities of the street festival,” says Butler.
Another option for those who enjoy racing—or watching—is the Caesar Rodney Half Marathon. Billed as “the granddaddy of Delaware road races,” the Caesar Rodney attracts over 1,000 runners from more than 20 states and several countries. The out-and-back race takes runners from the starting line at Rodney Square through the streets of Wilmington, past the waterfront, through Rockford Park, then back to Rodney Square. The race, which benefits the American Lung Association, is held in March.
Slightly younger but no less ambitious is the Delaware Marathon. It’s more than a race—it’s an entire festival that features a marathon, a half marathon, and a four-person relay. The event was established in May 2004 when the 50 State Marathon Club notified officials that Delaware was the only state that did not offer a certified marathon. This year’s festival will take place on May 17—the day after the Wilmington Grand Prix—at the Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park.
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For The Overall Festival Experience
As the weather warms and good vibes begin to spread, you’re going to want to get outside and enjoy some fellowship with other culturally savvy Wilmingtonians. When that urge comes upon you, head to one of the many festivals offered in 2009.
Start with the 15th annual Peoples’ Festival on July 25. The Peoples’ Festival is a unique and lively reggae music festival that celebrates the special relationship Bob Marley had with Wilmington when he lived and worked here for several years as a young man.
For the stylings of a different kind of poet, check out the sixth annual Delaware Shakespeare Festival on the grounds of the Rockwood Mansion Park, just north of the city. This summer, the talented theater company will perform “Twelfth Night” July 17-August 1. The festival will also include live music, a comedic pre-show, an orientation to help the audience with questions it may have about the Bard and his work, and children’s activities.
“I am constantly amazed by Shakespeare’s language, stories and characters in each new production I see,” says Molly Cahill, the festival’s artistic director. “Here, audiences have the rare opportunity to see classical theater while casually dining picnic style under the stars. The festival has quickly become a summer tradition in the First State.”
The Vendemmia wine festival is a great way to relax on a fall afternoon while enjoying some of the best cuisine and vino on the East Coast. This annual event, hosted by the Societa da Vinci, attracts thousands to Tubman-Garrett Park. Perhaps they’re there to sample the food offerings from the dozens of Wilmington restaurants that attend. Perhaps they’re there for the cornucopia of desserts. Or maybe it’s all about the wine, the live music and Italian gravy. No matter the reason, the festival is one of Wilmington’s most treasured.