BEST BETS: The beat went on in local entertainment in 2016

 

Looking back on the year in local entertainment has, for the last few years, focused on the massive Firefly Music Festival at the Woodlands of Dover International Speedway — and 2016 is no different.

Caleb Followill played this year’s Firefly Music Festival with Kings of Leon. (Special to the Delaware State News/Doug Curran)

This was Firefly’s fifth year and although it didn’t have the star power of 2015 when Paul McCartney came to town, the event still drew a healthy crowd of about 90,000 for the four days in June.

Headliners Florence + the Machine, Deadmau 5, Mumford and Sons and Kings of Leon were the highlights on the Main Stage but the 100-plus acts also included Earth, Wind and Fire, Blink 182, Elle King, Death Cab for Cutie and rappers Fetty Wap, A$AP Rocky and Ludacris.

Along with Mr. McCartney, also absent from 2015 was wet and wild weather that permeated that year’s fest as conditions were pretty favorable this year and there was improved drainage throughout the grounds. Kings of Leon could not perform in 2015 due to the weather but made it back this year.

New this year were an expanded VIP Loft with private cabanas, an open-air Brewery, art installations and an expanded food menu and Beercade.

A second-line New Orleans-style parade was added each day as the New Sound Brass Band from Philadelphia led festival goers from the campgrounds to the gates of The Woodlands as they opened each day.

As Firefly rolled on, the plug was pulled on two other music festivals.

Country music’s Big Barrel, also on the grounds of the Woodlands and produced by Firefly’s Red Frog Events and Goldenvoice, and Delaware Junction on the Delaware State Fairgrounds in Harrington, were both canceled in 2016 after having what appeared to be successful initial runs in 2015.

The surprise announcement on Big Barrel, which was supposed to be the weekend after Firefly, came in January.

No reason was ever given publicly for the cancellation.

Dover Motorsports President Michael Tatoian said at the time his office were taken by surprise at the announcement.

“I received a call from Red Frog this morning telling me that Goldenvoice had made the decision to cancel Big Barrel,” he said on Jan. 28. “And with that, you know as much as I know.”

A note on the festival’s website read in part: “We have made the difficult decision to cancel Big Barrel Country Music Festival, due to take place at The Woodlands in Dover, Delaware on June 24-26, 2016.

“We sincerely apologize to all the people this decision affects: the fans, artists, industry partners, venue, city of Dover and state of Delaware; all of whom welcomed us with open arms for our inaugural festival in 2015.”

Delaware Junction, which featured headliners Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean and Toby Keith in 2015, also disappeared from the scene this year.

Unlike Big Barrel though, no official announcement was ever made. Sussex County business magnate Alex Pires put on the event with the help of national concert promoter Live Nation and despite Mr. Pires coming on stage at the end of the 2015 event to say it would be back the following year, the festival did not return.

After two false starts at the Woodlands in Dover, it was announced in March that Punkin Chunkin, a longtime festival in which teams compete to fling pumpkins,would return to Sussex County after a two-year absence.

It was held at the same Bridgeville farm where it was held for years previous. However, the Sunday action was cut short when a woman was critically injured after an errant throw.

Fair fodder

Staying in Harrington, the Delaware State Fair had its attendance cut by 15 percent from 2015.

Some 262,587 people attended the fair over its 10-day stretch from July 21 through July 30. Seven days saw a heat index of 100 degrees or more, according to the National Weather Service. The heat index temps peaked at 114 degrees on July 25.

Delaware’s own George Thorogood performed at the Delaware State Fair this summer. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Among the grandstand highlights was the return of George Thorogood to his home state on July 29.

Entertainment also included Alabama, Christian artists for King and Country, ventriloquist Jeff Dunham. Blues Traveler and Little Big Town.

Jake Owen played the first pre-fair concert the day before gates officially opened. Fair admission and parking were free. The date was added due to the demise of the country music festivals and Mr. Owen’s tour schedule.

VIP viewing with The Loft, a two-tiered viewing platform that carried amenities such as a private restroom and cash bar, was also added this year to the concert setup.

On the carnival side, The Wade Shows provided 58 rides and attractions with several new and recently refurbished rides making their first appearance in Harrington.

The Junior Livestock Auction raised more than $187,000 to be distributed to youth exhibitors who sold their prize livestock.

As for other competitive and livestock exhibits, 37,000 exhibits were entered by 3,202 exhibitors. 2016 saw a slight increase in the number of animals exhibited at the fair with 3,251 animals calling the fairgrounds home for the last 10 days of July.

Casino concerts

Harrington Raceway and Casino’s Exhibit Hall saw national acts come through for concerts.

The Fifth Dimension with Florence LaRue had to cancel their original show in January due to inclement weather but returned in October.

Country swing band The Time Jumpers with Vince Gill and Felix Cavaliere’s Rascals were also part of the On-Stage Harrington series at the Exhibit Hall this year.

Tracy Morgan brought his “Picking Up the Pieces standup comedy tour to Dover Downs Hotel and Casino for a sold-out show. (Submitted photo/Paul Mobley)

Over at Dover Downs, laughter mixed with tears as comedian Tracy Morgan made a triumphant return to the casino in October, more than two years after an accident that left him temporarily in a coma and killed his close friend following a performance at the venue.

Mr. Morgan delivered a solid hour of comedy in front of the sold-out crowd of approximately 1,500, peppering his routine with jokes and stories about the crash, along with other very adult routines about his family, sex and growing up in Brooklyn.

During his actual performance, there was little mention of the fact that Dover was the place from where he was returning when a WalMart truck struck Mr. Morgan’s limo bus from behind on the New Jersey Turnpike.

The June 7, 2014, crash killed his friend, fellow comedian and mentor James “Jimmy Mack” McNair while Mr. Morgan suffered a traumatic brain injury, a broken leg, nose and ribs. He was in a coma for two weeks.

Three other passengers, comedians Ardie Fuqua and Harris Stanton, along with Mr. Morgan’s assistant Jeffrey Millea were also injured.

Although there were scant words about the milestone evening during his act, at the end of it, he asked that the house lights be brought up so he could see the cheering audience. He then asked that the driver of the limo bus and his assistant Mr. Millea come on stage while he recited the exact number of years, months, days, hours and minutes that had elapsed since the accident.

The emotional display prompted more applause from the crowd and he pointed to a lone spotlight on stage, saying that was for Mr. Mc-Nair.

An overcome Mr. Morgan was enveloped in a group hug involving the men who were in the vehicle that night, along with his opening act comedians, who included Marc Theobald and Tracey Ashley.

After he gathered himself, he brought out his wife, Megan, and 3-year-old daughter, Maven, who waved to the crowd.

A photo posted to Mr. Morgan ’s Instagram account showed that Mr. Fuqua and Mr. Stanton were also at Dover Downs that night.

Country music stars Josh Turner and Tracy Lawrence also played Dover Downs in 2016 as did comedian Wanda Sykes and classic rock duo America.

Local stages

The Schwartz Center for the Arts was also busy this year.

Executive director Sydney Artz left her post in August but fundraising and popular programming has kept the State Street theater going.

An array of entertainment including jazz, dance, comedy and pop music filled the stage this year. Tribute shows to Amy Winehouse and Chicago were big draws as well as a concert by The New Stylistics and “Rhythm in the Night: An Irish Dance Spectacular” .

The musical “Alive! 55+ and Kickin’” brought a stage show from New York City, which featured older adults discussing their lives through song.

Grammy-nominated Sharon Katz performed with her five-piece band, The Peace Train, in March.

Movies included “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” “Star Wars” and “A Christmas Story.”

The Smyrna Opera House continued to highlight local and regional performers with music and comedy and even a couple of plays.

Festival fervor

Also in Smyrna, Gable Music Ventures’ Smyrna at Night continued to draw a large crowd throughout the town.

Lovebettie, lower case blues, Wylder and Nalani and Sarina headlined the June evening, which featured 28 bands on 10 stages with food trucks, outdoor games and craft vendors.

Despite threatening clouds looming overhead throughout the morning and afternoon, the 83rd annual Dover Days Festival was as successful as ever in June.

Gary Sandeson, of Verona, New Jersey, joined local “Wheelmen” in the Dover Days parade Saturday. (Special to The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

Gary Sandeson, of Verona, New Jersey, joined local “Wheelmen” in the Dover Days parade. (Special to The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

Thousands lined State Street for the nearly hour-long parade before heading to The Green and Legislative Mall to see the unusual blend of modern and colonial, which included the array of re-enactors, games, demonstrations and contest.

Another event produced by Kent County Tourism, the Amish Country Bike Tour, was one of three separate cycling events on Sept. 10, along with the Bike MS: Bike to the Bay and the Special Olympics Delaware’s Regional Cycling Classic.

In October, Kent County Tourism’s Delaware Wine and Beer Festival moved to the state fairgrounds from Dover with expanded space for folks to mingle and entertainment provided by country singer Sam Grow and Dueling Pianos.

The 38th annual June Jam to benefit a number of worthy causes went off in Houston this summer with headliner The Heydaze, who also played Firefly a week later.

Fordham and Dominion Brewing in Dover held its two annual big festivals, R2Hop2 in April and Cheesetoberfest in October.

The Delaware Friends of Folk’s Delmarva Folk Festival turned 25 years old in September and had acclaimed singer-songwriter and storytelling bluesman Roy Book Binder as its headliner.

This year’s festival also included Joey Fulkerson, Crabmeat Thompson, Celtic Harvest and Sand Creek.

In Milford, the Bug and Bud and Riverwalk Freedom festivals also drew big crowds as did the Brewgrass Festival, combining beer and bluegrass music.

The Central Delaware Blues Society held its annual Roadhouse Bluesfest over the summer at Jonathan’s Landing in Magnolia with featured headlining artist blues pianist and singer Victor Wainwright.

The shows go on

The Kent County Theatre Guild began its 62nd season with “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” followed by the comedy-mystery “Design for Murder,” the musical “Funny Girl,” the classic courtroom drama “Twelve Angry Men” and the holiday family show “Best Christmas Pageant Ever.”

Milford’s Second Street Players opened their season with the Agatha Christie mystery “A Murder is Announced,” followed by the musical “Fiddler on the Roof” the physical comedy “Drop Dead!,” the Noel Coward comedy “Blithe Spirit” and the holiday classic “A Christmas Carol.”

They also presented a slate of children’s shows throughout the year.

And finally ..

The Dover Air Force Base’s Air Mobility Command Museum celebrated 30 years with a gala celebration in September.

Acclaimed gospel and R&B singer BeBe Winans headlined the Delaware State University President’s Scholarship Ball at Dover Downs in December.

The seventh annual Dancing with the Delaware Stars took place Jan. 30 at Dover Downs Hotel and Casino’s Rollins Center. This year’s event was won by Kent County Levy Court chief code enforcement officer Shannon Morris of Dover and his partner and professional dancer Jessica Moyer of Magnolia.

That’s a wrap on 2016. Next week we’ll look at what’s in store for 2017.

Now showing

New this weekend in theaters is the animated “Sing 3D,” the comedy “Why Him?,” the action-adventure film “Assassin’s Creed 3D” and the outer space flick “Passengers 3D.”

On DVD and download starting Tuesday is the biopic “Snowden.”

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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