Musical memories made in 2015

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Sir Paul McCartney performed his first concert in Delaware as part of the Firefly Music Festival in The Woodlands at Dover International Speedway in June. Sir Paul blasted through a 34-song show covering many favorites from his Beatles, Wings and solo career in front of an estimated crowd of 90,000 music fans. The fourth annual festival was beset by rain and mud for most of the weekend but it failed to dampen spirits. (Associated Press/Owen Sweeney)

For thousands of local entertainment fans, 2015 undoubtedly will be remembered as the year Delaware met Sir Paul McCartney.

That legendary lad from Liverpool headlined this year’s Firefly Music Festival at the Woodlands of Dover International Speedway on the second night of the four-day affair, giving young and old from the First State and beyond memories that will last a lifetime.

Rumors started percolating in the middle of January that the former Beatle and music giant would play Firefly, much to locals’ mix of amazement and disbelief.

Best Bets logo CLEAR copyWhen the lineup for the June festival was released on Feb. 17, his name was blurred out of the bill alongside co-headliners Kings of Leon and The Killers. Firefly officials wouldn’t comment on the discrepancy at the time but that unusual step led speculation to heighten even more.

Finally, on Feb. 25 it was announced that Macca would indeed come to Dover for his very first show in Delaware.

The news gave Firefly a sellout of 90,000 people, marking the first time single-day tickets were not sold in the festival’s four years.

After months of waiting, Mr. McCartney appeared on the main Firefly stage at precisely 10 p.m. Friday, June 19, to tens of thousands of screaming, singing and clapping fans.

On the day after he turned 73 years old, Mr. McCartney opened the show appropriately enough with the Beatles’ song “Birthday” off The White Album.

Met with a thunderous ovation, he launched into “Save Us” from the “New” album before addressing the masses.

“Good evening, Firefly,” he said. “We’re going to have a bit of party in here tonight.”

Truer words were never spoken as 32 songs followed in what turned out to be two hours and 20 minutes of nonstop music and stories that spanned Sir Paul’s career from The Beatles and Wings to his newer solo material.

The concert was punctuated by a stage setup that came complete with a host of pyrotechnics, including lasers, fireballs and fireworks, most notably used in a powerhouse rendition of the Wings’ James Bond classic “Live and Let Die.”

The evening was absolutely perfect weather-wise, a stark contrast to what the rest of the wild weekend would bring.

An evening of hard rain on the first day of Firefly set the stage for extremely muddy grounds throughout the weekend.

Saturday’s third day was the worst of the four as the grounds had to be evacuated late in the day, canceling the night’s headliner Kings of Leon.

The grounds were cleared within an hour of the first alert issued just before 10 p.m. Within 30 minutes, lightning illuminated the night sky, thunder rumbled and rain began falling.

Steve Aoki and The Chainsmokers were the only acts able to reschedule to play Sunday. As for Kid Cudi and Sublime with Rome, fans had to make due with a partial set on Saturday although Kings of Leon are booked to return next year.

Overall, more than 100 groups played across seven stages, up from five the previous year.

Dover-based hip-hop group Cypher Clique helped kick things off on the first day while Morrissey, Snoop Dogg, Foster the People and Bastille were among the other performers.

Country was king

This year also settled the question “Can two big-time country music festivals co-exist two months and 17 miles apart from one another?”

The answer was a resounding “Yes!”

Two festivals, Big Barrel and Delaware Junction, made their debut and both left an indelible mark on Kent County.

Big Barrel, produced by Firefly’s Red Frog Events, was a three-day affair held the weekend after Firefly at the Woodlands. Using a third of the performance ground of Firefly, Big Barrel stretched across two stages, using the main stage and the nearby indoor Wildwood Stage, renamed from

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Thousands packed into the Wildwood Stage at June’s Big Barrel country music festival to hear the legendary Merle Haggard. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

Firefly’s Pavillion.

The family-friendly festival, which attracted upward of 35,000 people, featured a petting zoo, Harvest Moon Dance Hall, The BBQ Pit and an appearance by the Budweiser Clydesdales.

The weekend also had its share of muddy moments as the weather was pretty unkind to Big Barrel patrons especially on that Saturday, but no evacuations were necessary.

Headliners were Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood with appearances by older acts including Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard, Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Oak Ridge Boys.

Aug. 14-16 saw the first Delaware Junction at the Delaware State Fairgrounds in Harrington. Sussex County business impresario Alex Pires, in conjunction with concert giant Live Nation, took this one on.

Like Big Barrel, it featured two stages, a main one and the shaded Next From Nashville, which featured younger, up-and-coming acts.

Unlike Big Barrel, Delaware Junction catered more to the twenty- and thirtysomething sets with a foam party tent and a large swing ride among the attractions.

Headliners at the 360-acre venue were Jason Aldean, Florida Georgia Line and Toby Keith.

They were joined by acts such as Colt Ford, Thomas Rhett and Sugarland’s Kristian Bush.

Like Big Barrel and Firefly, Delaware Junction will be back next year.

Prior to the weekend’s final performance by Florida Georgia Line on that closing Sunday night, Mr. Pires appeared briefly on stage and told the crowd, “My name is Alex and I’m from Dewey Beach. I’ve got something to tell you. We’re coming back next year. Are you coming back? Peace and love.”

With that, he turned around and walked off.

Next week’s Best Bets column will have a full rundown on what to expect in 2016.

Harrington happenings

Staying in Harrington, the Delaware State Fair had another successful year.

Held July 23-Aug. 1, the fair recorded its second-best 10-day attendance with more than 311,000 fairgoers, increasing 10 percent from the previous year.

A healthy dose of fair-friendly weather contributed to the uptick in attendance.

The M&T Bank Grandstand featured a new Craft Beer Festival, which featured the music of Grand Funk Railroad and 60 craft beer varieties from more than 20 breweries.

Other entertainment acts included pop star Meghan Trainor, contemporary Christian recording artist Casting Crowns, Bryan Adams and country’s Josh Turner.

A sold-out demolition derby delivered a second grandstand performance standing in for the cancellation of the Little Big Town concert due to health issues within the country group.

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The line for wristbands at the first Delaware State Fair Craft Beer Festival wrapped around the track inside the M&T Bank Granstand. Held July 23-Aug. 1, the fair recorded its second-best 10-day attendance with more than 311,000 fairgoers, increasing 10 percent from the previous year. (Delaware State News file photo/Dave Chambers)

On the carnival side, The Wade Shows provided 56 rides and attractions with a record carnival gross exceeding more than $1.1 million, which was up 6 percent compared to 2014.

FFA officials helped to develop a new agricultural exhibit during the first five days of fair at the FFA Agricultural Education Center and the John Curtis Sr. Barnyard. Both areas brought both animal interaction and FFA programming to fairgoers.

The fairgrounds also hosted the second annual two-day Triple Threat BBQ, Beer and Music Festival in April.

More than 100 cooks competed for the title of Delaware State Champion.

Inside the casino, the On Stage-Harrington series brought a host of acts to Exhibit Hall.

Country artists Larry Gatlin and The Gatlin Brothers and Parmalee played the hall in February and March, respectively, while oldies favorites Peter Noone and Jay and The Americans were there in February and March, respectively. Nineties hitmakers Gin Blossoms performed to an enthusiastic, packed crowd in November.

Dover Downs doings

At Kent County’s other casino, Dover Downs, the Rollins Center saw its share of big-time names.

Comedians Marlon and Shawn Wayans and Jim Breuer performed in January and July, respectively.

Country group Lonestar made the trip in March, Kool & the Gang celebrated in May, Creedence Clearwater Revisited brought back memories in August, Jeffrey Osborne sang in September, Glenn Miller Orchestra struck up the band in October and country’s Easton Corbin appeared in November.

Stages were set

Local stages were busy in 2015.

At Dover’s Schwartz Center for the Arts, executive director Sydney Arzt brought a season of national artists that was kicked off by a Rebirth of the Schwartz celebration in March.

It stepped off in fine style when the theater welcomed hundreds of people downtown for a concert by New Orleans’ Grammy Award-winning Rebirth Brass Band.

The evening began with a ribbon-cutting ceremony with Dover Mayor Robin R. Christiansen, then continued with a short parade led by the Rebirth

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Female impersonator Christopher Peterson played to a packed Schwartz Center for the Arts, portraying Bette Davis and other stars in his “Eyecons” show to help benefit the Dover theater in August. (Submitted photo/Mobius New Media)

Brass Band and Delaware Tech Drumline, where patrons joined in the march decked out in their Mardi Gras-inspired best, followed by a concert inside the venue.

Later in the month, guitar virtuoso, Jorma Kaukonen, an original member of both Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna, performed

The season also was highlighted by a show featuring renowned singer-songwriter Jimmy Webb, who offered up a tribute to his friend and collaborator Glen Campbell.

The June evening featured film clips and live performances from Mr. Webb in front of a large, appreciative crowd.

Other events featured folk music duo Trout Fishing in America in May, The Bronx Wanderers, a memorably raucous “Eyecons” theater fundraiser performance by female impersonator Christopher Peterson in August and The Weight, featuring former members of The Band, in November.

The year also featured tributes to Ray Charles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and a 100th birthday celebration of Frank Sinatra by Wilmington’s Sean Reilly on the actual December date of Mr. Sinatra’s birth, complete with birthday cake following the performance.

The movies “Ghostbusters,” “Rocky Horror Picture Show” and “The Muppet Christmas Carol” were additionally screened at the theater known years ago as Dover’s premiere movie house.

The Smyrna Opera House saw a rebirth of its own as Gable Music Ventures, a Wilmington event planning and talent booking company, took over the reins of scheduling the majority of shows throughout the year.

The result was a mix of local and regional bands, comedians and musical ensembles.

The opera house was the site of popular S-Factor talent competition series over the summer. The theater also played host to a rousing tribute to Billy Joel featuring Wilmington’s Joe Trainor and Friends in July, Mr. Trainor’s trio returned in November along with “dork-rock duo” Hot
Breakfast! while local favorites Sol Knopf, Jeremy Bursich and Key of Red also performed.

Festival fervor

Gable also put the Smyrna at Night music festival on the map in 2015 after its successful debut in 2014.

In June, a free, multi-venue, all-ages evening brought 13 musical acts together around town.

Regional and touring groups from a range of genres performed at the Painted Stave, both floors of Sheridan’s Irish Pub, the Smyrna Opera House and on the outdoor stage in front of Smyrna Town Hall.

The evening featured headliners New York-based Australian rockers goodbyemotel and Annapolis-based, high-energy soul/funk/rock band, Sweet Leda.

Other artists included Angela Sheik, No Good Sister, Tim Hein, Surreal Nation, Giada J, Bryan Russo, Todd Chappelle, Single Origin, Minerva and Edna’s Tribe.

The annual Dover Days Festival continued to draw tens of thousands to the capital city in 2015 during the first weekend of May.

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South Dover Elementary School students Jaxon Kopp and Reagan Vidrine dance around the maypole on The Green during May’s Dover Days Festival. (Delaware State News file photo/Dave Chambers)

This year’s three-day festival took on a Civil War motif in honor of the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s death and featured the usual mix of Colonial events and family-friendly activities, concerts and contests.

The Amish Country Bike Tour, another production of Kent County Tourism, broke another attendance record in September, drawing 2,850 participants, topping last year’s total of 2,800.

Kent County Tourism’s other big event, the sixth annual Delaware Beer and Wine Festival had its largest turnout to date, with 3,500 people at Dover’s Delaware Agricultural Museum and Village.

The 37th annual June Jam to benefit a number of worthy causes went off in Houston.

Headlining the event this year was Michael Allman, son of rock great Gregg Allman.

Also appearing was Maryland country singer Sam Grow, along with local favorites The Ashley Mitchell Band, Bad JuJu Blues, Kategory 5, Results May Vary and Shades of August.

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

In Smyrna, the first Happiness Project Music Festival was held at Painted Stave Distilling.

The free event benefited the National Alliance on Mental Illness and featured original music and performances by 19 acts outside and indoors.

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

Curtain rises

An extra-long season at Dover’s Kent County Theatre Guild featured the dramas “Proof” and “The Glass Menagerie,” the comedy “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” and the musicals “Once Upon a Mattress” and “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” combined with “A Charlie Brown Christmas”

The extra shows were necessitated by a change from a September to April schedule to the January to December slate.

The Second Street Players in Milford presented the shows “Inherit the Wind,” “Noises Off,” “Spamalot” and “A Christmas Story.”

And finally …

Tony winner Jennifer Holliday performed at this year’s Delaware State University President’s Scholarship Ball in December.

Ms. Holliday, best known for the song “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” from her star-making turn in Broadway’s “Dreamgirls” took the stage at Dover Downs’ Rollins Center.

The Central Delaware Blues Society continued to present national and regional blues acts at their Thursday and sometimes Saturday jams at Magnolia’s Jonathan’s Landing. They will help send Maryland’s Anthony “Swamp Dog” Clark Band to the International Blues Challenge in Memphis next year.

The Delaware Friends of Folk stayed busy, presenting a well-attended string of concerts at the Old State House this year, their monthly coffee houses and the annual Delmarva Folk Festival near Clayton in September.

Covered Bridge, the folk duo consisting of Downstate notables Kevin Nemith and Joey Fulkerson, headlined the day.

Here’s hoping you got the chance to enjoy at least some of the fun. If not, there’s always next year. We’ll preview 2016 next week.

Now showing

New this weekend in theaters is the Jennifer Lawrence comedy-drama “Joy”; Will Smith in the football medical drama “Concussion”; Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg in the comedy “Daddy’s Home”; a drama about the bank crisis with an all-star cast “The Big Short”; and the remake of the action-adventure “Point Break.”

On DVD and download starting Tuesday is Robert De Niro in “Heist,” Robert Redford in “A Walk in the Woods,” the action film “Hitman: Agent 47” and the thriller “The Perfect Guy.”

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