There’s one a day a year when you can bet on World Cafe Live at the Queen selling out all of its nearly 1,000 tickets.
In its fourth year, Saturday night’s Shine a Light concert benefiting the Light Up the Queen Foundation is already sold out.
And that’s a good thing.
It’s the biggest (and only) fundraiser of the year for the foundation, which operates the Queen’s educational programs and maintains the Market Street theater, which first opened as a hotel in 1789.
“It’s like having a job and knowing that every week you are going to get a paycheck. You come to depend on it,” says Tina Betz, the foundation’s executive director. “This is our gala and it’s so great that people respond well to our one big night.”
Last year’s event raised a record $80,000 thanks to the army of volunteer musicians who spent weeks rehearsing the show in a nondescript warehouse just outside New Castle.
After three years of Rolling Stones-themed shows, which were created organically by the musicians and brought to the foundation as a fundraiser, Shine a Light needed a change this year, organizers decided.
Instead of picking another band to cover, this year’s show will cover the songs of 1975 – 40 years ago. And the crowd is encouraged to wear their ’70s fashions.
As co-founder and musician Rob Grant explains, he wanted the show tied to an anniversary and 1965 was too limiting and 1985 was not as intriguing musically, so they settled on 1975. Grant says he hopes to keep that blueprint alive for at least the next two events with 1976 represented in 2016 and so on.
Fans didn’t seem to be fazed by the change. The show sold out earlier this week with general admission tickets selling for $60 and VIP balcony seats going for $250 a pop with complimentary food and an open bar.
With a record number of musicians participating – the total number is around 60 and includes a string and horn section – the new and improved Shine a Light is ready to rock. Even though it’s not Stones-themed, the event is keeping its original title, based on the 1972 Stones song of the same name. But there’s a minor change: it’s called Shine a Light on ’75 this time.
“It’s a great cross-section and turnover time in the music industry. It gives us a really diverse set of songs that incorporate everyone’s talents pretty effectively,” says Grant, who also organizes the annual Jam on the Brandywine concert in West Chester, Pa. benefiting the Brandywine Valley Association. “You’ll hear everything from the Grateful Dead and Captain & Tennille to Earth, Wind & Fire and The Who. How about that for a range?”
The success of the event shouldn’t come as a surprise. Delaware loves cover bands, after all.
But here’s the twist: nearly all of the musicians taking part in Shine a Light normally perform originals on their own or with their respective bands.
Among the performers this year are musicians from Delaware bands that stretch across generations: Montana Wildaxe, The Sin City Band, Mad-Sweet Pangs, The Bullets, The Joe Trainor Trio, The Bullbuckers, The Snap, The Cocks, Full Carbon Get Up, Special Delivery Band, The Cameltones, Steve Pepper Band, Ginger and Dr. Harmonica & Rockett 88, to name a few.
If it looks and feels like a giant Delaware musical family reunion on stage, that’s because it is.
Mark Kenneally, known as Dr. Harmonica in his long-running five-piece blues/rockabilly band The Rocketts, is performing at Shine a Light for the first time thanks to finally having an open schedule. (The Lancaster Roots & Blues Festival has conflicted in recent years.)
At rehearsals, the harmonica hero has been surrounded by musical ghosts of his past as he ran through his songs for the event, which include ZZ Top and Stevie Wonder covers.
In the 30-plus years that Kenneally’s band has been around, Shine a Light performers like The Bullets’ Michael Davis, guitarist Mike Petrillo, saxophonist Alan Yandziak and trumpeter Rob Zinn have all been members of his band at some point. Heck, he’s known fellow Shine a Light guitarist and Sin City Band member Steve Hobson since he was 13 and the pair were in their first band.
“There are just so many old and dear friends,” says Kenneally, 65, of Milford, who will be performing at the Queen for the first time. “But the best part of the rehearsals have been listening to the music, honestly. There’s been some really good music.”
Among the programs funded by the Light up the Queen Foundation are the weekly Peanut Butter & Jams children’s concerts, in-school arts residencies, and the LiveConnections Bridge Sessions educational program, which teaches different musical genres to urban youth.
This year, the foundation is launching the new Robert “Boysie” Lowery Summer Jazz Composition Residency, a two-week performance and composition project pairing young jazz musicians with established performers and teachers. It’s named after the late Lowery, a Wilmington jazz teacher who famously gave lessons to a young Clifford Brown. Applications will be released on the foundation’s website by the end of the month.
With Delaware’s next generation of musicians in line to benefit, Grant and his horde of professional noisemakers are ready to strike up the band one more time, starting with a 10:30 load-in Saturday morning.
“The collaborative effort of this is what makes it really fun and rewarding,” he says. “Everyone checks their egos at the door, which can be difficult for musicians. But it’s been very easy for this group.
TOP 5 ALBUMS OF 1975
1. Elton John, “Elton John’s Greatest Hits”
2. John Denver, “John Denver’s Greatest Hits”
3. Earth, Wind & Fire, “That’s the Way of the World”
4. John Denver, “Back Home Again”
5. Phoebe Snow, “Phoebe Snow”
TOP 20 SINGLES OF 1975
1. Captain & Tennille, “Love Will Keep Us Together”
2. Glen Campbell, “Rhinestone Cowboy”
3. Elton John, “Philadelphia Freedom”
4. Freddy Fender, “Before the Next Teardrop Falls”
5. Frankie Valli, “My Eyes Adored You”
6. Earth, Wind & Fire, “Shining Star”
7. David Bowie, “Fame”
8. Neil Sedaka, “Laughter in the Rain”
9. Eagles, “One of These Nights”
10. John Denver, “Thank God I’m a Country Boy”
11. Bee Gees, “Jive Talkin'”
12. Eagles, “Best of My Love”
13. Minnie Riperton, “Lovin’ You”
14. Carl Douglas, “Kung Fu Fighting”
15. The Doobie Brothers, “Black Water”
16. Sweet, “The Ballroom Blitz”
17. B.J. Thomas, “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song”
18. Tony Orlando and Dawn, “He Don’t Love You (Like I Love You)”
19. Janis Ian, “At Seventeen”
20. Average White Band, “Pick Up the Pieces”