A dozen or more times a month, an audience streams into The Queen theater in downtown Wilmington. The renovated jewel is busy these days, as it has been for the past dozen years. And on March 2nd the theater literally comes ablaze with music, as Shine A Light gathers the scores of musicians who will play for a crowded house during this special evening.
It wasn’t always like this on the corner of 4th and Market Streets. The remarkable Queen Theater building in downtown Wilmington has led several storied lives and risen from the ashes, both figuratively and literally. The building – originally constructed in 1789 – was first The Indian Queen Hotel, a popular place for sailors coming to the port of Wilmington and a venue that hosted significant colonial events.
In 1916, the hotel was repurposed into a 2000-seat movie theater, but that business closed in 1959 and the building was shuttered and abandoned. For the next 50 years, The Queen sat dormant, empty and decaying, with water pouring in through its ceilings. Its walls began to cave it and its façade was slowly crumbling, a sad reminder of Market Street’s vibrant past.
But glimmers of hope to restore The Queen’s past glory became reality in 2009, when the real-estate development firm of Buccini Pollin reached a deal with the City of Wilmington to undertake a $25 million renovation. The theater underwent a hard-won and remarkable transformation, made more magical when demolition revealed three glorious 10’ x 18’ murals hidden under the bland soundproofing panels. Still in excellent condition, those murals represent Beauty, Painting, and Music – and they regularly embrace and inspire the audiences and scores of musicians who now flock to the venue since its 2011 grand re-opening.
As its strongly motivated group of supporters had hoped, The Queen is once again an integral and lively part of Wilmington’s downtown life. The venue presents a wide swath of events and popular music, and it hosts scores of local, regional, and national musical acts and events. The theater also has a vibrant educational component, supported by the non-profit Light Up The Queen Foundation. Its mission is to engage the community with a variety of educational and informative programs bringing the power of music to all.
On Saturday March 2nd the foundation proudly holds its annual signature event, “Shine A Light!” Now in its 12th year, the benefit is always hugely popular, with regional musicians and bands joining forces on The Queen’s stage. Unique to this concert, dozens of solo musicians and members of various bands play together – sometimes for the first time – and the line-up of musicians changes on every song all night long. These 70-or-so artists perform without fees, so all proceeds go directly to support The Queen’s music education programs.
This year’s concert – Shine A Light On 1984 – brings to the stage the sounds and music of 80s rock royalty like Prince, Madonna, Springsteen, and a host of others. There’s a 6pm VIP party and the concert starts at 8pm. Often a sellout, it’s one of downtown Wilmington’s biggest and most meaningful parties, an evening packed with committed talent and just plain great music.
The Queen’s impact reaches far beyond its walls, symbolizing its commitment to downtown Wilmington as a lively city where all arts venues, businesses, and restaurants thrive. The goal of both the Light Up The Queen Foundation and this remarkable venue is simple yet profound – to build community through music. There’s no group more committed to that mission than the musicians that will take the Shine A Light stage on March 2, unless it’s that packed audience that comes to party and cheer them on.