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World Cafe Live Sees If It’s A Fit For a Queen

World Cafe Live Sees If It’s A Fit For a Queen

One gray afternoon last week, a mural depicting four musicians with connections to Delaware’s principal city – trumpeter Clifford Brown, guitarist David Bromberg, reggae icon Bob Marley, and bandleader Cab Calloway – urged Wilmingtonians to “celebrate the music and soul of our city.”

Amid the Market Street mix of tech-company start-ups and shut-down storefronts, hopeful clothing boutiques and pawnshops, there weren’t enough pedestrians to initiate even the most meager of celebrations.

But just a few blocks down at the Queen Theatre, dark since showing Vincent Price in House on Haunted Hill in 1959, there was a bustle of activity aiming to add a new chapter to Wilmington’s musical history – and play a pivotal role in reviving the long-struggling downtown.

That’s where World Cafe Live at the Queen, the $25 million reclamation project spearheaded by live-music entrepreneur Hal Real, owner of the first World Cafe Live in Philadelphia, buzzed in anticipation of its grand opening this weekend.

The music started Friday with a Free at Noon concert broadcast on WXPN-FM (88.5) by Louisiana guitarist Sonny Landreth in the onetime burlesque house’s dramatic Downstairs Live venue, an impressive space with 60-foot ceilings reminiscent of another former burlesque house, Chinatown’s Trocadero – but with far greater creature comforts.

The celebratory sounds in the room – with a standing capacity of 800 and seated capacity of 400, slightly bigger than the World Cafe Live in University City – were to continue with a sold-out show by singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson on Saturday night and another, not free, by Landreth on Sunday.

Stopping to admire one of two massive film projectors saved from the Queen’s balcony, the 58-year-old Real says he “wasn’t looking to have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but I’m thrilled.”

Real had a plan to “expand intelligently” when he opened World Cafe Live in 2005 in a renovated building on Walnut Street that houses XPN, the University of Pennsylvania-owned adult-alternative station from which he licenses the World Cafe name.

With the mother ship humming – last year, it drew 150,000 people to 567 ticketed events, plus private events – Real was looking hard at other markets. Louisville, Ky.; Cincinnati; and southern Connecticut were on his radar.


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