Larry from schroeder on stage at Wilburfest '93, courtesy of Jonathan HolladaThere shall never be an equal. The granddaddy of all UD fests, Wilburfest was once-upon-a-time THE annual event to go to. It’s a huge part of UD’s modern history…and mythology, if you will.
Much of this chapter focuses on Wilburfests '93 and '94, which many consider the last “real” Wilburfests. Okay, fine, I’m way biased as I was attending UD at the time, but as I cried about in the previous chapter, my years at Delaware fell right on top of the Alt / Grunge era…which I think hugely contributed to Wilburfest’s mystique those years. The bands you saw on stage at Wilburfest could’ve easily been on stage at Lollapalooza.
What follows are Wilburfest subsections, that chronicle its rise, the town successfully killing it, and then its moderate comeback in more recent years. I’ll provide some of my own commentary, as well as integrate some outside anecdotes, but for the most part this chapter’s material is courtesy of contributors who were REALLY on the inside:
David Muddiman attended UD, and is the owner and engineer of Starground Audio. An encyclopedia of Newark, DE original bands, Dave worked the soundboard for several Wilburfests, many Skidfests, and other assorted UD shows.
Jen, UD '93 and Charlie, UD '94 ran in the East End scene during their years at Delaware. Charlie (who is a “she,” that’s her nickname) lived in 67 East Cleveland, as did Jen for a time. Yep, 67, the other half being 65 East Cleveland…the Lacrosse House! Jen and Charlie were buddies with the guys in Grinch. Their lead singer, Wolf Navarro, wrote about the band in our East End chapter, and contributes to this chapter as well.
Ben C, UD '06 lived on Wilbur Street during his senior year, and was one of the guys who fought to keep the Wilburfest tradition alive.
Admission buttons forWilburfests '91 and '92,courtesy of Jen, UD '93Though it’s difficult to pin down an exact year, it’s generally agreed that Wilburfest started in the '70s. An article in The Review put it at 1973, but more about that later. Wilburfest was simply a block party, that grew over the years. More beer, more bands.
1987 was a dormant year; as I understand it, nothing to do with any legal trouble. It just didn’t happen…one of those things, that the school year was over before anyone knew it. In 1988, Wilburfest became a charity event for the Emmaus House, as it was for the six years that followed.
Your guaranteed “ticket” into Wilburfest was a button, designed and produced specifically for the event. A limited quantity of buttons were produced, varying year-to-year, but yes, it was in the thousands. Buttons were pre-sold at stores on Main Street, like Rainbow Records.
The first Wilburfest I attended was April, 1985; I could hear the music just faintly while walking from Perkins to Harrington C. None of my friends wanted to go, but I could tell it was a live band with bass and drums. My band needed a drummer, and I hadn't heard a live band outdoors in Newark ever, so I went.
I was amazed I had to cross Main Street to find where the music was coming from, but I did, and found Wilbur Street. I'd been to Wilbur Street once before to pick up PA speakers for a friend's band I was helping. It was weird to me, because the buildings were crummy with peeling paint, but perfectly brand new fire escapes! I don't remember much about my first Wilburfest, but they had one stage, which was a porch, and they had a fence with a gate. I think I missed The Mustard Trucks, who were a punk band, but did catch Charming Arms. It was a good show, rather simple. They had organized student security and it was BYOB. The party was completely legal, they had permits, the police stopped by to say hi, and people would talk to the police and laugh and make jokes.
1986 I remember better. The night before, Montana Wildaxe did a private party in Brookside -- not a typical place for a college party, but there were less places for students to live back then. So I walked into the house and the band sounded incredible; they had just added a totally new drummer, "Baggs," to play dual drums for every song with their original drummer, Alan. The music went late and I crashed there, with many other people. The next morning, I bought a twelve-pack and carried it across town to Wilburfest, and got a spot before the noon start. There were eight bands, including Vic Sadot's band Crazy Planet, and Freudian Slip. Montana had the two drummers at Wilburfest, which was again incredible. They kept both drummers playing simultaneously for several years after that gig!
Framed poster for Wilburfest '89courtesy of CL, UD '90By 1989 I was the soundman for the band ONE, and was the technical coordinator for Wilburfest; I selected the production team. I hired my mentor Dirk MacAlpine, then of Bradywine Electronics Ltd. (and sound for Tommy Conwell), to provide their best outdoor system. This show was recorded on 16-track tape and later remixed by Marc Moss of Target Studios.
There were two stages which were built by extending the porches, and removing the porch railings. The music flowed non-stop and everything was recorded. This was possibly the greatest Wilburfest. Everyone played their best! Big crowd. Lots of people in trees and on roofs. The organizers did their best to get them down. The show went long, "Just one more tune," said Evan Pollock the Jamaican singer of the band ONE, and previously a singer during the development of the band Third World. Well, they played three songs that went twenty minutes beyond the permitted time…the police arrived and it got tense.
The organizers and even myself explained, it's just a successful show that's going a bit late, “Don't worry about it, it will stop soon, and you don't want to upset thousands of people.” After the cops reminded the organizers about the permit's terms, they agreed if everyone doubled their efforts to clear the roofs and trees, they'd then let the last song continue. As the song ended, the police approached the fence to climb over, and the singer started another song. I pulled his mic cord and took away his mic. I looked back, and saw that the police had crossed the fence, but were crossing it again to leave.
1990 and '91 I had a small recording studio, which made a few demo recordings for bands trying to play Wilburfest. If a band I worked with got a Wilburfest slot, I would mix the band's set. I was also technical assistant to the organizers, helping them hire sound and get fencing. By this time, this guy Dan who was helpful getting people out of trees the year before, was becoming the lead organizer. He did this for a few years until he graduated…then, poof!
By 1992 I was working in Philadelphia for a reggae recording studio called "Preverbe," and couldn’t get down to Wilburfest. I mixed Jimmy Cliff in Trenton around that time.
“I know I was at Wilburfest '92 at the end of my freshman year, even though I had no idea what it was when I went. I was spending a lot of time at Ray Street, and Wilbur Street was just down the road.
So happy to see the bands. So sorry for all the neighbors. So okay with public urination. So, so drunk. I drank a bottle of Boone's Farm and kept refilling it from a variety of kegs. schroeder played ‘Alice Falling,’ which was my favorite song of theirs. I wandered off at some point in the day to a house where friends lived on Choate Street. No one was home, but I went in and got a snack. I wandered back, and on the way plucked a beautiful flower from someone's garden. I do remember standing face-to-face with two Newark cops who were genuinely just making sure no one got seriously injured. Thank you for not arresting me.”
- Anonymous, UD '95
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