August 19, 2018

Unpopular Opinion: Summer On Liberty Sucks

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Summer on Trade has been on Liberty Street since 2016. It’s time to admit that Summer on Liberty isn’t working. The concert series has been a shot in the arm to Liberty Street. Liberty Street is on its way to developing into Trade Street 2.0 minus the art galleries.

But some changes need to be made to the city’s premier summer concert series; its lost much of the energy that it used to have.

I miss the intimate feeling that came from having music fans packed between Trade and Sixth, surrounded by buildings with a history.

By contrast, the spot that the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership has chosen to stage its concerts on Liberty Street is too expansive, too open. Outdoor music on Liberty Street could work, but the stage needs to be moved.

The parking area between Sixth and Crafted restaurant might be an excellent place to relocate the DTWSP’s stage. Fans could gather on the opposite side of the street, between the UPS Store and Reboot Bar.

Another location on Liberty that might work would be Liberty and Fifth. The Millennium Center could be a great backdrop. The Clark Campbell Transportation Center already has built-in seating. The Winston-Salem Light Project used the downtown bus station and Millenium Center for its annual public light project earlier this spring. The downtown bus station has challenges, but it might work.

The Winston-Salem Light Project chose the Millennium Center as the backdrop for this year’s public light show.


The Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership has brought live music to Downtown Winston every summer since 1997. In the late 1990s skepticism about the future of Downtown Winston was widely held. Summer on Trade, Now Summer on Liberty has essentially manufactured consent for incentives that Downtown Winston-Salem requires.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, people worked downtown; they went to court downtown, they went to City Hall from time-to-time. But they certainly didn’t go downtown when they didn’t have to.

Summer on Trade, along with Downtown Jazz, and Rock the Block brought people downtown by choice. Summer on Trade, in particular, made it okay for white folks to come back downtown after dark.

Every summer I try to make it out for a few Summer on Trade/Summer on Liberty concerts. I have some fond memories of concerts that I’ve seen in the streets of Downtown Winston.

Who doesn’t like free concerts? But it’s important to acknowledge the dual nature of the Downtown Partnership’s free concerts. After all, nothing is free in this world. And as the adage goes, “if you’re not paying for it, you are the product.”

Winston has “free” downtown concerts first and foremost, to bring consumers downtown into the restaurants and bars. They’re selling the downtown lifestyle. Ultimately, the city’s business class wants to have downtown concert-goers become downtown residents.

Allen Joines overlooking his creation.


When you’re out at a Summer on Liberty concert, you’re in the streets, that the WSPD has closed down. You might feel that this is your town for a brief moment.

But it’s the developers and real estate interests that own this town. For decades, Winston-Salem was a company town controlled by the Reynolds, Hanes, Grays, and Babcocks.

Today Winston’s ruling elite have a wider array of surnames, but you can trace the majority of them back to Allen Joines and the Winston-Salem Alliance.

Good music takes good musicians working together for. Few soloist musicians succeed. While the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnerships’ downtown concerts are important, they’re other programs responsible for the revitalization of Downtown Winston, such as; the Millennium Fund, Restaurant Row, restoring the Nissen Building and building BB&T Ballpark.

Successful social engineering is difficult to duplicate. Summer on Trade was a tremendous success. Summer on Liberty needs to find a better location on or near Liberty to stage its outdoor concerts.

The citizens of Winston need to take an active roll in ensuring that the city council promotes the good of the entire city, not just Downtown Winston.

But in the meantime, enjoy some live music on Liberty. It’s the only time that Downtown Winston encourages all comers to its uptown streets.

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