Eagle’s Dare in Wilmington is holding free concerts despite challenges

On May 3, Free Concert Friday returned to the Eagle’s Dare bar and event space on North Third Street in downtown Wilmington for the second year in a row.

Over the course of a few hours, about 700 people came and went, enjoying free tunes from Wilmington band Cape Fear Rising and Journey tribute act Trial By Fire.

“It’s just great for Wilmington,” says Eagle’s Dare owner Joe Apkarian, “people starting their weekend with a free show.”

He has Free Concert Friday concerts planned through July, mostly tribute bands with local acts as openers. But Apkarian said he’s a little worried about the series moving forward because of what he called a zoning issue, an issue that limits the number of annual permits a business in the Central Business District (CBD) can get to host events with a temporary stage to organize.

Free Concert Friday bands will play on a temporary stage in the Eagle’s Dare parking lot. Apkarian has Free Concert Friday concerts planned through the end of July, but said city staff have told him he can only get a permit for a temporary stage twice a year.

“It’s in my parking lot, on my property,” Apkarian said. “Whether they’ll fine me, who knows?”

He added that the city has told him he can “move (the event) indoors, create a permanent (stage) structure or get a code change. So that’s where we’re at now.”

Kathryn Thurston, a zoning administrator with the city of Wilmington, agreed those are Apkarian’s options.

“At some point we have to distinguish between a concert venue” and other types of businesses, Thurston said. “Some of that is because we have had noise complaints in the past from commercial companies wanting to put on concerts.”

According to her, zoning regulations in some parts of the city, such as the Cargo District, which is next to a residential area, do not allow temporary stages at all.

Thurston said she drafted “code language” that would change the number of permits allowed for a temporary phase in the CBD from two to a different number, and passed it along to Christina Haley of Wilmington Downtown, Inc. (WDI), a non-profit organization. who advocates for businesses in the city center.

Apakarian said he has been in discussions with Haley about submitting the code change, which would ultimately go to the city’s planning commission for a recommendation that would then be voted on by the Wilmington City Council.

Free Concert Friday is one of the latest and most prominent free concert series in downtown.

Last year, Apkarian said he started Free Concert Friday to continue the tradition of the old Downtown Sundown concert series, which WDI ran from the mid-2000s through 2019.

The series, which brought hundreds or even thousands of people to the city every weekend during the summer months, never returned after the pandemic. Apkarian said Downtown Sundown was good for another bar he owns, The Pour House at Front and Market Street, as well as other downtown businesses.

In 2022, the city of Wilmington shut down the proposed Downtown Alive concert series before a note was played, citing complaints from some businesses.

Another downtown concert series, Friday Night Live!, held just off the downtown Riverwalk at The Pier at Port City Marina, announced earlier this year that it would charge a $10 admission fee after being canceled in the past had been free.

“I totally understand why they had to start charging. These bands cost a lot,” Apkarian said. “It is only thanks to our sponsors that we can do this for free.”

The adjacent Marina Grill also offers the free, weekly Saturday Sunset series featuring local and regional acts adjacent to the Riverwalk.

Apkarian said he’s been arguing with the city about Free Concert Friday since it started last year, so “we knew this was going to happen this summer,” he said.

Apkarian questioned why The Pier at Port City Marina is considered a permanent stage when it is essentially a covered space that requires much of the same set-up and tear-down as the temporary stage at Eagle’s Dare.

“Why am I being bullied?” he asked.

Thurston said the pier at Port City Marina was built as a permanent structure with use as a stage in mind, and therefore it is not considered temporary.

Do you want to go?

What: Free concert Friday

When: 4pm gates, 6pm opener, 8pm headliner.

Where: Eagle’s Dare, Third and Red Cross streets, Wilmington

Details: Free. Food trucks on site. Family friendly.


  • May 17: Signs of Sacrifice (Creed tribute), opener is Audiomelt
  • May 24: Signal Fire (reggae), opener is Sound Destroyer
  • May 31: Same As It Ever Was (Talking Heads tribute), opener is Ditch Kitty
  • June 7: All My Rowdy Friends (tribute to Hank Williams Jr.)
  • 14th of June: The Conspiracy (homage to the ’70s and ’80s)
  • 21st of June: Angry Chair (tribute to Alice In Chains)
  • June 28: The Phantom Playboys (psychobilly)
  • July 5: Hey Johnny Park (Foo Fighters tribute)
  • July 12: Johnny Folsom 4 (Johnny Cash tribute)
  • July 19: Nashville Nights Band (’90s country tribute)
  • July 26: Emo kids