One Love: Peoples’ Festival

One Love: Peoples' Festival

For more than two decades, Genny Pitts has kept the legacy of One Love alive in Wilmington at the annual People’s Festival, an outdoor celebration of Bob Marley’s spirit and music. But last year, when the outdoors didn’t cooperate as well as it had in the past, the festival made a last-minute call to move inside The Queen on Market. In that scramble, it found a new home. Now, one year shy of the festival’s 25th anniversary, we asked co-founder Genny Pitts to take us back to festival’s beginnings before looking forward at what the future holds. (This is a story that demands a soundtrack, no? Click here and turn it up.)


“Well, as some might know, Bob Marley lived in Wilmington back in the late ‘60s and his family was here through the mid ‘70s. My husband, Ivan, owned an African gift shop at 24th and Market, right up the street from Bob. They eventually met and became good friends. Our families lived together, our children traveled together, and we formed something like a family relationship.”

“A few years after Bob’s passing, his mom came to our home for a special celebration on her behalf. That was in 1993, and that night she announced that we would be having a tribute to Bob Marley in Wilmington next year, and Ivan and Genny were going to do that. My husband and I knew nothing, other than our experience in traveling to festivals with the family. But, it was important to us to connect this history of Bob’s time in Wilmington. He touched many lives in here and wrote some great songs in the basement of his house. A lot of music went on down there.”

“That first festival… we booked 22 bands. Our timeframe was noon to 8 p.m. I got that from Penn’s Landing. All of their festivals went from noon to 8 p.m. back then, and OK, they know what they’re doing, right? We scheduled Richie Havens to hit the stage at 7 p.m. as the headliner, to close it out at 8 p.m. Our stage manager was the guy who managed The Kahuna. So I said listen, one band goes on, the other goes on. Don’t lose any minutes. So he assured me we would be fine, right? Richie Havens hit the stage at 12:30 in the morning. I kept apologizing, ‘Richie, I’m sorry.’ He said, ‘Hey, it’s good, I’m good.’ He came on stage, and he said ‘This is so reminiscent of Woodstock.’ We closed the stage at almost 2 o’clock. It was iconic, to say the least.”

“Damian Marley performed at our first concert. He came downstairs from the hotel and met me in the lobby, and he said ‘Genny, I know you promoted this event really well.’ I asked him, ‘How do you know that Damian? He said, ‘I know because everybody knew me, and nobody ever knows me.’ Little Damian, with his short curly hair, and all of 18 years old, and he was really proud walking around Wilmington. ‘People love me. They stop me in the streets and say, hey, are you Damian Marley? That never happens.’”

“I’m inspired looking forward to our 25th, because throughout the 24 years that we’ve been in Wilmington, it’s been on a wing and a prayer. We’ve been hanging on a thread from day one, because the financial side of it is so demanding. The artists, the setup, the grounds, everything costs.”

“We loved the Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park. The People’s festival was there for 19 years. Last year, I told my son that this was going to be the best year ever. But, even before the forecast, in the back of my head, I was a little concerned. My husband passed away in 2013. I really started thinking this is getting a little bit out of hand for me, because the budget was extensive. So I started praying and asking God to show me how we can keep going, how can I keep doing this? I always had a desire to make the festival more accessible, make it free, do something, but we have to charge because our bills, you know?”

“So last year, on Thursday afternoon before this festival, my son called me and told me, ‘Mom, we have to cancel the People’s Festival.’ ‘We’re not cancelling,’ I said. He said ‘Yes, mom, there’s a torrential storm coming, and it would be irresponsible for us to go forward.’ One of the team suggested moving to The Queen. I’d done Cinco de Mayo there just a month earlier, so I saw how that block lent itself beautifully to a street festival. So, we made the call. Immediately, when they said yes, I said, ‘Thank you, God, this is how you move a festival.’ And from that moment on, I knew whatever happened, we’re going to get through. The Queen, they came on board 100%. Trenton (Banks), the new general manager from Live Nation, was so accommodating. I wanted to take two city blocks, three city blocks – c’mon, this is the People’s Festival. We ended up going with one block. But now that we did it this first year, we can grow even more and be better prepared for next year. And, at the end of the festival, Trenton said we should do it again. And I said, yes, let’s do it again!”