WILMINGTON, NC — Psst! Want to know a secret? It may just be the best-kept secret in downtown Wilmington.
Near the corner of Surry and Castle, in the shadows of the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge, sits a one-hundred-plus-year-old house that is changing how people listen – and more importantly – connect to live music.
But SSSHHH! We don’t want everyone to find out about this yet. You see, getting a seat can be very competitive. So, keep this on the down-low.
“My husband and I stumbled upon it a few years ago,” remembers music lover Whitney Harrison. “We fell in love with the intimate setting. This is the most unique venue in town.”
This is a story about thinking outside the box. It’s a tale that starts with a family’s vision – more than a decade old – to create something new. But really at the center of this story is a young couple that took over the dream and gave it new life.
“We live in the neighborhood, and I remember that first night we discovered Ted’s, just being in shock that this place was just around the corner from our home and we didn’t know it existed.”
Whitney Harrison and her husband Trent are not just passionate about music. It’s also their profession. He is the owner and operator of Hourglass Studios. She studied music education at UNCW, briefly taught choral music in the school system, and over the years has performed with several area bands.
Of course, they also love just listening to others perform. They’ve gone to see some of the big-name shows at the Wilson Center and Greenfield Lake Amphitheater. They like the smaller stages, too. They like seeing their favorite local regional bands playing at a bar or restaurant.
And they especially like listening rooms.
“That’s what we discovered when we stumbled upon Ted’s,” remembers Whitney. “It wasn’t just another venue. At some places, music just plays in the background. At Ted’s, it was front and center. You came for the music, but you also came to connect with the musicians on a deeper level.”
Back in those days, the old white house on Castle Street was known as Ted’s Fun on the River. It was really an old-fashioned-styled country store. They sold snacks, rented out bikes and canoes. Anglers could buy bait and ice. Oh, and occasionally, there was live music.
All of this was the brainchild of Julia Walker Jewell and her husband Kelly “Ted” Jewell. They realized that their little store was the perfect setting to invite some friends to come over for live music. It wasn’t long before that list of friends started to grow. Others like Whitney were stumbling on this hidden gem. The Jewells were soon hosting music, on average, five nights a week.
Fast forward a decade later, after hundreds of intimate shows, fans woke up one morning in November 2018 to a very sad social media post written by Julia Walker Jewell.
“We’ve tried to keep your glasses full, your spirits up, and your toes tapping while hosting many magical nights of music. Unfortunately, we are tired. As our family grows and ages, we realize we want to spend more time together, and we find this difficult while also running Ted’s.”
The post went on to announce that Ted’s final show would be held a month later. The Jewells were exiting stage right, but the Harrisons were about to get the spotlight.
“Our dream had always been to own a music venue. So when we heard they were retiring, we reached out to the Jewells to see if they would be willing to sell.”
The word “inherit” is almost always used when it comes to physical features or family wealth. You can inherit your mother’s eyes or your grandfather’s estate. Sometimes, in a rare occasion, for instance when two couples share a passion, it’s also possible to pass on your dreams.
The Harrisons may have purchased a business, but in reality, they inherited the Jewells’ mission.
And that’s how Ted’s Fun on the River became Live at Ted’s.
“We purchased Ted’s in March 2019, did some renovations, and opened in September 2019.” Whitney pauses for a second. She takes a deep breath in and slowly exhales before finishing her thought. “And then Covid hit, and we had to close for more than 500 days.”
When social distancing eventually lifted, the music – the jazz, the folk, the bluegrass, the Americana – returned to Live At Ted’s, and so too did the music lovers.
Whitney and Trent have already hosted more than 300 shows. Some have been local and regional acts; others have been songwriters with national followings. Country songwriter Darrell Scott performed in June. Steve Forbert, who wrote the 1979 song “Romeo’s Tune,” came to town for a two-night stint at Ted’s. And they have big plans to bring in more national acts along with local and regional musicians in 2024.
“I feel like you get to see more of the artist’s personality. The intimate size pulls the personality out in a way that may not happen at a larger venue. And some of them are hilarious! They tell stories about life on the road, and they take you behind the scenes of what was going on in their own lives when they created something. You get to know them, but also better understand the music.”
Okay, to be fair, maybe Live at Ted’s may not be that big of a secret. You’ve probably heard of it. Whitney and Trent have done a great job in promoting their shows. But the thing about secrets is sometimes just being aware of a fact is not enough. To really be in the know, you have to experience it too.
“The hope is to continue to bring in new music, to bring in folks just as they are breaking in. We want to provide a space where you can see these up-and-coming artists in an intimate gathering. If you love live music, if you love experiencing the stories behind the music, then this is the perfect venue for you.”
- Live At Ted’s is only open when hosting shows. They no longer sell bait and tackle or bikes and canoes.
- Total capacity is 70, but that includes the staff and band members. Typically, 62 seats are sold to the public.
- Many shows sell out. Tickets can be purchased in advance online
Upcoming shows at Live At Ted’s:
The Wildwoods: Saturday, September 30th (SOLD OUT)
(The photo credits for this article:
– The photo of the exterior was taken by The Vibrant, Michael Escobar.
-The photo of Whitney and Trent Harrison in front of Ted’s was taken by Laura Glantz.
-Both the band photo and audience photos are by Christopher Newkirk from Digital Wolf Photography.
The band photographed is Jeff Reid & John Fonvielle (Jeff Reid, guitar/vox, John Fonvielle, guitar/vox Jim Ellis, keys Brian Mason, drums, Jason Moore bass, Wes Chappell winds/fiddle.)