in the spotlight – Ben Murphy – CEO of Murphy Hospitality Group & Whitecap Entertainment

The Murphy Hospitality Group has been making memorable experiences for customers since 1980 when they opened their first restaurant.  Forty-three years later with Ben Murphy at the helm as CEO for their restaurant, hotel, beverage, and entertainment divisions, they have never lost their focus and now look to bring their experience in these industries together with their inaugural Sommo Festival this summer in Cavendish.  We had an opportunity to sit down with Murphy to learn about this industry leader and what people can expect from Whitecap Entertainment’s newest festival this summer. 



Photo Courtesy of Whitecap Entertainment

Spotlight on Business: Tell us a little about yourself, your hobbies, and what you like to do in your spare time for fun when you are not working if there is such a thing.

Ben Murphy:  I grew up in the hospitality industry. So, it should be no surprise that most of my hobbies, and friends have come from that.  I enjoy playing and watching sports, I go to yoga, and definitely enjoy some of our PEI Brewing and Colliding Tides beverages on the weekends with friends and family.    

I am a huge lover of music and have always been into music festivals, it’s definitely a passion of mine.  I am always up for a concert or festival, whether it’s seeing a small show at a local establishment in town with my wife, Alley, or if it involves us traveling somewhere for a concert or taking in a music festival aboard.  Traveling is also something that we like to do, so when we can combine both travel and music well that is a win for sure.  

Photo Courtesy of Whitecap Entertainment

Spotlight on Business: What is your role at Murphy Hospitality Group? 

BM: Murphy Hospitality Group is a family business. My parents started the company in 1980 with one restaurant.  Interesting fact, I was the first employee of the Cavendish Beach Music Festival in 2009 with Jeff and Cara Squires.  So, for several years, I wasn’t working directly with the family business.  I’d work with the CBMF in the summer and would travel during winter and did that for a number of years.  Then in 2014, I decided to come back to the restaurants as part of MHG and ran our restaurant division for seven or eight years, before taking over as CEO when my father, Kevin Murphy, semi-retired in December of 2021.  As CEO of Murphy Hospitality Group, I am essentially responsible for all four divisions of our businesses.  This includes the operation of our 16 restaurants, three hotels, the Nordic Spa, the PEI Brewing Company, and of course, Whitecap Entertainment, which does our festivals.


Photo Courtesy of Whitecap Entertainment

Spotlight on Business: The Murphy Hospitality Group is a leader in the hospitality industry that started 40 years ago with one restaurant and now has multiple world-class restaurants, a catering division, hotels, a brewing company, and an entertainment company with now two major annual festivals. Why is it important to occupy all these sectors of the industry when most only focus on one? 

BM: It all comes down to our motto for MHG, which has been the same for over forty years and that is to always be trying to create memorable experiences. So that’s what all four divisions throughout the company try to do every day.

I don’t think there’s anything more memorable than us bringing world-class talent to PEI, where people have the opportunity to see some major music superstars and world-class acts, but also give up-and-coming artists and local talent the opportunity to showcase their talents with festival goers and share the stage and brush shoulders with some of the best in the industry to learn from the experience as they develop as artists and performers.

For festival goers or our customers in general our brands all complement each other to create memorable experiences for people. The pandemic and current economic conditions have changed what people want from an experience.   Whether it’s a dinner at one of our restaurants or and stay at one of our hotels or a day at the spa or maybe just having an adult beverage with friends, especially these days, I think, people are looking to make that human connection.  They want the in-person outing, whether it’s a trip somewhere for a music festival, or just going out for dinner and drinks with your partner, it seems to be more important these days, but I also think people are doing less of it, which makes the time and the money that they do spend on these experiences, more important. That is why our goal is to try to create something that you’re going to be talking about for years.

From a business perspective, all of our businesses are integrated in one way or the other.  So, it has helped us be able to promote our own brands for hotel stays and restaurant dining to help elevate the customer experience.

Photo Courtesy of Whitecap Entertainment

Spotlight on Business: Most of our readers are familiar with the CBMF from our interview with Jeff Squires and feature on the CBMF back in 2016.  How has the event evolved since then?  How has Whitecap Entertainment been able to continue to make CBMF a must-attend North American country music event considering the increase in music festivals that are now available for country music fans to attend? 

BM: The event has evolved so much since it started in 2009.  Back then it was more or less a festival that was held in a farmer’s field in Cavendish, for about 6000 people. Today, with the success that we’ve had, and having the ability to significantly invest in the development of the festival grounds, with a permanent stage and additional infrastructure on-site to elevate the festival goer’s experience. 

From a fan’s perspective, when you have 60,000 plus people coming through the gates, every year, except for covid, for the past 14 years, you really have the opportunity to create that connection with these people.  The CBMF is a big part of people’s summers. So, we want our fans to have faith in the festival, that we’re going able to land some big talent but in addition to that also have something for everyone, from Bluegrass to Country Rock.  Plus, festivalgoers can tailor their experience once on the festival grounds.  If you want to come put a chair down and relax for the day, and just hang out and listen to your favorite artists perform, maybe check out a few of the local or up-and-coming artists on the Colliding Tides Kitchen Stage, there’s that opportunity.  But you can also be upfront in all the action at the Bell Main Stage, shoulder to shoulder as the artists perform, or something in between.  The festival and grounds are designed to make this a memorable experience for everybody.  

We want you to feel confident when booking your trip to Cavendish that you can expect the best possible talent and that is not something that we take lightly and also something that we’re always striving to do better.  

Yes, there is a lot more competition than back in 2009. And that affects the talent that is available for these events.  But because of the reputation that CBMF has developed with the fans, we’ve also developed that as well, with the artist and agencies out of Nashville.  We have 50 to 60 artists a year at the CBMF.  So, once we get them here, they have such a great experience and a great time on PEI not to mention the amazing crowds and energy that comes from a show that artists are reaching back to us and saying. I think it’s time to come back and play again. So that’s very rewarding because these artists have the opportunity of playing at venues all over North America and the world, but they are choosing us.  Now it goes without saying that money, schedule, and a lot of other stuff need to line up. But it’s definitely easier to attract the talent that our fans expect today than it was in 2009.

Photo Courtesy of Whitecap Entertainment

Spotlight on Business: Now for 2023, we see a new event for Cavendish, PEI with the inaugural Sommo Festival in July.  Given Murphy Hospitality Group’s business focus a brand-new music and culinary festival featuring two days of music, food, and drink in Cavendish, seems a no-brainer.  But we also know that a lot goes into these events so when did you decide to move forward with a second festival for Cavendish and why now?

BM: Over the years, especially since the investment in a permanent site in Cavendish, our goal has always been to have more than one event per year. But more importantly, working with all stakeholders to find the right kind of fit for a second major event at the site.  The pandemic obviously gave us more time to brainstorm what we wanted this event to look like and spotlight.  

We have so many fantastic producers, farmers, breweries, and distilleries along with world-class creators using these amazing Atlantic Canada products and we thought there was an opportunity to highlight all of these and really make them part of the festival.  Don’t get me wrong, nothing against a good hotdog, hamburger, or slice of pizza but people are looking for maybe a little bit more of an elevated experience. So, we really want to highlight the amazing products from Atlantic Canada.  Now there are so many amazing products here in this region that it’ll take us a couple of years to kind of get to where we want the full festival experience to be but to get it off the ground this year is super exciting.

Once the focus of the festival is created then it comes down to what artists can we book for this type of event. We always joke that takes four or five years of offers before we can lock down and artists sometimes and we’ve been talking about Mumford and Sons through the years for all different types of things. And it just lined up this year, so we jumped on it with them. And I just them along with Maggie Rogers is the perfect entrance for some headliners for the Sommo Festival and then we’ll be able to build the food and drink thing around that.  I think people are going to be very excited to come through the gates. And hopefully, there are lots of new fans that come to Cavendish to check it out this year.

Photo Courtesy of Whitecap Entertainment

Spotlight on Business: Festivalgoers have come to expect excellence in entertainment and experience since 2009 with the CBMF, how do you plan to recreate that experience at the Sommo Festival?

BM: When we designed the site at Cavendish, we decided we wanted everyone to enter at the top of the grounds through the main gate. That way when you come in, you overlook the stage, and you can see the beach and the water so that will not change so you will have your amazing views of Cavendish. 

The Sommo Festival will have two fully programmed musical stages similar to the CBMF for artists to perform as one stage goes dark the other will kick on.  There will also be a full-on culinary stage, which will be operating as well when the main stages are dark. Showcasing food demos, cocktail demos, and oyster demos, with celebrity chefs and some musicians may be popping up and doing some fun stuff also.  So, it’s going to be a different feel. Plus, we will offer a couple of Chef focused upscale food vendors on-site with additional local beverage options to what you might find at the CBMF to help elevate your experience. Soon we’ll be highlighting who will be on-site and what will be available for purchase.

Photo Courtesy of Whitecap Entertainment

Spotlight on Business: How many are you expecting and what kind of experience can those going to Sommo Festival expect for this inaugural event? 

BM: I have been asked that question a lot over the last few months since we announced the Sommo Festival.  I will be honest it is always a little bit of a crapshoot your first year.  Weather can make a huge difference in attendance, especially for a new event.  Based on ticket sales, I’d say we’re expecting between 10 and 15,000 a day for the Sommo Festival, which was our goal for the inaugural event.  Considering the first CBMF had about 6000 people through the gate each day, we’re all pretty excited about these numbers.  Plus 10 to 15,000 is a really nice crowd for the site. It will allow people to move around and try different foods and drinks and take in all that the festival has to offer plus it will give us the opportunity the review the festival goer’s experience and use that feedback to build off for future years.

Photo Courtesy of Whitecap Entertainment

Spotlight on Business: Now we have to ask.  Since you have had amazing success with the CBMF and the country music genre what switch that up with another event that focuses on the rock and alternative genres?

BM: We’ve done a lot of research over that last number of years, and the rock genre has always come up as that next big market behind country, and then the pop genre behind that.  It also gives us more flexibility moving forward with the festival, but not limiting ourselves to one genre there is always something for everyone between the two stages at the festival.    Honestly, the research has pointed us in that direction. Plus, when we were offered the opportunity to have Mumford and Sons as one of our headliners for the festival, we jump on it as that was a no-brainer and something that we had been working towards for years now.

Photo Courtesy of Whitecap Entertainment

I know that you can’t tell us but we have to ask, are more events in the planning to include additional festivals in Cavendish for fans of additional genres in the upcoming years?  

BM: We continue working with all the stakeholders in and around Cavendish because it’s important to launch any festival for this area of any area for that matter the right way, and that is what we are doing with the Sommo Festival to prove that another festival can work in Cavendish. And then we’ll look at what else will happen down the road.  But for right now our main focus is to make the Cavendish Beach Music Festival this July 6th through 8th and the inaugural Sommo Festival July 14th and 15th a memorable event for all who attend.


by Lee Ann Atwater