Freeman Stage an absolute treasure to area

You want to know what’s a good time?

Yes, picking through a bunch of steamed crabs with your friends while enjoying some cold adult beverages is definitely a good time. And, sure, hanging out on the beach with your loved ones on a “Sunday Funday” is always a good time. And I suppose calling that number etched into the wall in the bathroom stall that promises a good time could do just that, but Tom Maglio doesn’t always answer his home phone, so there are no guarantees on that one.

But right now I’m talking about a different kind of good time. The kind of good time that makes you feel as if you are in an isolated bubble of mirth and tranquility, far from the struggles and stresses of day-to-day life. It’s a place that’s only a few miles down the road from my house, but makes me feel as if I’ve flown across the world to escape to a destination of mental health, and fills the soul with the possibilities that I’m about to witness something truly unforgettable.

I’m talking about the Freeman Stage at Bayside.

There are very few places I could say this about, but it’s 100-percent true: I have never had an experience at the Freeman Stage that would qualify as anything less than exceptional. I can’t say that about attending a baseball game. I can’t say that about listening to Bob Bertram explain how he and his friends celebrated the end of the Revolutionary War. And I can’t say that about eating my way out of a bathtub full of Jell-O.

And I like all those things.

Let’s take a second to push the on-stage entertainment to the side for a second, and instead focus on the general experience. The Stage is located right in the Bayside community, firmly situated in that neutral zone between Fenwick Island and Selbyville.

Though snuggled in a spot just off congested Route 54, and behind a shopping center, Bayside is truly a lovely development, featuring beautiful homes and a world-class golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus. It also can claim zero humidity, an engineered atmosphere that toys with gravitational pull so people can levitate up to a proper viewing angle while they take in a show and free bathtub Jell-O.

I made up every single word of that last sentence. Well, no, I didn’t actually create the words “also” or “pull” or...

But I digress.

Bayside is an absolutely charming community, and it was created in a way that does make you feel as if you have found a little slice of solitude away from the madness of summer. You pull into the complex, get directed to a parking space by a helping hand and join hundreds of others in that carefree, enthusiastic walk to the stage area. Volunteers are on hand to check your tickets, direct you to your seat or just point you to where you can get a cold beer — all important roles in aiding the experience.

Once you do get settled in to your seat, a large screen next to the stage tells the story of what exactly they are doing at the Stage, from bringing top-end entertainment to their feature shows to utilizing the money they raise through those tickets to bring free entertainment to children on Saturday mornings. The Freeman Stage is about much more than simply bringing national acts to the shore — it was created to expose more children to the cultural arts, and to subsequently open the eyes of the next generation to all that is available to the world.

At a time when school music departments across the nation are being cut back or eliminated altogether, and many museums are charging ridiculous admission prices for timed visits, the importance of what the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation is doing can not be overstated.

On many nights, Michelle Freeman will get up on stage to introduce the headline performers. She has a charismatic way of both expressing the foundation’s mission to promote the arts in the community, and getting those in attendance excited about what they are about to see on stage.

Which brings us to the entertainment.

The announcement of the coming year’s schedule is now as widely anticipated as anything that happens in our area, outside of my New Year’s resolutions column, obviously. Younger people get excited about performers I’ve never heard of before, older people get excited about performers I have nearly forgotten about over the years and people in our office huddle around whichever reporter attended the announcement so they can get the early scouting report and start setting their social calendars. Our photographer, R. Chris Clark, basically moves a tent to the Bayside parking lot for the summer.

Last week I had the opportunity to see Lyle Lovett and his Large Band perform under the lights. To me, Lovett was a country singer in the ’80s who, at one point, married Julia Roberts. I know about as much about country music as I do the latest hair-care products, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect.

What I got, and what everybody else in attendance that night got, was a spectacular performance by one of the greatest collections of musical talents I’ve ever seen. They alternated between country, rock, gospel, jazz and blues, with different instruments and vocalists taking turns grabbing the spotlight. Between songs, we got stories and jokes from Lovett, turning a concert under the stars into an intimate gathering of friends listening to music.

And, really, that’s what makes the Freeman Stage special.