What do Pat Benatar, Sheryl Crow and Darius Rucker have to do with Delaware? This year, a lot, thanks to the Freeman Stage at Bayside.
For its venue located four miles from the Atlantic Ocean, the nonprofit Joshua M. Freeman Foundation has announced the lineup for its sixth summer season, which also includes Lyle Lovett, Michael McDonald and 50 other acts from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
The venue opens May 25 with the Aga-Boom physical comedy group in a free, family-friendly performance. This summer, other crowd-pleasers include the Mid-Atlantic Symphony Orchestra, Chesapeake Brass Band, Clear Space Theatre Company, Delaware Shakespeare Theatre and First State Ballet. A number of international performers will bring jazz, doo-wop, African dance, zydeco, classic tribute bands and much more to Sussex County.
“We couldn’t be more excited about the diversified programs and special concert events,” said Patti Grimes, executive director of the foundation. “Adding the special concert events to our lineup over the last few season has been a huge success, and we hope … to continue to attract new patrons, while also bringing the awareness of the importance of arts in our community.”
This year, 65 percent of the venue’s performances are entirely free. Otherwise, paid admission is usually $10 for adults and free for children, except for the few major concert events, which have a higher cost.
The stage is also introducing Locals Under the Lights, in which local performers will share the stage with a national acts several times this summer.
Since the venue opened, an estimated 30,000 children and 100,000 adults have seen performances there.
Physically, the Freeman Stage at Bayside is a casual outdoor stage and a green lawn to which audiences bring lawn chairs, blankets and picnic baskets. Sponsors have reserved seating in front of the stage, and raised seating is offered only for special events. The foundation uses the Delaware Technical and Community College auditorium for performances during the winter.
“We’ll go wherever you invite us to come, is basically our motto,” said Michelle DiFebo Freeman, president and chairperson of the foundation’s board. “Our focus has never been the physical structure … but arts education for all, to connect people and eliminate barriers. Rich or poor, when you hear Beethoven, we’re all the same.”
“In military parlance, this is no ordinary outfit,” said Sara Chase Carlson, a member of the foundation’s board of directors.
After escaping the congestion of big-city living, Carlson said she realized she also left behind the metropolitan arts scene. So she dragged her own daughter back and forth to the cities for arts programming.
“If only we had had a Freeman Stage back then,” said Carlson. “Woe is the society that does not place equal importance on the arts [and sciences] … it’s the children, in my opinion, who benefit the most.”
Today, parents need only drive 10 minutes down the road to see the international acts that Carlson once found only in the city.
The PNC Bank’s Grow Up Great program is sponsoring Saturday-morning children’s performances this year.
Many of the children have never even attended a live arts experience, said Sister Maria Mairlot of St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Georgetown, representing the county’s Hispanic community. She told a story of a young boy who wanted to give up playing music. She didn’t know how he’d react to seeing Freeman’s wintertime opera concert.
“The boy went home, took the piano from his closet and told his parents, ‘I’m going to study music,’” Mairlot said of the child, who now attends Milford’s Music School of Delaware. “That’s what the arts do to the kids.”
The Sussex County Council has helped by providing transportation grants to the foundation, to cover costs for busing school children to the stage.
“Freeman brought to Sussex County a vision that a lot of people thought of as a ‘pie in the sky’ vision,” said County Councilman Vance Phillips, also noting that — unlike the Freeman Companies, which developed the venue’s home of Bayside west of Fenwick, as well as Bear Trap Dunes and Sea Colony — other developers have not always stayed connected to their communities as expected. “The [Freeman] vision, I believe, has exceeded expectations. … I think it works as a shining example of [County] and non-profit partnership.”
Other officials took the opportunity of the March 14 announcement of the Freeman Stage’s lineup to congratulate the foundation, including U.S. Sen. Tom Carper’s representative Karen McGrath, state Rep. Ron Gray and Kristin Pleasanton of the Delaware Division of Arts and Department of State.
The Freeman Stage encourages the public to attend its events, and they also welcome people who would like to help the venue and foundation continue the mission to present memorable performance and provide inspired arts education for all. Ticket buyers, sponsors and volunteers are all appreciated, they said.
Special events performances for the 2013 season include Lyle Lovett and his acoustic group on July 10; Grammy-winner Sheryl Crow on July 14; country star and Hootie & the Blowfish frontman Darius Rucker on Aug. 8, in a reprisal of last summer’s hit performance; Grammy winner Michael McDonald on Aug. 10; and Pat Benatar with Neil Giraldo on Aug. 13.
Tickets for the season will go on sale Monday, April 1, at 10 a.m. A full calendar and ticket prices are available online at www.freemanstage.org. For more information, contact the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation at (302) 436-3015.