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Freeman Arts Pavilion announces 2021 season

Katie Tabeling

Headliners for the 2021 Freeman Arts Pavilion season include (clockwise from top left) Jake Owen, Earth, Wind & Fire, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Fitz & the Tantrums.

SELBYVILLE — The 2021 Freeman Arts Pavilion lineup features a diverse mix of country, R&B, rock and pop artists, with headliners like Earth, Wind & Fire, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jake Owen and Fitz & the Tantrums for the summer concert series, organizers announced Thursday morning.

First launched in 2008, the annual music series at the previously dubbed Freeman Stage in Selbyville is promising a blockbuster return to music after the COVID-19 pandemic derailed what could have been its biggest season ever. 

The program, an arm of the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation, is a huge driver for Sussex County’s economy each summer, totaling $58 million in revenue over more than a decade, according to a 2019 University of Delaware study.

The 2021 season kicks off with Kashmir: The Live Led Zeppelin Show on June 17. Other top acts include Train, Indigo Girls, REO Speedwagon, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Blackberry Smoke, Straight No Chaser, The Commodores, Jamey Johnson, Melissa Etheridge and Leslie Odom Jr., and more. Comedian Kathleen Madigan will take the stage on July 24.

The Freeman Arts Pavilion also booked crowd pleasers like the Mid-Atlantic Symphony Orchestra, the First State Ballet and Brown Box Theatre Project. The Young Audience Series, sponsored by the PNC Foundation, will take place every Saturday morning throughout the season.

Freeman Arts Pavilion Executive Director Patti Grimes pointed out that this lineup has been more than a year in the making. When the pandemic swept through Delaware, the nonprofit turned to safely organizing smaller shows and rebooking the 2020 lineup to this year. Maximum seating from last summer was cut from 2,700 to 380 attendees per show, separated into pods of four seats each. 

“As last summer wore on, we reached a turning point where we realized this is something we will be dealing with in 2021,” Grimes said. “The good news is that last summer turned out to be practice and we now have the space to have a set up on a simple lawn at the future venue we bought. With a mobile stage and the ability to bring in food trucks, we believe we can deliver a great performing experience.”

In January, the Freeman Arts Pavilion revealed plans for a $27 million new venue on property bought on Route 9. The new venue should boost capacity by 50%, and build out should be completed in the next six years. Grimes added that throughout the summer, the Freeman Foundation will be leveraging dollars to start infrastructure at the site this year.

Last year, ticket revenue at the Freeman Arts Pavilion dropped 90%, but through sponsorship and other support, the nonprofit was able to make it through under extraordinary measures. But Grimes pointed out that the venue can not survive another season with ticket numbers seen in 2020, which also pushed the need to start using the new venue before it was built.

“Pre-pandemic, people were shoulder to shoulder and it may take a while for people to be comfortable with that again, although it’s heartening to hear how Delaware is moving quickly with vaccines,” she added. “The world is opening up, and we were indoors for a whole year. We are resilient, and we believe moving forward with this season will bring joy and hope, and that we can bring in a bold new world for the arts and our foundation.”

Tickets for performances through July 31 will go on sale at 10 a.m. April 22. The remaining performances will go on sale at a later date to be announced. Seating will be provided in pods of four, and concert attendees should prepare for a touchless experience and expect to wear masks.

For more information on the performances, visit www.freemanarts.org.

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