Commentary: Beloved coastal performance venue presses play for 2021


Most of us can remember the first time we experienced a live performance. Maybe it was the beat of the bass drums as we stood hip-high to our parents along the parade route, the brass almost frightening to our young ears.

Or perhaps it was the first time seeing a headline performance and, even if we tried to be cool, looking at the stage and thinking, “That’s really them!” Maybe it was a school play or hearing Shakespeare come to life in a way we never imagined in our forced high school reading … or the glory of a Broadway musical. It could be as simple as a favorite tune heard live.

It’s a feeling that never gets old, no matter how many performances we see. There’s the moment when the lights come on, and the energy draws us in. And when it’s over, there’s only one way to fully explain it: “You had to be there.”

The hidden gem of Delmarva

The Eastern Shore of Delaware is celebrated for its charming towns and gorgeous beaches. Towns like Selbyville have become a central point for locals and tourists to recreate after a weekend of scenic coastal driving, farmers markets and antiques shops. People are drawn to this gathering place for celebration, companionship, fun and live performances and family entertainment.

The Freeman Stage — now the Freeman Arts Pavilion — brought its special brand of magic to the Delaware coastal community 14 years ago. In 2019, more than 89,000 people were cast under the spell of legendary performers and local acts, as well as theater, dance and children’s programs. Diana Ross, Lyle Lovett, comedian Jim Gaffigan and the First State Ballet Theatre — unforgettable performances made possible by the public charity, the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation (a 501(c)3).

We were collectively joined by our love for the arts and our devotion to community.

As the pandemic taught us during the dark silence of canceled performances throughout America and the world, there is no virtual equivalent to a live performance. Live performances are forever remembered and become treasured by families and friends for the rest of their lives.

At war with this invisible virus, the Freeman Arts Pavilion team adapted rapidly, as organizations faced ever-changing health and safety guidelines. With so many unknowns, one thing held true — the staff and board of directors’ commitment to providing access to the arts for local residents and visitors to Delmarva. Through sheer determination, passion and drive, they problem-solved and innovated — creating small opportunities in 2020 for live performances that inspired our tired and weary spirits.

It never disappoints — the alchemy of sound and light electrifies a charge that pulls us out of ourselves and, for a brief but unforgettable time, we are drawn together into the magic of the stage: “You had to be there.”

Pavilion pods keep everyone safe

While COVID-19 curtailed the 2020 schedule, we rebooked many of the scheduled performers for this year. The 2021 season will be doubly exciting. We look forward to welcoming audiences and performers back — and to our own debut as the Freeman Arts Pavilion. A larger lakefront seating area will give us room to accommodate 500 socially distant pods, as we move forward with the utmost care, keeping our guests, volunteers, patrons and performers safe.

The pavilion’s new season was announced recently and the lineup is truly inspirational, stirring and magnificent.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet us at the Freeman Arts Pavilion. The show will go on!

Time to press play.

Lauren Weaver is executive director of the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce. Drexel Davison is a Freeman Arts Pavilion board member and the owner of Bad Hair Day? More information and tickets available at

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