Freeman Stage reveals first part of summer lineup

Coastal Point • Laura Walter: Patti Grimes, left, and Michelle Freeman were in a celebratory mood following the release of the first part of this season’s Freeman Stage schedule.Coastal Point • Laura Walter: Patti Grimes, left, and Michelle Freeman were in a celebratory mood following the release of the first part of this season’s Freeman Stage schedule.Either the Freeman Stage has too much of a good thing to share it all at once, or they’re trying to extend the excitement. Either way, they’ve whetted appetites by announcing only the first half of their 2018 summer lineup on March 8 in West Fenwick.

“We’re going to have two reveals … so this is Volume I of the soundtrack of your summer,” said Patti Grimes, executive director of the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation, which runs the entertainment venue.

Now in its 11th season, the outdoor stage will host more than 60 shows this summer, including performances for children who wouldn’t otherwise see such performers.

“Our mission is to make sure that everyone has access for the arts,” Grimes said. “It’s been one of our core values. It has been our purpose to elevate the human spirit since we started in 2008.”

Elementary-school principal Janet Hickman has visited the Stage with middle-class students who vacation in Europe and with children who live in poverty and have never left their home neighborhoods. But both groups had eyes like saucers to see Freeman’s spectacles. Now, her Georgetown Kindergarten Center kids are excited to see the “Junie B. Jones” live show. That’s possible because of a Sussex County transportation grant to bus students to the Stage.

“Music, specifically, can conjure up memories that can last a lifetime,” whether of a special person or place. “It’s those memories that we try to create at the Freeman Stage,” said founder Michelle Freeman.

“Many, many times in my darkest days after Josh died,” she said of her late husband, “I would get in my car and — as a person who believed in the signs — I would turn on my radio, and the song that he would sing to me would be on the radio. And all the sudden, I would be driving down the road and singing to my heart’s delight. And it would lift me from the darkest of dark days,” Freeman said. “I believe music and the arts can do that.”

While “Volume I” of the performer list release was March 8, the other headliners, cultural acts and children’s acts will be announced more casually at 6 p.m. on Monday, April 9, at Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats in Rehoboth Beach.

The shows

Ticket sales open Monday, March 26, at 10 a.m.

Headliners include Smokey Robinson on June 1; The Wailers on June 15; Chris Janson on June 22; Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers with special guest The Wood Brothers on June 30; comedian Jeff Foxworthy on July 7; Tony Award-winner Leslie Odom Jr. on July 8; Straight No Chaser on July 24; the Beach Boys on Aug. 3; OAR with special guest Matt Nathanson on Aug. 9; Cheap Trick on Aug. 10; and Vince Gill on Aug. 11.

An Aug. 16 tri-centennial celebration of New Orleans will feature Voodoo Threauxdown, Trombone Shorty & News Orleans Avenue, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, New Breed Brass Band and Galactic.

Regional shows include the Mid-Atlantic Symphony Orchestra, the First State Ballet, Clear Space Theatre Company, Brown Box Theatre Project, Delaware’s All-State Theatre and local acts in “Locals Under the Lights.”

Other artists performing during the season will include Jazz Ambassadors, the Cajun band BeauSoleil, Tusk (a Fleetwood Mac tribute band), the Piano Guys, Midtown Men and the Celtic Tenors.

Once again, Hotel California (an Eagles tribute band) will perform, on Sept. 7 for wounded veterans and their families with Operation SEAs the Day.

This year’s performers bring with them honors including a Tony award, more than 60 Grammies and another 75 Grammy nominations, 18 CMAs and another 50 CMA nominations, and six American Music Awards. Two are Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees.

For a taste of the music to come, the Freeman Stage also has a 2018 playlist on Spotify.

For more information, visit or call (302) 436-3015.

Behind the scenes

The Freeman Stage is a program of the nonprofit Joshua M. Freeman Foundation, which partners to present memorable performances and arts education for all.

Although the stage aims to bring diversity in the performances and the student guests, there were few people of color in the packed press conference. Addressing that issue head-on, Grimes said that the Foundation has just kicked off a new program called IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Education & Awareness) to address diversity. She said the board members are diverse in demographic, geography, age and gender.

Freeman thanked the volunteers who work every performance, in the heat and the rain. She also thanked the sponsors who were gathered in this press conference: “Every dollar matters. It does not matter what you can give to this cause. It is changing lives. It is a source of hope and joy in our county, and it is a difference-maker, and so whatever you can do to help us, we can’t do it without you.”

Trying to be good stewards of their money, the Stage has operated in the black for the past three years, Grimes said. Their budget has tripled in the last six years, but of every dollar, 80 cents still goes to programming, while 15 cents goes into fundraising and 5 cents goes to administrative costs.