A rendering shows the Avalon Foundation’s Stoltz Pavilion in Easton, Md., set to open Nov. 5. (Courtesy Avalon Foundation)

Avalon Theatre creates an outdoor alternative on Eastern Shore

Many live performance venues have kept the music flowing during the pandemic by creating temporary setups such as the drive-in format and using protocols to keep patrons and staff as safe as possible from the novel coronavirus.

The Avalon Foundation has taken the concept one step further. The Maryland nonprofit developed the Stoltz Pavilion, a new 800-capacity tented structure. Driven by the pandemic, the “pop-up” venue concept evolved into a permanent outdoor venue along the state’s Eastern Shore.

The pavilion is in downtown Easton, Md., a town of 16,500 in a largely rural area about an hour and 20 minutes southeast of Baltimore. Wealthy families build second homes along the Tred Avon River in the area, which helps create demand for live entertainment in a small town, said Al Bond, the foundation’s president and CEO.

The Stoltz Pavilion will be erected in an Easton, Md., shopping center parking lot. (Courtesy Avalon Foundation)

The pavilion sits a few blocks from the 400-capacity Avalon Theatre, also run by the foundation. It will open Nov. 5 with a performance by singer-songwriter Susan Werner. Coming next are Cris Jacobs (Nov. 6), Chris Trapper (Nov. 7) and Martin Sexton (Nov. 8).

“Like every venue across the country, we’ve been shut down since March and trying to figure out how we can come up with a way to program events with higher density than is allowable indoors in the state right now,” Bond said. “We looked around for a place to have an outdoor venue that would still be downtown and benefit other businesses. We found a spot at a shopping center.”

The Stoltz Pavilion is 60 feet wide and 111 feet long. Under current restrictions, the tent features patio-style furniture and love seats in pods of up to four seats in a socially distanced setting. Propane-powered fire pits counter the fall’s evening chill along Chesapeake Bay.

Food and drink is table service, and patrons use portable restrooms.

As it stands now, the state of Maryland allows gatherings of 100 people indoors and 250 outdoors, which is the number that serves as the temporary cap for the new facility, equating to a little less than one-third of total seats.

“We really weren’t thinking about this (project) pre-COVID, but what we see is the potential for post-COVID use as well,” Bond said. “Once we’re allowed to go back to normal (capacity), it gives us a reach into meeting artists’ guarantees that we can’t do in our 400-seat theater.”

The project cost of $210,000 was funded by the Stoltz family, the shopping center’s owner. Keith Stoltz owns Electric Lady Studios in New York, which was built by Jimi Hendrix and celebrated its 50th anniversary in August. Stoltz previously helped build the Stoltz Listening Room, a 60-person space in Easton.

The foundation is using its own sound and light production for the pavilion, which has saved on project costs.

The key to building the pavilion was to develop a performance-friendly venue by eliminating all the poles that typically hold up a big tent, according to Bond. Officials’ research led them to select SaddleSpan Tents, a Canadian supplier that builds tents without poles.

The company provides a clear-span solution that does not affect the acoustic quality with limited capacity. The tent structure is strong enough to withstand 115-mph winds, which makes it easier to plan for shows in a waterfront community, Bond said.

“Once you start messing around with sightlines and still try and maintain the pod distancing, it just gets to be a hot mess,” he said. “There are lots of compound curves, which is good for a music environment. When you look at these things, it kind of reminds you of the Sydney Opera House.”

For the first few concerts, tickets cost $60 for tables of two and $120 for a table of four. Martin Sexton, a recording artist for 24 years who has played major festivals as well as Carnegie Hall, is priced a bit higher at $100 and $200.

All performances will be streamed online to accommodate music lovers who don’t feel comfortable attending events.

The foundation produces 160 events a year, including concerts, and works with other local groups to put on their events. The pavilion will be accessible for all of those organizations to book shows, Bond said.

“We’re trying to figure our way through it,” he said. “Up until September, we weren’t allowed to do anything. We pulled this idea out and hopefully audiences respond, and we think they will. Everybody wants a little bit of joy. We want to stay relevant and put artists back to work.”