PAVILION POSTPONEMENT. The Avalon Foundation announced late Wednesday that it has rescheduled the grand opening of the Stoltz Pavilion outdoor concert tent featuring Susan Werner to Thursday, Nov. 5 from the original date, Friday, Oct. 30. Avalon artistic director Suzy Moore cited delays in construction work on the pavilion for the postponement, likely to be hindered by remnants of Hurricane Zeta. The story below, first posted Monday on Talbot Spy, has been edited to reflect that change in concert dates.
“We love Susan Werner,” said Al Bond, president of the Avalon Foundation, in announcing that she will be the inaugural performing artist for the Stoltz Pavilion. The Pavilion, a tent structure just behind TalbotTown, will safely bring outdoor live entertainment to Easton through the fall and winter months beginning Thursday, Nov. 5.
It turns out that Susan Werner loves the Avalon right back. She told us so in an interview from her home in Philadelphia. “I just love that theater,” Werner says of the 400-seat Art Deco indoor venue she’s played six times during her career as a singer-songwriter with a wide range of musical styles and lyrical themes. “It’s a very big small theater. Everybody’s so close in; you can really pick up their vibe.”
But this time, everybody will be socially distanced under the tent. Seating will be by 40 pods accommodating two to four people together in “love seats” or at bar-stool tables–similar to that of the Stoltz Listening Room upstairs at the Dover Street theater but more spread out.
Initiatives like the Avalon’s $210,000 investment in a heated, fresh-air concert tent is making it possible for artists like Werner to begin touring again, if with limited dates and audiences.
“I imagine my experience has been similar to others’,” Werner says of the lockdown starting in mid-March. “No one was going anywhere. My digital manager had been after me to do a series of livestream concerts. She said this would be a good time for a kind of a variety show.” “Susie on Sundays” was launched from her studio with guest appearances and requests. “My supporters have been very generous,” Werner says, referring to her online “tip jar.” That, together with a sharp drop in touring expenses–no airfare or hotels–not only helped sustain Werner but also keep her in touch with her fans while attracting new ones. She announced her Easton date on a Sunday night when her virtual guest was Frank Figliuzzi, former assistant counterintelligence director of the FBI. “I sang ‘Secret Agent Man’ and ‘The Spy Who Loved Me.’ We try to have fun,” she says.
Besides concert tours–live or virtual–and recordings, Werner’s artistry stretches to musical theater, having written the music and lyrics for “Bull Durham.” Based on the romantic-comedy baseball movie starring Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, and Tim Robbins, the show premiered in Atlanta in 2014. New York workshops followed along with talk of a national tour and Broadway opening until COVID-19 darkened theaters everywhere. “But business is still going on,” Werner says, citing “conversations about coming out of the gates roaring on the other side. We hope to be part of that.”
Meanwhile, at the Stoltz Pavilion–named, like the listening room, for Avalon Foundation supporters Jack and Susan Stoltz and their son, Keith–expect in its grand opening to hear selections from Werner’s just-released album, “Flyover Country.” It’s the latest in her series of concept albums. “Hayseed” was inspired by her experience growing up on her family’s Iowa farm. “As a writer, I like to have something in common with the audience going in,” she says. “Even if you don’t know who I am, we might have a connection if you have an affection for agriculture. I love farms and farmers.”
She recalls playing the Avalon in 2013 when “Hayseed” came out. That weekend, she also performed at the farmer’s market in Easton. “It was fascinating to me that they have products from the Chesapeake Bay. I’ll probably get it wrong,” she said, trying to recall if it was scallops, clams, or crabs.
“Oysters,” I said.
“I’d never been to a farmer’s market selling oysters,” the one-time Midwest farmgirl said. “I just loved that Eastern Shore encounter and what people love about where they live.”
She followed “Hayseed” with “The Gospel Truth,” which is about “faith and doubt next to each other. We did a lot of churches on that tour,” she recalls.
“Flyover Country” embraces all the twang and lonesome tales of a country album. “The subject matter is rural and what is wonderful about that and also what is hidden in the shadows,” Werner says. “Wine Bottles” is the surest bet to make her playlist for this tent debut concert. It’s a novelty song with a chorus that proclaims, or maybe complains, “They’re making wine bottles smaller all the time.” But Werner calls it a pandemic song. “There’ve been days when you feel like downing a whole bottle all by yourself. These bottles aren’t quite enough…
“There’s some truth to those stereotypes about country music,” she adds. “We were isolated in some ways on the farm. We entertained ourselves, learned to play the guitar as a way of connecting. My family has an unusual ear for harmony. It’s called ‘blood harmony:’ voices joined by DNA as well as the major third.” The Carter Family and Everly Brothers come to her mind as prime examples.
Her song, “Barn Music,” reflects the Werner family’s appreciation of a good song while milking the cows. “Nothing is harder work than dairy farming,” she proclaims. I agree with her, having been raised on a farm with 100 milk cows on Dutchman’s Lane in Easton. “Those cows sent you through college,” my mother used to say.
But that’s another story from another time in which you might wear a mask if you were, say, robbing a bank or maybe trick or treating.
“The Avalon has been very creative,” Werner says, “in figuring how people want to be together, enjoy themselves and still be safe at a time when we’re feeling kind of isolated and anxious.”
Steve Parks is a retired New York journalist and Easton native son of a dairy farmer.
Susan Werner Inaugurates The Stoltz Pavilion
7 p.m. Thursday, November, 5, under the tent just north of TalbotTown shopping center, Easton
Tickets: $60 for two in seating pods; $120 for four. Concert livestream: facebook.com/avalon.staff or youtube.com/avalontheatremaryland; suggested donation $25, see tickets.avalontheatre.com