This summer and fall, Levitt lawns across the country are once again filling with the sounds of free, live music. After a devastating pandemic year that forced us to be apart, Levitt venues and AMP grantees weren’t sure what to expect while planning their concert series, however record-breaking audiences have proven that people are ready to come back together and build community through the power of music. “People are just excited to be back,” said Lisa Wagner, executive director of Levitt Pavilion Dayton. “Greeting one another. Hugging each other. Picking up where they left off in many ways. There has been a real healing experience of what we missed in 2020.”
Healing is exactly what so many of us are needing following the past year. During that challenging time, the Levitt network pivoted to create virtual programming, mobile concerts, pop-up shows and more. These efforts not only helped people feel a sense of connection during a time of great uncertainty and isolation, but also gave artists an opportunity to share their music and brighten otherwise dark and challenging days.
Now that in-person Levitt concerts have returned, read on to learn more about the 2021 Levitt season and how you can experience some of these amazing free concerts, either in-person or virtually.
The sounds of summer return
In Arlington, Texas, Levitt Pavilion Arlington kicked off the first leg of its free concert series on May 7 with Americana rockers Jonathan Tyler & The Northern Lights and concluded July 18 with country troubadour Carson Jeffrey. After taking a break to accommodate the Texas heat, the season resumes Labor Day weekend with two-time GRAMMY-winning polka band, and Levitt Arlington fan favorite, Brave Combo, returning to the venue for the 12th time.
“It’s been a whirlwind and an ever-evolving challenge ever since the pandemic hit, but it’s also been a time of tremendous growth and positive developments,” said Levitt Pavilion Arlington’s Executive Director Letatia Teykl. “The lessons learned and the opportunities we’ve been presented have been amazing, and I only see great things in our future.” So far this season, concert attendance has ranged from 450 to 4,500 people a night.
Levitt Arlington’s fall season will wrap on October 10 with singer-songwriter Courtney Patton. You can check out the full lineup here. You can also watch the concerts live on Levitt Arlington’s Facebook page.
Next to open was Levitt Pavilion Denver, which began its season on May 14 with Pimps of Joytime. Executive Director Chris Zacher expected people would need more time to feel comfortable at the venue, but Levitt Denver’s expansive lawn has been a major asset. “As people have been thinking about getting back out and reintroducing themselves to public life, we’ve been uniquely positioned because of the size of our lawn to be able to accommodate people who want to social distance,” said Zacher. By the start of July, more people had already attended concerts at Levitt Denver this summer than in previous years.
Beyond the space itself, Levitt Denver is booking more well-known acts than it has in the past and is prioritizing making its concerts more accessible. DeVotchKa and Polish Ambassador have already played at Levitt Denver this year, with Yonder Mountain String Band coming up on August 5 and folk duo Shovels and Rope closing out the season on October 9. And new for this year, at each concert families can check out sensory kits that include special glasses and earphones designed to reduce sensory overload and help create a more enjoyable concert experience for people with conditions such as autism. The kits are part of Levitt Denver’s certification as a sensory inclusive venue.
On August 8, Levitt Denver is putting accessibility centerstage with The Shine Music Festival, which will combine the staples of a music festival with adaptive technology and a comprehensive accessibility plan to create an inclusive space for people of all abilities. One of the unique features of the daylong festival will be a dance floor near the stage where anyone who is deaf or hard of hearing can feel the music through the vibration in the floor. Zacher said the goal is for people with disabilities to fully enjoy the performances. The audience will also be treated to musical acts including alternative rock duo The Score, country artists Ryan Chrys and The Rough Cuts, and El Javi, an artist who combines flamenco, progressive rock, classical, and folk.
You can see the full lineup of upcoming shows at Levitt Denver here.
In Bethlehem, Pa., Levitt Pavilion SteelStacks kicked off its season with New Orleans trumpeter Shamarr Allen on May 22 and the audience was ready for it. “Our first week back on the lawn was nothing short of inspiring as we relived what it felt like to gather with our community – with laughter, conversations and sharing the love of music!” said Levitt Pavilion SteelStacks’ Executive Director Anne Sturm. So far this season, concert attendance has been about 1,000 audience members each night.
Sturm is particularly excited for soul-singer Danielle Ponder’s performance on July 24. Not only does the singer give her “chills,” but before the show, Ponder will meet with local students to share the challenges and successes she has experienced in the music industry.
The Levitt SteelStacks season will wrap up on September 19 with Kat Wright, who has been described as “a young Bonnie Raitt meets Amy Winehouse.” You can check out the full lineup here.
Record-breaking audiences are flocking to Levitt Shell Sioux Falls, with attendance numbers higher than the venue’s inaugural 2019 season. This year’s season kicked off on June 11 with GRAMMY-winning Ranky Tanky performing timeless music born from the Gullah culture of the southeastern Sea Islands. Levitt Sioux Falls Executive Director Nancy Halverson said locals are ready to be back on the lawn. “In the beginning there was a lot of social distancing happening with people. That has just kind of naturally gone away. People are sitting closer to each other. They’re interacting more,” she said.
The audiences at Levitt Sioux Falls aren’t only larger than before, they are also more diverse, part of an intentional strategy to reach more members of the community. “Last weekend we had The Reminders, who are a hip hop group. And we also had a local rapper open the show,” said Halverson. “We saw more diversity of age and race on the lawn than we’ve seen to date, so that was really exciting. And now going forward in our season, we have more diverse artists scheduled, and we’re really hoping that we’ll see the audience reflect that.” This season Levitt Sioux Falls is also continuing to bring Levitt in Your Neighborhood pop-up concerts and outreach events into the community.
The concert season will wrap up on September 11. The full lineup is available here. And for anyone who can’t attend concerts in person this year, Levitt Sioux Falls has partnered with South Dakota Public Broadcasting to livestream the entire concert season.
Like Levitt SteelStacks, Levitt Pavilion Dayton also kicked off its season on June 12 with New Orleans trumpeter Shamarr Allen. A month into the season, attendance numbers at Levitt Dayton have jumped from an average of 1,500 concertgoers a night in 2019 to an average of 2,200 concertgoers this year. For the venue’s Juneteenth celebration, featuring Tank and the Bangas and a panel conversation about the significance of Juneteenth, audience numbers nearly doubled to more than 4,000 people. “Coming out of the pandemic last year, we’re just thrilled to be able to reactivate the space and invite people to come back on the lawn,” said Wagner. “It’s really more than the music. It’s about the connectivity of us being together and being together safely. Music is that conduit of making that possible.”
In addition to audience excitement to be back on the lawn, artists are also thrilled to perform once again in front of a live audience. When all-female country group Farewell Angelina came to Levitt Dayton in late June, it had been a long time since they had performed in front of a large crowd and the energy was fueling them. “Musicians didn’t stop creating during the pandemic, but not being able to perform that art for people was very difficult and also financially a sacrifice,” Wagner said. “So seeing that come full circle where we’re all reunited in the ecosystem that we’re all part of has been really beautiful.”
This summer Levitt Dayton is also presenting pop-up concerts as well as nurturing its next generation of performers by hosting its first Signature Levitt Summer Camp. The one-week camp for teens ages 14-18 will teach songwriting, mindfulness and the entrepreneurship of being a musician. Campers will also have the opportunity to showcase the music they created during the week as an opening act on the Levitt stage.
The 2021 Eichelberger Concert Season runs through September 26. You can check out this season’s full lineup here.
The Levitt Pavilion along the banks of the Saugatuck River in Westport, Conn., kicked off its free concert season with rock and Americana group Midnight North on June 17.
GRAMMY-nominated musician and artist Divinity Roxx will be performing as part of Levitt Westport’s children series on July 21, which is the longest running children’s series in the Levitt network. Her song “Ready Set Go” encourages children to be ready for greatness by having the right attitude. Folk and children’s musicians Elena Moon Park and Friends will perform as part of the series on August 11. Her “Rabbit Days and Dumplings” album features reimagined folk and children’s songs from East Asia, including Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan and Tibet.
Later this month, free Levitt concerts are scheduled to return to Levitt Pavilion Los Angeles on July 30 with LGBTQ+ Mexican artist Flor Amargo. This year will be a hybrid season, featuring in-person concerts with livestream access. The electrifying 2021 lineup features international greats as well as LA’s own rising stars who will perform a wide variety of genres including cumbia, rock, soul, ska, mariachi, electronic dance music, folkloric music from Mexico and Central America, Tejano, reggae and much more.
“We could not be more thrilled with the park opening up and for it to be safe for Levitt Pavilion Los Angeles to be open for an audience,” said Levitt LA’s Executive Director Allison Keating. “Los Angeles and the surrounding community of Westlake were hit particularly hard by the pandemic, and we are all in much need of celebration. We thank our staff, board, community partners, artists and donors in supporting us through the trials of 2020 so that Levitt LA can once again bring joy, hope and unity to MacArthur Park.” As a collective love letter to the nearby community, Levitt LA will premiere later this summer a new five-episode documentary on its YouTube channel entitled Barrio Fino. The series will dive into the music and cultural diversity of Westlake, Koreatown, Historic Filipinotown, the North American Indigenous populations of Los Angeles and the legacy of youth & hip-hop in the park.
The concert season will run through August 22. You can check out the full season lineup and sign up for livestream information here.
And in Memphis, the return of free live music at the Levitt Shell begins on September 3 with Nick Black, whose modern take on soul music still feels familiar and nostalgic. Black is just one of the local performers who will be on stage at the Levitt Shell this year. He will be joining other Memphis-based performers like swamp soul musician Marcella Simien and instrumental septet Detective Bureau.
“The most exciting part of our fall free season is our total focus on local Memphis musicians,” said Levitt Shell Executive Director Natalie Wilson. “After the most difficult year in our history for not only the Shell, but also our Memphis music industry, we decided that our total focus would be rooted in community, supporting local and showcasing our 85 years of being a catalyst for supporting our vibrant Memphis musicians.” As part of the season, Levitt Shell is partnering with the Memphis Black Arts Alliance to highlight local Black artists, including Young Actors Guild and Kurl McKinney and Sons. Levitt Shell has also committed itself to accessibility by becoming certified as a sensory inclusive venue.
The 2021 Orion Free Music Concert Series at the Levitt Shell in Memphis will wrap up on October 22. You can check out this season’s full lineup here.
Live music returns to AMP communities
In addition to the return of in-person concerts at permanent Levitt venues, nearly all of the 20 Levitt AMP grantees are hosting in-person concerts this year. In the rural town of Galva, Ill., for example, the Levitt AMP Galva Music Series kicked off on May 30 with folk rock group Good Morning Bedlam. Attendance at the venue is up this year, but it took a few shows before concertgoers felt comfortable with each other again.
“Our first four concerts, there were a lot people in the park, but at the same time it was different,” series organizer John Taylor said. “You could tell that people were a bit reluctant to get up and move around and dance.” The turning point arrived a month later with Radio Free Honduras, as audiences couldn’t help but get up and dance to the infectious music mixing Honduran punta, Spanish flamenco, jazz fusion, Latin country and rock.
Levitt AMP Galva’s season wraps up on August 8. You can check out the full lineup here.
In the small town of Houston, Miss., the Levitt AMP Houston Music Series kicked off its inaugural season on June 5 with zydeco band Dwight Carrier and Black Cat Zydeco. Concerts are already averaging about 300 people a night. Organizer Sean Johnson, director of the Chickasaw Development Foundation, is excited about bringing music to a new Levitt AMP community and about revitalizing Legion Lake Park.
“The placemaking part of it is fantastic. This park has been neglected for years. People just stopped going up there,” Johnson said. Johnson and his team added tiki torches and made other improvements to the park, because they want concertgoers to enjoy a high-quality visual experience along with a high-quality music experience. “Cedric Burnside came and played and then the next week he was in Rolling Stone Magazine,” Johnson said about the blues musician who performed in early June. “People being able to see this [caliber of music], and they’re like we’ve never had anything like this.”
Levitt AMP Houston’s series concludes August 7. The full lineup is available here.
And in the growing community of Berea, Ky., returning grantee Levitt AMP Berea opened its season on July 3 with cellist and folk singer Ben Sollee followed by a bluegrass show with the Wooks on July 4. Concertgoers were excited for the first two shows, with opening weekend attracting about 1,600 people. This was a dramatic increase from the roughly 400 people a night in 2019. “People were hugging. People were dancing. We had conga lines that formed both evenings. It was joyful. People were really happy to be able to be in community in that way again,” said Ali Blair, project lead for the Levitt Amp Berea Music Series.
The Levitt AMP Berea series moved this year to a new public space, an underused park less than half a mile from the previous location, and has a new programming focus – an all Kentucky lineup. Blair said organizers wanted to “show some of the diversity that we have here in the state of Kentucky and be able to present artists who have taken a hit with the pandemic.” The Kentucky focus includes Brazilian jazz band Brazukas and folk group Mama Said String Band as well as students from nearby Berea College. While students aren’t back on campus just yet, Levitt AMP Berea will host a virtual show that features pre-recorded performances from five Berea College music ensembles on July 31.
Levitt AMP Berea’s season wraps up on September 4. You can check out the full lineup here.
Rebuilding community bonds through music
Last summer, we dreamed about the day we would return to Levitt lawns, celebrating the power of music to build community and the joy of being together. Going into this year’s concert season, Levitt venues and AMP grantees were unsure whether audiences would be ready to return. But as shared here, Levitt audiences knew exactly where they wanted to be – back on the lawn! This has been welcome news to the Levitt network and to musicians who not only lost significant income during the pandemic, but also lost the chance to connect with their fans and feed off their energy to take their art to new places creatively.
We’re thrilled that in-person Levitt concerts have returned, once again bringing people together of all ages and backgrounds for the shared experience of free music under the stars. At the same time, the impactful virtual and off-site programming of 2020 is continuing in Levitt communities across the country. To reach a wider audience, many Levitt venues and AMP grantees have focused on broadening access at their sites, and several are continuing to broadcast their concerts online and present pop-up concerts in other neighborhoods. This expanded programming furthers the inclusivity and accessibility central to the Levitt mission.
So whether you’re able to join in person or virtually from home, we hope you’ll experience a Levitt concert this year and feel the healing power of music. The sounds of summer are calling!