Westport's Levitt Pavilion Reopens With A Bang

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Weston resident Jose Feliciano performed at the opening performance at the newly restored Levitt Pavilion in Westport on Sunday July 20. Photo Credit: Daily Voice Youtube
People fill Westport's Levitt Pavilion for the re-launch night performance of Weston's Jose Feliciano.
People fill Westport's Levitt Pavilion for the re-launch night performance of Weston's Jose Feliciano. Photo Credit: Alissa Smith
Mimi Levitt acknowledges a standing ovation and congratulates Westport as she speaks of her fond memories of the town.
Mimi Levitt acknowledges a standing ovation and congratulates Westport as she speaks of her fond memories of the town. Photo Credit: Alissa Smith
People fill Westport's Levitt Pavilion for the relaunch night performance of Weston's Jose Feliciano.
People fill Westport's Levitt Pavilion for the relaunch night performance of Weston's Jose Feliciano. Photo Credit: Alissa Smith
People fill Westport's Levitt Pavilion for the re-launch night performance of Weston's Jose Feliciano.
People fill Westport's Levitt Pavilion for the re-launch night performance of Weston's Jose Feliciano. Photo Credit: Alissa Smith
People fill Westport's Levitt Pavilion for the re-launch night performance of Weston's Jose Feliciano.
People fill Westport's Levitt Pavilion for the re-launch night performance of Weston's Jose Feliciano. Photo Credit: Alissa Smith
People fill Westport's Levitt Pavilion for the relaunch night performance of Weston's Jose Feliciano.
People fill Westport's Levitt Pavilion for the relaunch night performance of Weston's Jose Feliciano. Photo Credit: Alissa Smith
People fill Westport's Levitt Pavilion for the relaunch night performance by Weston's Jose Feliciano.
People fill Westport's Levitt Pavilion for the relaunch night performance by Weston's Jose Feliciano. Photo Credit: Alissa Smith
Carleigh Welsh, marketing and development director for The Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts, with her mother Freda, speaks about what the opening of the renovated pavilion means.
Carleigh Welsh, marketing and development director for The Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts, with her mother Freda, speaks about what the opening of the renovated pavilion means. Photo Credit: Alissa Smith
Lead architect and Westport resident Peter Cadoux reflects on how the building process went.
Lead architect and Westport resident Peter Cadoux reflects on how the building process went. Photo Credit: Alissa Smith
Mimi Levitt, with Westport First Selectman Jim Marpe, former First Selectman Gordon Joseloff and Freda Welsh, cuts the ribbon opening the new pavilion.
Mimi Levitt, with Westport First Selectman Jim Marpe, former First Selectman Gordon Joseloff and Freda Welsh, cuts the ribbon opening the new pavilion. Photo Credit: Alissa Smith
People fill Westport's Levitt Pavilion for the relaunch performance by Weston's Jose Feliciano.
People fill Westport's Levitt Pavilion for the relaunch performance by Weston's Jose Feliciano. Photo Credit: Alissa Smith

WESTPORT, Conn. – After less than a year of work, Westport’s Levitt Pavilion reopened Sunday with a new stage and redone grass seating to a sold-out house as Weston resident Jose Feliciano played the first concert of the summer season.

For people who have come every year since the concert space opened in Westport, the transformation was breathtaking.

“I think this is beautiful,” said Westport resident Bob Gillespie. “We’ve been coming here for 30 years, and this is a real big improvement. It’s just really, really nice.”

It was a sentiment echoed across the open field on the banks of the river as people settled into the space with their picnic blankets, chairs and food.

“The building has new life,” said Fairfield resident Frank Geiger, owner of Geiger Landscape Architects and one of the sponsors of the renovated pavilion.

“The whole design is gorgeous,” said Elyse Etkin of Westport. “This is beautiful.”

To the builders and architects of the new pavilion, having it completed and ready for performances was very emotional. 

“We’re here, right now, on a closed municipal landfill and look at it,” lead architect and Westport resident Peter Cadoux said at the ribbon cutting on Sunday evening. “I think that’s pretty great.”

Many thanks were given to the donors, but a special acknowledgement was given to Mimi Levitt, who gave $4.5 million through her family’s foundation, The Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation, for the renovations.

Levitt stood up to a standing ovation to congratulate Westport and spoke of fond memories of the town, 40 years earlier when the pavilion first was built.

“I look forward to returning for years to come,” Levitt said. Her daughter, Liz Levitt Hirsch, said the Levitt Pavilion has served as a model for six other free music pavilions across the country.

“This is, as we so vividly can see, is a community treasure,” Levitt Hirsch said.

After a ribbon cutting with state and local officials, the crowds settled in for the big event: the free concert with Jose Feliciano.

“I’ve wanted to see Jose since we moved to Westport,” said Diana Hodge. “This is a big treat for me.”

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Everything that is written above is true. But assessing the situation a bit deeper from someone who had brought a blanket to sit on brings out some unfortunate realities. 1. Visibility: As I said, I brought a blanket and couldn't see a thing because everyone in front of me had large chairs (there was nowhere to move by the time I set up in the back). If you are stuck behind the sound control booth, you are not in luck. 2. Accessibility: once you were situated it was virtually impossible to move. It was so crowded, it verged on dangerous. There was no crowd control, no aisles, no police, no firemen. Since people find it difficult to self-regulate, I suggest that the Levitt invest in some stanchions or rope to create aisles so people can go to the bathroom if needed. And there is no bathroom access at the top - only at street level. And also - since no one could move, no one could reach the bar that was set up in the back. True, this will probably be the biggest crowd the Levitt will ever have but a bit of preparation could prevent any future unpleasantness. The Levitt should warn people that if they bring a bring only a blanket, they will not be able to see. Or they should have designated blanket areas where large chairs are not permitted.

At Shakespeare on the Sound at Pinkney Park in Rowayton, the management addresses these very issues. They use ropes to designate aisles. There are marked sections for those on blankets in the front, closest to the stage; then low-height chairs with backs (low beach chairs) in the middle; then behind that section, those in higher chairs further back. This allows for maximum visibility, as well as access to the bathrooms.