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Gladys Knight, The Gipsy Kings part of Jefferson Center's Star City Series
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Gladys Knight, The Gipsy Kings part of Jefferson Center's Star City Series

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Sixteen months after Roanoke’s Jefferson Center shut its doors to live audiences, the venue is preparing to reopen.

“And we’re kind of going out big with the season, saying: We’re here; these are world-class and internationally recognized acts that you have an opportunity to see in a 900-seat hall,” Jefferson Center executive director Cyrus Pace said.

The Jeff’s premiere Star City Series will feature acclaimed soul singer Gladys Knight, world music stars The Gipsy Kings and world-class banjo man Bela Fleck’s return to the bluegrass format, all in Shaftman Performance Hall.

Fleck’s ex-New Grass Revival bandmate Sam Bush is returning to Shaftman, as is blues/Americana singer Shemekia Copeland (this time, as a headliner), while singer/songwriter Anais Mitchell will make her debut there, leading the trio Bonny Light Horseman.

Federal COVID-19 relief money and individual contributions not only kept the venue afloat through the quarantine months, but financially prepared it to put on shows of this caliber, Pace said.

“It’s been a long haul,” he said. “We’re fortunate to have gotten the support of our community. We of course have availed ourselves of any state and federal support that was accessible and available to us. And of course we also made the choices that we needed to make on the expense side to be sure that we didn’t end up in a more difficult place … so we ended up being whole on some level, so that we could capitalize our new season.”

The venue presented online shows to celebrate its quashed 20th anniversary. Meanwhile, it was adding to its ledger $318,400 from two rounds of the paycheck protection program, $31,830 from the CARES Act, and private foundation giving of $5,000.

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“I think it’s more meaningful for people to know [this was] stabilizing funding, to allow us to take the risk to come back into the market and do concerts … and hope that fiscal year ’22 is roaring back, not just sort of trickling back.”

Private giving through such initiatives as the “Give Now. Gather Later” campaign brought in funds consistent with what the venue’s controlling foundation typically receives, Pace said.

“Very clearly, Jefferson Center is a cultural asset that this community believes in, and the community wants to see it thrive,” he said.

Along with the full Star City schedule, Pace scheduled Jazz Series shows from Pat Metheny and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. Jazz Club at Jefferson Center, in the building’s Fostek Hall, will host George Colligan Trio, Samara Joy, Kat Edmonson, Joel Ross Good Vibes and Joey DeFrancesco. Magician Mike Super will be the venue’s Family act.

The long-delayed Tanya Tucker concert, along with Tuba Skinny, Yasmin Williams and Celtic Thunder are non-series shows scheduled for this year and next.

Now, it will be up to audiences to show up. With Virginia’s emergency order having ended on June 30, Jefferson Center organizers continue to look at Centers for Disease Control and Virginia Department of Health guidelines. There are no capacity limits, though if you are not vaccinated, you should continue to wear a mask, the current guidance states.

“When you’re closed down, you don’t have to worry about whether you have capital to field a show,” Pace said. “It’s when you start getting going again that you have to think about whether or not you have the capital to pay deposits, whether you can count on your patrons and your ticket buying base to come out and support you.

“It’ll be a telling year for us. We really still are going to depend on people supporting us through their donations and their ticket buying.”

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