Outdoor entertainment on a small budget
Photos by Megan Haley
Soul music will sound on the Common in Pittsfield, where the bronze dancing woman stands poised on a bronze ring. Down in Becket, a New York company will blend contemporary movement, traditional Indian dance, and Mughal love poetry on the Inside/Out stage at Jacob’s Pillow, with the broad green ridge beyond.
A summer day in the Berkshires may reveal storytelling on a city sidewalk, artists sketching outside an international art museum, or live jazz on the terrace of a Gilded Age “cottage.” Families can picnic outside on a summer night, sample a local microbrew or a cold root beer, and listen to blues, rock, or original folk songs. Children may very well bounce around to David Grover’s guitar or run on a wide lawn outside a rehearsal space while a symphony orchestra and solo pianist rehearse Beethoven.
And those events are often free, or close to it.
This August, both Pittsfield and North Adams have free outdoor concerts in their city center. The Levitt AMP North Adams Music Series will launch ten concerts at Colegrove Park on Sunday afternoons through October 16, and Shire City Sessions will move original music to the Common in Pittsfield on Monday nights (when Shakespeare in the Park has a night off from The Tempest).
Shire City Sessions sponsor Alan Bauman, owner and president of CompuWorks in Pittsfield, says the idea for the sessions is locally grown—a group of people and organizations have come together to create this music series under the umbrella of WordXWord, the annual festival of poetry, storytelling, and spoken word. Organized and funded entirely through local contributions, the series runs July 25 through August 15 on Monday nights. Visitors who have a night free and local people who have a night off will find live entertainment, local food vendors, and local brews.
A sampling of the Monday offerings: On August 1, Primate Fiasco will perform its high acoustic energy, with banjo as lead string, accordion as keyboard, and a sousaphone instead of a bass. And on August 8, Eli “Paperboy” Reed will bring roots-y gospel and soul, a sound he developed while teaching in Harlem with the nonprofit Gospel for Teens program. (He has just released his fifth album, My Way Home, and has a national following, recently appearing on “Morning Edition.”) Kat Wright, from Burlington, Vermont, finishes the season with an 11-piece band.
Each concert will highlight local bands, including on August 1 recording artists from Sounds and Tones, a local record label in North Adams, who will also have artists highlighted in the Chalet at MASS MoCA later in August.
“It’s good to sit on a grassy lawn,” Bauman says. “What we need in Pittsfield is a lot of little things like this, focused events that add to the quality of life without becoming an overwhelming project. The Whitney Center, the Rainbow with jazz on Wednesdays, things like that.”
Berkshire towns and performers seem to agree. In North Adams, the free, live concert series in Colegrove Park opens with New England jam band the Adam Ezra Group on August 14. Subsequent concerts range from blues rock with Wild Adriatic to Bohemian folk with Bella’s Bartok to Brooklyn bluegrass with M Shanghai. Local food and brews will be available as well.
For a taste of nightlife, MASS MoCA will offer free, live music every Thursday at 7 through August in the Chalet—artist Dean Baldwin’s riverside beer garden. The Chalet has hosted occasional performances before, but this is the first summer to see weekly shows there, says Julia Melnick, the museum’s communications coordinator.
MASS MoCA has reached out to local artists, many from the Berkshires and Pioneer Valley. These are singer/songwriters performing their own music, while the bar serves brews and spirits from Bright Ideas Brewery and Berkshire Mountain Distillers, and families spread blankets on the riverbank. (The Chalet does not serve food, Melnick says, but picnics are welcome.)
Along with Sounds and Tones musicians performing folk, indie, and roots rock, singer/songwriter and farmer Hayley Sabella from Plymouth will perform at the Chalet on August 4, and songwriter Grainne Buchanan, a student at Smith College, on September 1.
On the last Thursday in August, live bands will take to the streets in North Adams with Downstreet Art. And in September, between pop-up galleries in city storefronts, visitors may hear a djembe drummer keep a beat or a spoken-word performer tell the stories of Egyptian gods painted in a sky-blue mural.
Lara Gonzalez, co-founder of Marafanyi—a North Adams group teaching traditional West African rhythm and dance—says the group is crafting an event to honor Egyptian artist Alaa Awad and his artwork on Center Street. Awad is excited by the idea of a community interpretation, says Gonzalez, and she hopes to involve him in the new work.
Across the county, outdoor events are moving across art forms. At the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, exhibits of Old Masters from the Prado, and “Sensing Place” will spill over into moonlit walks, acoustic music, and sketching on Stone Hill, and, on Sundays, family games and entertainment. Up the road, the Williams College Museum of Art will explore its summer shows—from contemporary African sculpture and photography to minimalist abstraction and patterns of natural camouflage—with playful activities, from salsa dancing to dinner with Williamstown Theatre Festival actors.
So don’t let “local in the Berkshires” fool you. It’s international and it’s growing.
Clark Art Institute: Free full-moon walk, Aug 18. Plein Air drawing on Stone Hill, 1 to 4 pm, Saturdays through Aug 27; acoustic music on the hill, 2 to 4 pm. Family days, 1 to 4 pm., Sundays through August. All activities free with admission. 225 South St., Williamstown. clarkart.edu
Williams College Museum of Art: “Summer School” programs, art talks, and games, 4 p.m. onward, Thursdays through August. Space limited, all events free. 15 Lawrence Hall Dr., Williamstown. wcma.williams.edu
Downstreet Art: Art openings at galleries and pop-up arts spaces downtown, 5 to 8 pm, last Thursdays monthly; art market, live performances, and murals. Free. downstreetart.org
Levitt Concert Series: Free concerts weekly, 2 pm., Sundays, Colgrove Park, Main and Church streets. concerts.levittamp.org/north_adams
MASS MoCA: Free live music at the Chalet beer garden, Thursdays, open 5:30 pm. Music starts at 7, 87 Marshall St. massmoca.org
20th Annual Downtown Celebration: Aug 10, 5:30 to 9 pm, outdoor festival and community expo with vendors, food, music, performances, and art-making with DownStreet Art, Main St. and Downtown North Adams. explorenorthadams.com
Party in the Park: Free concerts from radio stations WUPE FM and WNAW 1230 AM, 6 to 8 pm, Thursdays at Noel Field through Aug 25.
Windsor Lake concerts: Free concerts on the shore, 6:30 to 8 pm, Wednesdays through Aug 31. Kayaking, canoeing, swimming, and fishing allowed. Bradley St. and Kemp Ave., North Adams.
Eagles Band: Broadway show tunes, music from TV and movies, patriotic favorites, and marches. Free concerts, 2 pm, Aug 14 at Hinsdale Fire House, 95 Maple St., Hinsdale; 7 pm, Aug 16 on the Common, Pittsfield; 7 pm, Aug 24 at Windsor Lake in North Adams. eaglescommunityband.org
First Fridays Artswalk: Art exhibits downtown, Aug 5, Sep 2. More than a dozen local shops and galleries offering artist receptions and live entertainment, 5 to 8 pm on and around North and South streets. After-party at the Whitney Center for the Arts, 42 Wendell Ave. firstfridaysartswalk.com
Hancock Shaker Village: Free Fun Fridays with Highland Street Foundation. Free admission Aug 5, Robert Hite outdoor sculptures and photographs, quilt show, and outdoor exhibit of spirit houses—fairy-sized homes made from woodland materials in the woods and fields. Routes 20 and 41. hancockshakervillage.org
Live on the Lake: Live 95.9 WBEC FM free concerts at Burbank Park on Onota Lake, 6 to 8 pm, Wednesdays through Aug 24.
Shakespeare in the Park: The Tempest, free performances, 8 pm, Thursday to Sunday through Aug 7 on the Common. Pre-show serenades, live music, 7:15 pm on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays by the Whitney Center for the Arts. First St.
Shire City Sessions: Free concerts Mondays through August. Outdoors on the Common (rain location in Zion Lutheran Church next door).
Third Thursdays: Downtown street festivals, free with live music, entertainment, games, food, and more, North and South Streets, 5 to 8 pm, third Thursdays monthly.
WordxWord: Annual festival of poetry, storytelling, spoken word, and more, Aug 9 to 13. Free writing and spoken-word workshops. Downtown Pittsfield. wxw365.org
New Lebanon, N.Y.
Tannery Pond: Parents and children are welcome to come to rehearsals, free on concert day, including the Miro Quartet on Saturday, Aug 6; the St. Lawrence String Quartet on Saturday, Aug. 27. Rehearsal times and places vary; call 888-820-1896. Darrow School, Route 20, New Lebanon, N.Y. tannery-pond-concerts.myshopify.com
Lenox Library: Terry a la Berry and friends perform a children’s concert, 11 am to noon, Tuesdays through August. 18 Main St.
Lilac Park: Free concerts, 6:30 pm, Wednesdays (rain location in Town Hall). Main St. lenox.org
The Mount: Music After Hours, free concerts on the terrace, 5 to 8 pm, Fridays and Saturdays through August. Wharton on Wednesdays, Berkshire actors read Wharton’s stories, 5 pm, weekly, $5 admission. Books & Blooms, free gathering in the garden for storytime and crafts, through Aug 30. Remix, a new outdoor sculpture exhibition at The Mount. Free artist-led tours Aug 14, Sep 11, Oct 16 at 11:30 am.
2 Plunkett St. edithwharton.org
Tanglewood: Rehearsals, 10:30 am, Saturday mornings, tickets $13. Yoga on the lawn. bso.org
Ventfort Hall: Free Fun Fridays with the Highland Foundation, free admission, Aug 26. 104 Walker St.
Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival: Inside/Out Stage, free, family-friendly outdoor dance performances, 6:15 pm, Wednesdays to Sundays, Aug 3 to Aug 27.
358 George Carter Rd., jacobspillow.org
Chesterwood: Chesterfest concerts, Friday evenings through August, with barbecue and beer. $10 admission includes grounds and “Nature of Glass” outdoor sculpture show; children under 13 free. 4 Willard Hill Rd., chesterwood.org
Naumkeag: Naumkeag at Night, 5 to 8 pm, Thursdays, Aug 4 to 25 with live music and cocktails in the gardens, tickets $10. Free Fun Fridays with the Highland Street Foundation, and Albany Berkshire Ballet, free admission Aug 12.
5 Prospect Hill Rd.
Norman Rockwell Museum: Berkshire Choral International performs on the terrace, 2 pm, Aug 3, and Albany Berkshire Ballet performs the Rockwell suites, 5:30 pm, Aug 4. Free Fun Fridays with the Highland Street Foundation, free admission Aug. 26. Route 183, nrm.org
Great Barrington Bandstand: David Grover performs childrens’ concerts, 10 am, Saturdays through Aug 27 by the Town Hall on Route 7. kidzlovemusic.com