Black Velvet: Gentle Giants in Litchfield
By Nichole Dupont
“Never turn your back on a stallion,” Ann Egan says as she enters the dusty paddock where her prize stud stands. “A stallion can have an off day, you just never know. I love this big guy, he’s my heart horse. But he’s still a stallion, nonetheless.”
It’s easy to see where the love comes from. Egan’s 13-year-old prize stallion, Wincredible, is a gorgeous sight. At 18 hands high (for those of you non-horse people, a hand equals 4 inches; so this baby is 6 feet high from his feet to his shoulders—that’s a big ‘un!), this velvety black equine is the paragon of his Percheron breed. Muscled, shiny, and bedecked with a raven mane and solid feet, his features harken back to the days of powerful war horses and a wild Breton landscape. But make no mistake, this stallion’s life is a far cry from the mud-tossed working existence of his forebears. Wincredible’s value rests literally in his bloodlines. He is the stud, the money maker, for Litchfield’s North Point Farm, owned and operated by Tim and Ann Egan, who, despite her obvious ease with the draft giants she raises, says she never had an interest in large breeds.
“The whole draft horse thing was foreign to me,” she says. “Tim built this barn and it stood empty for two years. Then, one year, when we went to the Big E [the Eastern States Exposition]—Tim wanted to see the steer showing—he pointed his finger at a Percheron pulling a cart. He wanted to get some for the barn. He liked how they looked.”
That was five years ago. Now, a few geldings and several mares later, North Point Farm has put itself on the map for producing some of the world’s most gallant, champion horses. All with an honest hand, says Ann, whose motto for the farm is “firm and fair.” While they do train and sell some of their herd, the bulk of North Point’s business is in breeding; both on-site siring (which can take up to 30 days to get a mare pregnant), and the high-tech business of freezing, cooling, and shipping semen to ranches and farms all over the world (the latest shipment, thanks Wincredible, was just sent to Australia) to the mighty tune of $1,800 give or take. And because of their stallion’s gorgeous progeny, his standing sheet—consider it a dance card for horses—always fills up. The show season is also kicking into high gear and Ann, who has just come off a year of heavy travel giving workshops at events as far away as Calgary, Canada, is preparing, once again, to leave the farm with a semi that can pull nearly a dozen horses and heavy carriage equipment. If she is daunted, she doesn’t show it.
“If I own it, I show it,” she says, looking at Sherman, the farm’s only barn cat (and a New England champion himself). “I’m a farm wife from Connecticut. And it’s usually just the two of us, me and Tim, who keep this place going. I’m eating SpaghettiOs for lunch and my horses have a nutritionist. It’s a lot of work. Thankfully, I just so happen to like SpaghettiOs.”
And horses. Even “moody mares” as she calls them. And, of course, the fast-growing renown that is attaching itself to the North Point name. At her latest workshop, Ann could barely keep from trembling in her paddock boots when she met 85-year-old George Morris, an Olympic medalist and trainer who practically invented hunt seat equitation.
“I remember watching George Morris in the Olympics (in Rome), all us horse-crazy girls do,” Ann says wistfully. “And there I was talking to him. And three people even asked for my autograph, and I was stunned. I mean, c’mon, I’m a breeder. But people do love to talk about Percherons. That’s the thing about these horses, they really will try their best to give you what you want. Every time.”
As for Ann, her dream, ironically, is to one day walk into her state-of-the-art barn and see “a barn full of geldings.” But that may never happen. Entering the “maternity ward,” Ann stops to play with a leggy one-month-old colt (300 lbs. at birth) who has yet to be named, as his mother looks on. The boy is a rare sight at this farm full of feisty females.
“We usually sell the colts; our setup was never designed to keep stallions,” she says. “We’re in the filly business. We sell three or four mares every year. But, god, I love to watch those foals go running across the field when it’s time to come in for the night.”
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Season Preview: 30+ Tix Pix Not To Nix
As the Rural Intelligence region gets more and more love on the national and international front, it seems like the summer seasons just keep expanding, pushing the limits of culture and celebrity. From world-premiere stage offerings to indie, eclectic (and electric) music venues, we have scoured the schedules of performing arts organizations near and far(ish), and highly recommend these hot tickets. In venues both large and small, established and new, there’s a cornucopia of cultural options. Dig in to the moveable feast. —Jeremy D. Goodwin
Joan Rivers at the Colonial
We were re-awakened to the brilliance of this fierce original Grande Dame of comedy with Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, the revelatory documentary that opened the Berkshire International Film Festival two years ago. The legend live, in person, onstage at the Colonial—what’s not to like?
Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, MA, Friday, May 10, at 8 p.m.
Jeanne Bresciani and the Isadora Duncan International Institute Dancers at Kaatsbaan Studio Theatre
The work of the late, pioneering choreographer Isadora Duncan—informed by myth, folktales and world culture—is carried on by this New York-based company, now celebrating its 35th anniversary season. The program, Isis to Isadora: The Ancient and Eternal Ideal in Art, should offer plenty to admire and chew over.
Kaatsbaan Studio Theatre, Tivoli, New York, May 11 & May 12
Paul Taylor Dance Company at the Mahaiwe
Paul Taylor’s recent penchant for giving the New England premiere of his latest work at the Mahaiwe is a welcome trend. This year’s three-day, four-performance visit by the famed dance company features the new Perpetual Dawn along with five other works, presented in different programs.
Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Great Barrington, MA, May 24 – 26
Dave Davies at Infinity hall
We’re not typically too interested in half-baked nostalgia tours of aging 1960s rockers. But that’s not what this is. The founding force of The Kinks continues to do great work, particularly in his engaged and engaging live show. This chance to see him do his thing in the intimate setting of Infinity should be a special night.
Infinity Hall, Norfolk, CT, Friday, May 31, at 8:00 p.m.
Jim Breuer at the Colonial
The Saturday Night Live veteran and Half Baked co-star has been busy lately with a weekly show on Sirius/XM Radio. This is a chance to see what contemporary observations are now coloring his peerless stoner persona.
Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, MA, Thursday, June 6, at 8:00 p.m.
On the Town at Barrington Stage Company
After aiming straight for the jugular of crowd-pleasing but artistically accomplished Broadway fare with Fiddler on the Roof last summer, Barrington Stage makes a more esoteric choice this year with the less-often-produced On the Town. But for summer in the Berkshires, a jazzy piece with music by old friend Leonard Bernstein, set in a romanticized New York City, could hardly be more fitting.
Boyd-Quinson Mainstage, Pittsfield, MA, June 12 – July 13
Audra McDonald at The Colonial Theatre
The much-decorated soprano doesn’t need awards to prove how mellifluous she sounds, but nevertheless she couldn’t help picking up a fifth Tony this year for her work in The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. (They sit alongside her two Grammys.) This concert performance will include a mix of showtunes, standards, and personal favorites.
Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, MA, Saturday, June 15, at 8:00 p.m.
No longer a novelty, this third incarnation of the Wilco-curated festival is digging in its heels and out to prove itself on its own festival terms. With a diverse lineup including Yo La Tengo, Medeski, Martin and Wood, and a new project from Marc Ribot and Los Lobos’s David Hidalgo, plus two Wilco sets (including an all-request one) and a comedy lineup curated by the very popular John Hodgman, this is well beyond the realm of “big Berkshire event” and jousting with the greater rock scene at large.
MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA, June 21 – 23
Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration at Tanglewood
We’ll be among the first to get a crack at this new project, spearheaded by the Garcia estate and led by the very busy blues-jam guitarist Warren Haynes. The mix of searing guitar, the tastefulness of the Boston Pops as conducted by Keith Lockhart, and the peerless body of American songcraft left by Garcia and writing partner Robert Hunter should result in some unexpected textures. Combine the high-end tailgating of Tanglewood with the fan base who invented the pre-show “parking lot scene,” and expect a wild one.
Koussevitzky Music Shed Lenox, MA, Saturday, June 22, at 7:00 p.m.
Joan Baez and Indigo Girls at Tanglewood
It’ll be a veritable feast of golden vocal pipes, O.G. girl power, and earnestness at this very tasty doubleheader. Coming the day after the Boston Pops take on Jerry Garcia, and the same weekend as the Solid Sound Festival at MASS MoCA, this is part of the busiest weekend on the pop-rock front the Berkshires has seen in a long time. Koussevitzky Music Shed, Lenox, MA, Sunday, June 23, at 2:30 p.m.
Arms on Fire at Chester Theatre Company
Chester has snagged itself quite the little world premiere with this new musical by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik, the team behind Spring Awakening, the influential hit and critical favorite that has inspired a host of pop/rock-influenced efforts since. This is no doubt meant to be a bit of leg-stretching before the show’s eventual move to New York.
Chester Theatre Company, Chester, MA, June 27 – July 27
Aston Magna Festival at the Mahaiwe
The long-running baroque music festival ventures down from the hill, where it is in residence at the Daniels Arts Center at Simon’s Rock, for this highlighted performance featuring soprano Dominique Labelle, three special guests on period instruments, and artistic director Daniel Stepner conducting the full Aston Magna ensemble. The program combines Bach’s second Brandenburg concerto and the cantata Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen with the gamba music of Marin Marais. If you see just one period-instrument orchestra of Baroque music this season, the combination of talent, material, and setting makes this program a leading candidate!
Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Great Barrington, MA, Saturday, June 29, at 8 p.m.
Opening Night at Tanglewood
For the always-glitzy kickoff of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Tanglewood season, familiar podium favorite Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos leads the BSO in an all-Tchaikovsky program featuring the composer’s Symphony No. 5, and sets charismatic violin star Joshua Bell loose on the Russian’s Violin Concerto. Koussevitzky Music Shed, Lenox, MA, Friday, July 5, at 8:30 p.m.
Lake Street Dive at Helsinki Hudson
This upwards climbing Boston quartet is making a habit of outgrowing its regular venues, on a heavy-touring itinerary around the country. Called back to Helsinki after a successful show over the winter, the group’s sultry, soulful pop has found the perfect environs.
Helsinki Hudson, Hudson, NY, Saturday, July 6, at 9:00 p.m.
Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and Siti Company at Bard SummerScape
A contemporary response to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, A Rite is a collaboration between legendary choreographer Bill T. Jones (who is in residence at Bard) and director Anne Bogard in a Bard SummerScape co-commission, looking at the tumultuous historical context that gave birth to Stravinsky’s original.
Sosnoff Theatre, Annandale-on-Hudson, July 6 & 7
Oresteia at Bard SummerScape
Epic, thorny and ambitious—like the best of Russian artworks—this 1895 opera by composer Sergey Taneyev is based on the plays of Aeschylus. This landmark production is said to be the first time the trilogy, sung in Russian, will be staged in its entirety outside of Taneyev’s native land. Not quite a light evening at the theatre, but a precious chance to see this rare accomplishment.
Sosnoff Theatre, Annandale-on-Hudson, July 6 – August 24
The Master and Margarita at Bard SummerScape
The Mikhail Bulgakov-penned novel on which this fantastical story of 1930s-era Moscow is based features a trip to hell, a vodka-swilling cat, nudity, and enough satirical bite to suppress it in the Soviet Union until 1967. Hungarian film and theatre director János Szász directs this new stage adaptation, which he wrote with Gideon Lester.
Theatre Two, Annandale-on-Hudson, July 11 – 21
Edie Brickell and Steve Martin at Powerhouse Theatre
Whether it’s his art collection, novel-writing or bluegrass band, Steve Martin has a lot more on his mind than comedy these days. We reap the benefits with a first look at his new—wait for it—bluegrass musical. Written with Edie Brickell (née of the New Bohemians), Bright Star is directed by Tony winner Walter Bobbie (Chicago) and will be one of the hottest things going this summer. Powerhouse Theatre at Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY, July 12 - 14
Pygmalion at Williamstown Theatre Festival
We first knew Robert Sean Leonard in Dead Poets Society as the sensitive, privileged, aspiring actor in a conservative prep school where students hang out in a cave and poignantly jump on their desks to salute Robin Williams. But his adult career has seen eight resilient seasons on the Fox hit House, and he hits the boards in the Berkshires this summer as the iconic professor Henry Higgins. WTF’s season announcement cites parallels to reality television makeovers, so prepare for a bracing teasing-out of the class and gender politics embedded in George Bernard Shaw’s classic.
Main Stage, Williamstown, MA, July 17 – 27
Natalie Merchant with Hudson Valley Philharmonic at the Mahaiwe
The pop songstress, a Rural Intelligence-region dweller who is still probably best known for her work as a founding member of 10,000 Maniacs, has orchestral music on her mind. A new record is combined with heavy touring in partnership with various orchestras around the world. Her local stop should provide a memorable and intimate exposure to Merchant’s latest musical adventures.
Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Great Barrington, MA, Sunday, July 21, at 7 p.m.
Mother Courage and Her Children at Shakespeare & Company
Shakespeare & Company has always been about more than just Will, but this season is the first in recent memory where the company’s most-anticipated, highest-profile production is, in fact, not penned by the Bard. After her sold-out run in The Tempest last summer, Olympia Dukakis returns to Lenox in a production of Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and her Children. Also reuniting from the team of The Tempest is director (and S&Co. artistic director) Tony Simotes and Olympia’s thespian brother, Apollo. For good measure, John Douglas Thompson (familiar as the lead in S&Co.‘s Othello, Richard III, and 2012 hit Satchmo at the Waldorf) joins the powerhouse cast. Prepare for a clinic in virtuoso stage chops. Tina Packer Playhouse, Lenox, MA, July 26 – August 25
Hilary Chaplain at PS21
Described immodestly as an “amalgam of Lucille Ball and Charlie Chaplin,” Hilary Chaplain is a physical comedienne who has soaked up expertise from the legendary Bill Irwin, who raved about her work. She won the Solo Show Award at New York’s International Fringe Festival with this quirky story of a woman who turns everyday objects into her companions in her quest for that good, old-fashioned aspiration: love.
PS21, Chatham, NY, Saturday, July 27, at 8 p.m.
Radiohole’s Inflatable Frankenstein at Mass Live Arts Festival
One of three forward-thinking, New York-based theatre companies comprising the inaugural Mass Live Arts festival, Radiohole presents this ostensibly wacky and creative amalgam of the works of Mary Shelley and the films of James Wahle. The New York Times’ Ben Brantley called it “a sticky, goopy, embarrassing, all-over-the-place and absolutely necessary mess,” which sounds like an endorsement based on what they’re going for. The festival aims to bring the cream of experimental theatre from New York to the Berkshires for performances and artistic residencies.
Daniel Arts Center, Great Barrington, MA, August 1 – 3
The Bridges of Madison County at Williamstown Theatre Festival
After last year’s Far From Heaven, WTF comes at us again with a musical based on a well-known title with a cinematic history, realized by an artistic crew with great pedigree. This world premiere production features Steven Pasquale, best known for his work on the FX series Rescue Me. Music and book are by prolific composer Jason Robert Brown, and Tony-winner Barlett Sher, who The New York Times called “one of the most original and exciting directors” on the scene, helms it. With the brand name title and accomplished talent, we can figure this production has its GPS set for Broadway. Main Stage, Williamstown, MA, August 1 – 18
Rita Rudner at the Mahaiwe
Rita Rudner has made herself into the queen of Las Vegas comedy in recent years, but brings her road show to Great Barrington as one of the highlights of a great summer for comedy in the region.
Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Great Barrington, MA, Sunday, August 4, at 7 p.m.
Jessica Lang Dance at Jacob’s Pillow
The prolific choreographer has now formed her own company, to better realize her compositional proclivities and yen for multimedia experimentation. It made its Pillow debut last season, and returns with a program highlighted by a world premiere collaboration with Canadian design house molo—plus a piece incorporating video art by Japanese-born visual artist Shinichi Maruyama, and Lang’s experimental dance film White.
Doris Duke Theatre, Becket, MA, August 7 – 11
The Beauty Queen of Leeanne at Shakespeare & Company
Fresh from her triumphant Off-Broadway run in her own Women of Will, Shakespeare & Company founding artistic director Tina Packer takes the stage in this dark comedy, alongside company comedic favorite Elizabeth Aspenlieder (Rough Crossing, Bad Dates), as a manipulative mother seeking to sabotage her daughter’s last chance at love. If you caught Packer’s snarling take on Queen Margaret of Anjou from Women of Will, this sounds deliciously diabolical. Matthew Penn, co-director of the Berkshire Playwright’s Lab, helms it. Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, Lenox, MA, August 8 – September 15
Wendy Whelan at Jacob’s Pillow
The twenty-five-year veteran of the New York City Ballet has a roving taste and ecumenical expertise ranging from repertory givens like Swan Lake to the freshest work of contemporary masters. She ventures into creative waters for the aptly named Restless Creature, a Pillow co-commission for which she’ll perform four new duets composed and danced with four celebrated collaborators— Kyle Abraham, Joshua Beamish, Brian Brooks, and Alejandro Cerrudo—each known for work in distinctive and varying styles.
Ted Shawn Theatre, Becket, MA, August 14 – 18
The Goat Rodeo Sessions at Tanglewood
We sure loves us some Yo-Yo around here, whether as featured soloist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra or leading one of his fascinating, cross-genre experiments. Fresh from winning a Grammy for The Goat Rodeo Sessions, he leads a tour with the all-star string ensemble assembled for that effort: bassist/composer Edgar Meyer, mandolinist Chris Thile, and fiddler Stuart Duncan.
Koussevitzky Music Shed Lenox, MA, Thursday, August 15, at 8:30 p.m.
Pearsonwidrig Dance Theatre at PS21
The offbeat, internationally touring dance company presents a program led by Ordinary Festivals, a piece set to vintage Italian folk music and composed for “300 oranges, 7 performers, and 2 knives.”
PS21, Chatham, NY, August 16 & 17
Scott and Hem in the Garden of Allah at Barrington Stage Company
Getting a first look at the latest witty historical mash-up from the pen of playwright Mark St. Germain has become a highlight of recent theatre seasons. Coming off a run of his well-received The Best of Enemies at George Street Playhouse last fall, and with last season’s smash Barrington Stage premiere Dr. Ruth, All the Way headed to Hartford’s TheatreWorks this May, the Pittsfield theatre is set to unload the world premiere of his newest, Scott and Hem in the Garden of Allah. Seemingly a variation on the formula of his biggest hit Freud’s Last Session (which imagined a meeting between the good doctor and C. S. Lewis), the new work depicts Ernest Hemmingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald locking horns in Hollywood, where Zelda’s beau spent his last, sadly dissipated years.
St. Germain Stage, Pittsfield, MA, August 15 – September 29
Anna Christie at Berkshire Theatre Group
Playwright David Auburn is best known for his 2000 play Proof, which turned the neat trick of winning both a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony. (His 2005 film adaptation featured Gwyneth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins, and Jake Gyllenhall.) But he’s fond of taking the summers to stretch his directing muscles at Berkshire Theatre Group, where he breathed fresh life into Tennessee Williams’ overlooked A Period of Adjustment in 2011, and turns to another giant of American theatre this time out by helming Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie, the play that earned O’Neill the second of his four Pulitzers. (Tough competition.) Look for a thoughtful examination of O’Neill’s usual meditations: the haunting past, pained familial relations, and sailors. Plenty of sailors.
Fitzpatrick Main Stage, Stockbridge, MA, August 20 - 31
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In Millbrook, Dyslexia Gets Unscrambled
When Ellie O’Heaney was in fifth grade, she didn’t picture college in her future. Diagnosed with dyslexia years before, she’d grown accustomed to feeling frustrated and adrift in the classroom. “She’d say, ‘Why would I willingly go on to more school?’” her mother Elizabeth O’Heaney recalls. “‘I’m only doing it now because I have to.’”
These days, Ellie is singing a different tune. An eighth-grader at the Kildonan School in Amenia, New York, she’s learned to appreciate the talents she has because of—not despite—dyslexia. “She’s completely empowered,” her mother says. “She thinks her brain is superior to mine. And I agree with her!”
Ellie’s transformation was made possible by Kildonan, which helps students with dyslexia identify their strengths and use them to meet linguistic challenges. O’Heaney, a special education teacher, believes her daughter’s experience should be the rule, not the exception. To that end, she’s teamed up with Kildonan headmaster Kevin Pendergast and national mentoring organization Eye to Eye to sponsor Discussions on Dyslexia on Sunday, April 21.
Four leading experts on dyslexia will form a panel to discuss the neuroscience behind a diagnosis that’s often misunderstood. A cash bar, dessert reception, and raffle with prizes like a week-long stay at a Vermont farm round out the event. And lending the event star power is moderator Alan Alda, an actor and science enthusiast who also happens to be Ellie’s grandfather.
O’Heaney and Pendergast (pictured below with Ellie) say their goal is to help parents, educators, administrators, and the public better understand dyslexia as an alternative way of processing information. One important thing to know, Pendergast says, is that although dyslexia is often portrayed as a problem, it actually comes with many benefits and unique talents.
For one thing, most dyslexics see images in three dimensions. Pendergast says this makes processing written language more difficult. “Non-dyslexics must have invented written language and given it two-dimensional symbols,” Pendergast says. That’s why a person with dyslexia might look at a lowercase b and see a p or q.
But while three-dimensional visualization can make linguistic learning more challenging, it also makes dyslexics exceptionally gifted in fields from art and architecture to engineering. O’Heaney says she’s amazed by her daughter’s problem-solving skills, which allow her to do things like mentally rearrange spaces for maximum efficiency.
Take their family’s recent trip to check out a farm for sale. O’Heaney told Ellie that while the house seemed just right for their needs, the barn looked too small. “She was like, ‘Give me a minute,’“ O’Heaney says. “And she redesigned the entire barn in her head, saying what about this: We build out from this side, put a couple more stalls over there, add a washroom over on this side. She thought of where the stall doors would go, where the water’s going to come from, where we’d wash horses, where we’d throw hay out of stalls. She thought of everything.”
The more people understand the wide range of strengths that people with dyslexia possess, O’Heaney says, the more educators can use that knowledge to inform instruction for dyslexic students.
“It doesn’t take a lot to include dyslexic kids in mainstream classes,” she says. “But they get excluded because they have fallen so far behind that they can’t be remediated in the classroom. We want educators and administrators to start having conversations about how to catch it earlier, so that dyslexic kids can be included in regular education.”
To help reach that goal, Discussions on Dyslexia is inviting donors to sponsor tickets for teachers from area schools who couldn’t otherwise afford to attend. And proceeds from the event benefit two organizations committed to helping dyslexic students: Kildonan and Eye to Eye, a national mentoring program that pairs children with language learning disabilities with adults with similar labels.
Pendergast says that meeting successful adults with dyslexia inspires students to imagine exciting, fulfilling future careers for themselves. In fact, he says, dyslexics tend to be some of the most innovative thinkers around.
“Go into any office building,” Pendergast says, “and ask who are your best problem-solvers, who are the most creative—there’ll be people with dyslexia all over that list.” —Sarah Todd
Alan Alda Talks With the Experts: Discussions on Dylsexia
Sunday, April 21, 2013
Cash bar open from 6:00 pm to 6:50 pm; Program begins promptly at 7:00 pm
Chelsea Morrison Theater, The Millbrook School
131 Millbrook Road
Millbrook, NY 12545
To purchase tickets, click here.
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IS183’s Annual Gala: As Out of This World as the Arts School Itself
From the dedicated yogis of Kripalu to the myriad musicians, painters, actors, writers, and other artistic types who flood the western edge of Massachusetts, the Berkshires’ ability to attract creative energy is downright otherworldly. It’s almost as if there’s a mysterious force hidden in the region’s mountains and forests, pulling every nearby idealist and dreamer into orbit.
On Saturday, March 9, at Lenox Commons, the portal to that font of cosmic energy opened for one night only. That’s when IS183, the Berkshires’ only community arts school, hosted its hotly anticipated annual costume gala: The Big Bang at the Energy Vortex.
“It’s playing on the idea of the Berkshires as this energetic, magnetic healing center,” says IS183’s marketing coordinator Dina Noto. The party conjured up a mid-century vision of the space age with a retro gourmet dinner curated by Red Lion Inn chef Brian Alberg, a silent auction with more than 120 prizes, and a rollicking electro-swing dance party. Some 375 guests attended, clad in elaborately imagined costumes that ran the gamut from greasers and astronauts to aliens, caped Star Trek villains, and sun queens bedecked in metallic lamé. (For a little extra fashion inspiration, Bill Wright Photography put together a swinging gallery of costume ideas.) The party was expected to raise $75,000 to benefit IS183’s extensive arts education programming.
Of course, an intergalactic party is nothing without stellar decorations. A volunteer crew headed by Williams Theatre technical director Maia Robbins-Zust worked for weeks to create an unforgettable atmosphere featuring robots, space guns, enormous vinyl records, and a swirling energy vortex. On the packed dance floor, video art inspired by 1960s sci-fi flickered on the walls while DJs spun tunes from atop a giant cardboard mountain. “It’s like walking into an installation art project,” says IS183’s executive director Hope Sullivan.
The intricately planned evening is typical of IS183’s can-do attitude, a lens into the sophisticated, creative spirit that guides the arts institution. Much of the credit for that ambition goes to Sullivan, the school’s own one-woman energy source. A former advertising executive in New York City, Sullivan took the helm of IS183 more than seven years ago because she wanted to seek new ways to build community through the arts. “What the responsibilities of a community are, how we ensure it’s a place we want to live — these are questions that resonate with me,” Sullivan says.
Under Sullivan’s leadership, IS183’s myriad arts programs have helped fuel the Berkshires’ innovative, civic-minded spirit. Its K-12 after-school program, Learning Through the Arts, uses multimedia projects to teach academic subjects from geology to math, reaching 350 kids a week at 19 regional public schools. A rotating series of workshops and classes offer children and adults the chance to master everything from digital animation to improv to calligraphy. And with more than 75 painters, sculptors, photographers, and other creative professionals on staff, IS183 employs more artists than any other regional organization.
“Our primary goal is to be a transformative force in the community,” Sullivan says. “We’re a small organization, but we have a big job. And it starts with education and engagement.”
Particularly close to Sullivan’s heart is IS183’s multi-week creative enrichment summer program for at-risk kids. Last summer, Pittsfield eighth-graders learned about water and river ecosystems — including their very own Housatonic — with Fluidity, an arts-focused service learning program. Sullivan says this kind of experiential, hands-on approach to learning can help make abstract academic concepts concrete. “Kids may have trouble learning words about boats if they’ve never seen one,” she says. “But if you paint boats or create a flotilla, you can create context.”
Much like the ever-expanding universe, IS183’s reach only continues to grow. A new partnership with Williamstown’s Little Red Schoolhouse has been bringing the school’s artistic offerings to North County since December. And IS183 is currently accepting nominations for its inaugural Berkshire Arts Educator Award, which honors the area’s most inspiring K-12 arts teachers. The winners will be revealed at an April 25th ceremony at the Colonial Theater in Pittsfield.
Proceeds from the gala will go a long way toward making sure that IS183 can continue its massive arts outreach efforts. But the Energy Vortex is far more than a fundraiser. “This is a way for practicing artists to have a public voice,” Sullivan says. “There’s an amazing egalitarian spirit to it. We’re bringing a lot of different collaborators, people from all different perspectives, to find common ground in making this massive installation.” With that kind of creative investment, there’s no doubt gala guests will get a very big bang for their bucks. —Sarah Todd
IS183 Art School
13 Willard Hill Road
Stockbridge, MA 01262
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Homegoing: Du Bois Legacy Honored In the Flesh
Du Bois at his 90th birthday with great-grandson Arthur.
In 1975, Harvard developed a research institute in his name. This posthumous honor was preceeded by the construction of an entire department at UMASS Amherst in 1970, also boasting the name of the formidable scholar and activist. But it wasn’t until this last decade that Willliam Edward Burghardt (W.E.B.) Du Bois has finally received the proper accolades of his beloved hometown. Born in Great Barrington, MA, just three years after the end of the Civil War, Du Bois — the first African American to receive a doctorate degree from Harvard, author of The Souls of Black Folk, founding member of the NAACP, and outspoken activist and supporter of racial equality — is arguably the town’s most famous (and controversial) native son. But all of that is in the past, according to Randy Weinstein, founder and director of the Du Bois Center at Great Barrington, which opened its doors to the public in 2005.
“Up until recently we were a conflicted community when it came to Du Bois,” he says, combing through the lines of an unpublished poem written by the scholar. “Now, 50 years after his death (in Ghana in 1963) he has become such a mainstay in our culture. He’s now part of the crowd of the great minds of the Berkshires: Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edith Wharton, Herman Melville. The community has finally accepted him. He’s come full circle.”
Arthur McFarlane II
Well, almost full circle. Du Bois left the States for Ghana in 1961 at the age of 93. He died two years later, disillusioned with his country’s race and class politics, and never to return to “the golden river” of his birthplace where his beloved daughter Yolande and son Burghardt (who died in infancy) are buried. But on Wednesday, February 27, the loose ends of Du Bois’s ‘original’ life will be, in many respects, tied up in a ceremony honoring the now beloved native son. Weinstein, along with author Scott Christianson, local historian Bernard Drew, and many other Du Bois supporters have put together a program — to be held at the First Congregational Church on Main Street, where the scholar used to worship as a boy — that includes a commemoration as well as the esteemed support of local educators, politicians, and students. Chief on the attendees list, however, is 56-year-old Arthur McFarlane II, the great-grandson of W.E.B. Du Bois, who is making his very first visit to the birthplace of the man he refers to simply as “Grandpa.”
“This is a pilgrimage for me,” he says. “I’m a New York City kid. The concept of bucolic quiet settings that Grandpa describes in his autobiography…it sounds like a sleepy place but then I think of all the people who loved him and cared about him and supported him in his education; It’s great to put a real live place together with his words. That is, after all, where his journey began.”
Burghardt, Du Bois’s son, died in infancy.
In fact, since the “rediscovery” of Du Bois’s connection to the town, Weinstein says that Great Barrington (including the Center, the Du Bois Homesite, and Mahaiwe Cemetery) has quickly become a destination for those wishing to honor the late activist at his roots. Every year, some 1,500 to 2,000 visitors — schoolchildren, tourists, college students, historians (some from as far away as China, Ghana, Israel, and even Russia) — descend on the Du Bois Center hoping to recapture the essence of a man who changed the landscape of race in this country.
Of course, there is more to Du Bois than meets the scholarly eye. That’s where “little” Arthur comes in. Admittedly, keeping his great grandfather’s legacy alive has been what some would call a blessing and a burden.
“It’s kind of weird in the sense that he chose me,” McFarlane says. “It was at his 90th birthday party at the Roosevelt Hotel, in a speech that he gave that’s when he essentially said, ‘You’re it, dude.’ It took me awhile to figure out what that looked like and to manage the weight of that role. It was a very difficult evolution. He did all of this stuff, and I kept beating myself up about my own recalcitrance compared to him. But I stepped out of that shadow. I’m me. I’m not Du Bois. My job is to do my best to keep the history straight, and to talk about my great-grandfather honestly and bring him forward as a person, not just a great man.”
MacFarlane, who is traveling quite a ways from his role as an evaluator for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, promises to bring “Grandpa” alive with a slide show of rare personal pictures of Du Bois and family, as well as anecdotes that were passed on from family members. Also on the hometown retrospective roster will be State Representative William “Smitty” Pignatelli and MCLA’s Francis Jones-Sneed, who will present McFarlane with a posthumous achievement award for Du Bois himself.
For Weinstein, McFarlane, and many of Du Bois’s supporters, this inevitable moment is a long time coming, but the journey has been an extraordinary lesson in history and humanity.
“General knowledge of Du Bois has doubled ten fold in the last few years,” Weinstein says. “And there are so many Du Boisian crusaders at the helm of all of this. And when you think of everything else that has happened around this time – the great Civil Rights march in D.C. That happened just hours after his death, the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln’s birthday, Black History Month – and with all the twists and turns of his life, his spirit still haunts this place. This is where his heart was.” —Nichole Dupont(0) Comments
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Lounge Acts: Allium, griffinGB, and Vintage Make Sitting Around an Art
The lounge at Allium. Photo courtesy of Allium.
Lounging can be much more than just chilling on a comfy couch. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) In some cases, it can even be an art form (just ask Proust), one that requires the collaborative efforts of hospitable professionals with unique style, people whose foremost desire is to bring a convivial and sophisticated scene together in a novel way. And, often enough, to soft sell some stuff, like what you’re lounging on.
One notable example is taking place right now in Great Barrington, where local vintage clothing and furniture shops, griffinGB, and the eight-month-old Vintage, which bookend the town, are in a design collaboration with Allium Restaurant + Bar. It all started by chance. Deidre Corcoran and her business partner Emma Blair, co-owners of Vintage on Route 7 in Sheffield, and friend Connie Griffin, proprietor of griffinGB, would meet to unwind after work over dinner and drinks at Allium.
“I always loved the original loveseat and coffee table at Allium,” said Corcoran, who ended up approaching restaurant owner, Nancy Thomas, to purchase the distressed leather chair and table. Thomas agreed and Corcoran happily packed up the seats in her pickup truck and drove off. But that left an open space in the lounge with no seating for guests. As Corcoran recounts “Hmm, necessity being the mother of invention…I asked Nancy if she would consider letting our shops set up a new lounge using items from Vintage and griffinGB.”
Deidre Corcoran. Photo courtesy of Allium.
With a shared love of decorative arts history, style, and collaboration, Thomas agreed. Now every six to eight weeks, Allium revamps the lounge with merchandise from Vintage and griffinGB. February marks the start of installation number two for the trio. GriffinGB and Vintage will alternately renovate the lounge scene, handing leadership off to each other each month.
During February, both Allium and its sister restaurant, Mezze Bistro, are presenting food, drink, design, and music inspired by a Scandinavian theme. The shopkeepers fashioned the Allium lounge with a simple and modern roomy vintage workbench (which Corocroan revamped herself from a bench to table) and six stools ($4,200), a black chipped swivel stool ($150), antlers ($320), Libbey glass candles adorned with golden foliage ($60), and an original watercolor ($875) hanging on the wall overhead. The Allium bar highlights vodkas and aquavit-based cocktails, and the menu — designed by new head chef Daire Rooney — will be full of Scandinavian-inspired items such as smoked and cured fish and pickled foods.
Since it opened in 2007, Allium has been known for its commitment to buying locally and supporting independent farms and artisan producers, a notable wine and cocktail menu, and a hip young staff. But the lounge space at Allium has been just as integral to the restaurant as the food. The popular and chic setting is visible from Railroad Street; its dark wooden bar and warm interior can be seen through the restaurant’s large, clear, nearly sidewalk-to-ceiling garage door window. The lounge area has always been a happening destination for locals and out-of-towners looking to cozy up in the winter (or in summer for refreshing cocktails at an open window). Many fans of Allium have found themselves enjoying a drink at the lounge before dinner or after a movie, or have parked there all night long, sharing laughs, nibbling on marinated olives and Marcona almonds, and greeting friends who stride through the restaurant’s front doors.
“Beyond good food, I have always enjoyed a good rally and collaboration,” says Allium’s Nancy Thomas, who strives to combine forces with other business owners in new and interesting ways. She has featured the work of young, local artists in both restaurants, hosted jewelry, trunk, and fashion shows (including one in which skateboarders glided down the center of the restaurant), and even punk rock bands on Sunday afternoons, just so that young kids from the area could have something to do. However, this is the first effort to change up the physical layout of the restaurant.
“Nancy has really opened her arms to us to come in without questions,” says Corcoran. “She is not even asking to see pictures; she has trust in us, so we are definitely cognizant of that as we are staging the lounge area of a very successful restaurant.”
Vintage in Sheffield. Photo courtesy of Vintage.
Corcoran, who has an extensive background in design, has spent the past few years buying, remodeling, and selling historic homes, and has been involved in style photography as well as an Etsy site, “Amos Rhoades,” which she has now integrated into Vintage’s online store. Her partner Blair has a love of style and fashion and recently spent time working and studying in Los Angeles and Italy, where she attended art school for photography and fashion design.
Together, Vintage and griffinGB carry cool, one-of-kind finds like hand-blown Simon Pearce wine and water goblets and an Andy Warhol-inspired banana poster from 1967 framed on foam board ($650). This project allows for the stores to showcase what they sell, making hanging out just as valuable to the shops as to the lounger. Items are always for sale. Last month griffinGB and Vintage featured a 1950’s coffee table and side table (set - $375), French club chairs (pair - $1100), an old Turkish urn ($700), burning on wood art work by Stephanie Lauretano ($600), large coral ($175); and more. The highlighted drink for January at Allium was, of course, whiskey.
Deidre Corcoran, Nancy Thomas, and Emma Blair. Photo courtesy of Allium.
The women of griffinGB and Vintage find that working collaboratively with Allium brings inspiration and the opportunity to gain new perspectives on design and their fields, as well as the sheer joy of companionship, plus a new opportunity to showcase their wares and curatorial skills. “The rawness and freshness, it feels amazing,” says Corcoran. “And what a cool thing to be in the hop of Great Barrington. It’s fun for all with a side of whiskey and kale salad too.”
Allium took to its blog to tout the new project: “In the interest of sticking together, we’ve teamed up with Vintage and griffinGB to redesign the Allium lounge area. We’re feeling very fortunate to be surrounded by local, creative businesses that share our spirit of collaboration and the desire to shake things up.” —Fiona Breslin
Allium Restaurant + Bar
42/44 Railroad Street, Great Barrington
Sunday – Thursday (Kitchen closed Wednesdays — bar is open): 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Friday + Saturday: 5 pm - 10 pm
1695 N. Main Street Route 7, Sheffield
Sat + Sun: 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
177 Main Street, Great Barrington
Wed - Sun: 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
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Going Upstreet: Pittsfield’s 10x10 Arts Festival
It’s nice when a good idea turns out to be an equally good reality. Looking for a way to harness the growing energy and community spirit among downtown businesses — and also provide a not-so-subtle nudge to encourage people to bundle up and make the scene in mid-February — Barrington Stage Company and some neighborhood friends led the way to the first 10x10 On North festival last winter.
“Sometimes you think you have a great idea and you wonder, is it just a great idea in the office at nine in the morning or is it a great idea to a wider group of people? You’re not sure until they actually come,” says Julieanne Boyd, artistic and executive director of Barrington Stage Company.
But with a new-works short play festival there and a group art exhibition at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts as centerpieces, the newbie festival seemed to be a hit, as evidenced by the extension of the play program by an extra week to meet audience demand and the resumption of the festival this (its second) year.
In the meantime, downtown Pittsfield snagged one of the first state-declared cultural districts, dubbed Upstreet — and so the festival is renamed the 10x10 Upstreet Arts Festival. It spans a host of happenings and performances, launching auspiciously on Valentine’s Day and rolling through February 24.
Word has gotten out. Eighty new plays were submitted for Barrington Stage’s program last year (Matt Neely, pictured in this Kevin Sprague photo, was among the festival cast); this second time around, a whopping 186 scripts competed for those ten available slots. But, lucky for playwrights, actors, and directors who wanted to participate in that part of the festival— not to mention artists, musicians, comedians, and anyone hungry for a dance party — 10x10 has expanded conspicuously.
In keeping with what seems to be a theme among Pittsfield’s resurgent arts scene, this festival wraps together an assortment of organizations, businesses, and venues who are happy to act against type. Whether it’s slam poetry in a barbershop, art exhibited in a vacuum cleaner store or tango lessons in a lingerie shop (okay, perhaps that last one is more thematically congruent), the people invested in Pittsfield’s future don’t hesitate to mix the serious and the quirky. From the Word X Word festival to First Fridays Artwalk to the emerging 10x10, there’s a vibrant mixing and matching of resources and talents at play. It is all in keeping with the spirit of the mischievous street signs (like “Make Art Here”) dotting North Street, or the very concept of filing empty storefronts with art galleries.
Mostly shoehorned around the somewhat arbitrary theme of the ten-count, the festival includes Barrington Stage’s festival of ten, ten-minute new plays; the TEN SPOT show of ten Berkshire artists at the Lichtenstein Arts Center, a performance of ten unscripted musicals by the Royal Berkshire Improv Troupe; an evening of ten stand-up comedians; and various series of spoken word poets and musicians.
Summarizing the bustling roster of activities and shows (tabulated by organizers as over 70) is difficult without getting too laundry list-y, but the above doesn’t even take into account contributions from WAM Theatre, Berkshires Jazz, Alchemy Initiative, Berkshire Actors’ Theatre, Berkshire Museum, and even a festival of films shot on mobile phones.
Sure, these businesses and organizations would like to boost the Berkshires’ lure as a Presidents’ Day weekend destination. But perhaps more importantly, Boyd (seen at left) says, it’s about building something around the Berkshire full-timers.
“We thought we’ve just got to get the people in the Berkshires out of their houses and see the richness and variety and all the excitement that’s happening in Pittsfield. That’s the main thing: it’s for us, and the Berkshires,” she says.
Is it working? On opening night last year, sitting amid the packed house at Barrington Stage’s second stage, it sure felt like it. In fact, Boyd says the festival drew a disproportionate number of younger theater-goers, who seemed to be making their first visit to the venue.
Once upon a time, the Berkshires’ cultural scene was understood as a summer phenomenon. That’s still the prime time, of course, but the 10x10 Upstreet Arts Festival is expanding its February toehold. And, yes, that does seem like a good idea. — Jeremy D. Goodwin
10x10 Upstreet Arts Festival
70 different events around Pittsfield
February 14 through 24
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A Bangin’ Berkshire Boîte
Club founder Heather Fisch (left) with Amy Wong and Mael Raoult. Photo courtesy DCSC.
While Sheffield’s the Down County Social Club has been generating buzz for a couple of years now, it’s still very much (and very literally) underground.
Located in the basement of the historic Stagecoach Tavern, the club calls itself “Berkshire County’s best kept secret.” Since 2008 the Down County Social Club (or DCSC) has been showcasing live music, theatrical performances, movies, open-mic nights, and more from local and visiting artists every Thursday night from 8 p.m. to about midnight, garnering a fan base of guests through word of mouth and from those who are happy to stumble upon the club unexpectedly after dinner at the upstairs tavern.
Attending the DCSC for the first time is like falling down the rabbit hole. It’s hidden behind two sets of doors and is reminiscent of the late Helsinki Great Barrington or perhaps even a hookah den sans hookah. There are velvet couches, an old wooden bar, Christmas lights, a pool table, an upright piano and other instruments that adorn the space, which is big enough for a stage area and tables. Yet it is small enough for eye-roving and intimate conversation.
DCSC was founded in March 2008 by Berkshire-based Renaissance woman and producer Heather Fisch, who wrote and directed this summer’s sold out rock opera Blue Venice. Fisch was introduced to Stagecoach owner and former proprietor of the legendary Music Inn, David Rothstein, through a mutual friend. From that serendipitous meeting, the club took off.
Evan Levine & The Howling Kettles. Photo courtesy DCSC.
“You’ve got to meet this lady,” Rothstein, who acquired the Stagecoach in 2004, was told about Fisch. He had been toying with the idea of turning the basement into a screening room. “If there is a good space it will provide for someone to do good things in it. And with Heather you can’t miss. She’s unbounded creativity.” At the time, Fisch, 27, a native of Chatham, NY and music and theatre graduate of Simon’s Rock College at Bard, had been quietly running a chess night and tapas bar with beer and whiskey from her house in Housatonic. Her mission was to create a space where people could socialize in a setting that was different from a normal bar. “Nobody is making big profits here,” she says. “With the mission different the outcome will be different.”
The club can comfortably fit about 25 to 30 people. Because of its small size, performers are able to enjoy a certain boîte-like celebrity. “I did the first gig of my life there,” says Ryan Foss, a folk guitarist from Egremont. “Which was good ‘cause you can’t fit many people down there.” While Foss has since gone on to perform at other local music venues, including the Guthrie Center, he continues to reserve Thursday nights for the occasional DCSC stop. “It’s a good atmosphere. You get an intimate experience with talented artists from all over. There’s been a significant feeling of mutual respect every time I’ve played,” he says.
David Rothstein, center, and Heather Fisch, at right. Photo courtesy DCSC.
Since this past summer, Fisch has teamed up with Casey Meade, who is Rothstein’s son and a documentary filmmaker, to divide the leadership position, working as the host or hostess on any given Thursday. Meade’s ties with artists from all over the world have helped the club bring in more visiting performers, such as Brooklyn-based guitarist Yazan. Shows at the DCSC are predominantly scheduled and include movies (the club recently screened Fisch’s Blue Venice as well as Take Me to the River, shot in India), poetry, multimedia work, and of course music: ranging from acoustic rock to experimental music, and jazz. There have been ukulele nights, hootenanny style banjo and fiddle playing, and once or twice opera has even filled the sound waves at the underground lair; and, as always, there is a small wine and beer bar to accompany the soirée.
Musicians with Cayla Buettner and Karen Lee.
As at most speakeasies, there are local favorites. Pooja Roo tells stories and strums a ukulele. Musician John Snyder rocks out with his band Dark Russian. Actress Karen Lee makes the club her summer residency for her titillating ‘Marilyn Show’ Let’s Make Love, which features guest cabaret artists and renown local pianist Joe Rose, who breathes an old-timey feeling of piano lounge into the place, as does a well-dressed band of teenagers (armed with trumpets and drums) serving as the orchestra.
“The people, the space, the land, the vibe, its intimacy, the way I make the pool table my dressing table. I love the club for so many reasons,” says Lee.
While Fisch explains there is a “diehard” crowd of DCSC fans in their twenties, the venue is multi-generational. “Guests include people staying at the lodge, people having dinner. We welcome them, greet them, ask their name, that’s the social club.”
There is no cover charge at the DCSC and guests under 21 are welcome. As for what’s coming up, the schedule is online, but all in all, “We go from week to week,” says Rothstein.
It’s old. It’s new. It’s in the middle of everything and the middle of nowhere. —Fiona Breslin
Down County Social Club
864 S. Undermountain Road
Sheffield, Massachusetts 01257
Open Thursdays 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.
No cover; suggested donation.
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Hudson Goes Giddy for the Holidays
Hudson, although far from being merely on the upswing, is still a study of contrasts. You can see this veering from the town’s more down- and- out areas to the retailers on Warren Street. These are not your everyday vendors; they are all so talented at window display that their storefronts look like year-round art exhibitions. (At left, David Dew Bruner, 610 Warren Street.) This is more than evident during the holiday season, to the extent that a case could be made for giving urban renewal funds to the antiques dealers, gallery owners, and other masters of retinal pleasure who have located here throughout the last decade. Like Hudson’s architectural master builders over the last two centuries or so, this new generation of entrepreneurs are once again arranging things to make community life a thing of grace and beauty; every day and night of the year, particularly evident now. The following is a small pictorial sampling of some of the most festive arrangers, just in case you can’t make it just now. —Scott Baldinger
Arenskjold Antiques Art 605 Warren Street, (518) 828-2800
Lili and Loo 259 Warren Street, (518) 822-9492
Vincent Mulford Antiques, 419 Warren Street, (518) 828-5489
Regan and Smith, 602 Warren Street, (917) 757-5310
Stair Galleries, 547-549 Warren Street, (518) 751-1000
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Christmas (Etc.) In Connecticut
This time of year, you can’t throw a snowball (if there was any of the white stuff to throw) without hitting a holiday bazaar. But Litchfield county’s well-crafted festive collaborations — their winter strolls and lighting ceremonies — will shine especially bright this month. Sorry Fox News, but none are particularly religious in nature: From the town of Litchfield’s summer “Date Night” to Washington’s Holiday in the Depot, Northwest, CT is pulling out all the civic stops to show it’s as much a go-to destination as neighboring counties. Though many have long known of the charms of the area (scenic drives and driftings on places like Lake Waramaug), it’s holiday festivities that are now taking center stage, from New Milford’s “Holiday on the Green” (December 16) to Bethlehem’s two day Christmas Town Festival (December 7 and 8). The following is the best of a growing list of holiday happenings over the next two weekends:
While the festive holiday open houses are usually free and open to the public events, there’s the occasional must-do benefit event, like the Festival of Trees & Lights Cocktail Party at the Gunn Memorial Library (Friday, December 7, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m). The fundraiser gives partygoers the chance to bid on one-of-a-kind ornaments created by local artists and celebrity autographed bookmarks sold by Silent Auction during the cocktail party. “It just grows and grows. This year is already gearing up to be better than the last,” says Carolyn Hartman of the Gunn Memorial Library. Some of this year’s celebrity participants include Kevin Bacon, Kinky Friedman, Laura Linney, Shirley McLaine, Bette Midler, Demi Moore, Sandra Day O’Connor, Michael Richards, and Sissy Spacek. Auction items will be open for viewing at no charge (Saturday, December 8, 10 a.m.- 2 p.m). Items not sold at the Cocktail Party on Friday evening will be available for purchase on Saturday.
The following Friday in Washington, the 21st year of Holiday in the Depot (Friday, December 14) festivities kick off with a tree lighting, Washington Montessori School students singing Christmas carols, photo ops with Santa, and more caroling in the Depot with The Troubadours from the Gunnery School. The Hickory Stick Bookshop hosts a book signing with Florence and Wendell Minor featuring My Bookstore, for which they wrote an essay on the shop. Mo the Magician demonstrates the tricks up his sleeve at Washington Supply and Outdoor Living.
Kent has a corner on packing in all the holiday cheer it can muster, from the Kent Community Nursery School’s 17th Annual Pancakes with Santa event (Saturday, December 8, 8:30 -11 a.m.), which boasts a special mailbox to get letters straight to Santa. Later that night, the Kent Historical Society hosts its 12th Annual Colonial Christmas Celebration at the Swift House, with a standing room only crowd brought together by community donated foods and recipe swapping and wine tastings. Sunday, December 9, will bring the third annual Stuff-A-Truck, during which the Kent Volunteer Fire Department accepts donations of new, unwrapped toys and/or non-perishable food items and gives fire truck rides and cocoa. Lyn Stirnweiss. from the Kent Chamber of Commerce, gets in the spirit of things just reciting Kent’s list of events. “I’m just giddy. I’m very excited about this year,” she says. “It makes me feel like a kid.” All of this is just a warm up for the town-wide Open House on the following Saturday (December 15), from extended shop hours to photos with Santa at Annie Bananie/Backcountry Outfitters, and a children’s book signing at the Kent Memorial Library. Santa at the Kent Children’s Center has standing-room-only cookie decorating workshops, while Kent Wine & Spirit has wine tastings. But no self-respecting town event would be complete without a parade: Kent’s Parade Of Lights is led by Santa from the Kent Green down Main Street to the firehouse and on Sunday, the festivities end with horse-drawn carriage rides that take guests around the green.
At the third annual Windows of New Preston at the “The New Preston Village Stroll,” ten of the shops that make up the tight-knit hamlet of New Preston showcase creative seasonal windows, in addition to being packed with their usual cultured wares like unusual antiques, botanical curiosities, hyper-local wares and well-sourced home and kitchen goods, along with gallivanting carolers, hot cider and thousands of twinkling lights.
Shops such as The Smithy, which is housed in an old blacksmith’s studio, strollers can enjoy one-stop super local goods like Guy Wolff Pottery from Bantam ($14 and up) and snuggle up at their fireplace and partake in the artisanal cheeses and homemade treats. Up the road at Dawn Hill Antiques, revelers can pick up French Diptyque candles ($68) and vintage Christmas ornaments while sipping champagne and nibbling on treats from NYC’s Maison de Macaron. Across the street on the river side, Pergola Home proprietor Peter Stiglin, whose own store holds boldly unique gifts like wreaths fashioned from lacquered magnolia leafs, twigs and preserved boxwood, says, ““The Winter Stroll event attracts larger crowds every year, with carolers, a bonfire, sales, and gift giveaways. Every shop will be serving delectables from wine and hot cider to edible treats.” And for the kids in tow, Sweeets (yes it has 3 e’s) has wrangled Clifford the Big Red Dog to hand out candy canes, and will have hot chocolate and almond brittle on hand. —Dale Stewart
Saturday, December 8
Kent Historical Society’s 12th Annual Colonial Christmas Celebration, 5 p.m. - 7 p.m.
Sunday December 9
Stuff-A-Truck. The Kent Volunteer Fire Dept KVFD, 28 Maple St.(Rte 341), 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Saturday, December 15
Town-wide Open House. Participating merchants will stay open until 8 p.m.
Photos with Santa at Annie Bananie Ice Cream/Backcountry Outfitters, 5 Bridge St., 11 a.m.- 2 p.m.
Children’s Book Signing at Kent Memorial Library,1 p.m. - 3 p.m.
Santa at the Kent Children’s Center for cookie decorating and more photos. Kent Children’s Center, 99B North Main St. 3:30 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.
Sunday, December 16
Horse- drawn carriage rides start at Kent Greenhouse & Gardens (30 South Main St) and turns around at N.M. Watson Wild Bird Supply (1 Kent Green Blvd), noon - 3 p.m.
Saturday, December 15
The Third Annual Windows of New Preston Village Stroll , 2 p.m. - 5 p.m.