Autumn Walks With A Purpose: Heritage Walks Weekends
By Shawn Hartley Hancock
What could be better than a leisurely walk on a crisp autumn day? Not much. Unless it’s dozens of walks, each with a different flavor and distinct point of view, led by an expert. That’s what Housatonic Heritage has planned for its impressive 12th annual Heritage Walks Weekends, which kick off this Saturday and Sunday, September 21 and 22. The walks weekend will be repeated on October 5 and 6 (when there’s likely to be more colorful foliage).
The walks, impressive for their number (60 in all) and their diversity, are free guided tours held throughout Berkshire and Litchfield Counties at historic estate gardens, in notable town districts, along nature and hiking trails, and even at industrial-site ruins, all sponsored by Housatonic Heritage, a local nonprofit with a goal to preserve and celebrate the region’s heritage. (It’s also the nonprofit officially designated by the National Park Service to administer the region as a National Heritage Area.)
“The communities along the Housatonic River have a shared history of pioneering industries, including iron, paper, and electrical generation,” says Housatonic Heritage Executive Director Dan Bolognani. “They’ve also welcomed writers and artists, and are committed to preserving the scenic landscape and natural resources that comprise this special area,” he says.
This weekend in particular, Housatonic Heritage presents the walks in collaboration with The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), a national group dedicated to increasing the public’s awareness and understanding of its cultural landscapes, especially those they may pass every day, as part of “What’s Out There Weekend in The Berkshires.”
If this is all sounding like a spoonful of medicine masquerading as recreation, never fear. TCLF brings golf into the mix (and what is golf if not, as Winston Churchill described, “a good walk spoiled?”), making tee times available at the Berkshire Hills Country Club, the Country Club of Pittsfield, Cranwell, Greenock Country Club, Stockbridge Golf Club, and Wahconah Country Club. TCLF is also the chief host of a party at Shakespeare & Company on Friday, Sept. 20, to kick off the weekend of walks, beginning with a backstage tour at 5 p.m.
The walks themselves, which start on Saturday morning, are designed to appeal to the widest possible audience. “Nature lovers, history enthusiasts, and even those with different levels of physical ability can enjoy them,” Bolognani says. “Some of the walks are hikes, which are pretty strenuous, while others are wheelchair accessible.” To that end, many aren’t actually walks at all. All “events,” whether it’s a canoe trip, mountain hike, or bike ride, are what Bolognani calls, “Gee Whiz Qualified,” meaning folks come away impressed, energized, and educated about an aspect of their community they didn’t know about before.
“We have historians, educators, authors, environmentalists, and other experts as guides for the walks,” Bolognani says, which include interpretive visits to significant sites along the African American Heritage Trail, as well as an amble through a Native American village in Washington, CT, to the site of a former Algonkian village and discussion of the Pootatuck people.
Participants can join Michael White in a bee-hunt at the Bidwell House Museum to learn how farmers in centuries past searched for and captured honey bees, or bike 14 miles (about 2 hours) with guide Dan McGuiness along the Housatonic River from Falls Village to West Cornwall and back. (Don’t worry, it’s mostly flat and the roads are lightly traveled).
The less outdoorsy can take “backstage” tours of The Colonial Theatre and Wahconah Park in Pittsfield, Chesterwood in Stockbridge, and Tanglewood. History buffs can explore the historic hamlets of Cornwall Village, Stockbridge, West Stockbridge, and Lee in tours that illuminate little-known aspects of their pasts. (Hancock Shaker Village at right.) Local historian Bernard Drew will guide visitors to the dark side of Monument Mountain in a 2-1/2-hour hike, while naturalists can learn about the return of the American Chestnut tree through a preserve in Falls Village or join Mass DCR expert Alec Gillman as he puts Bascom Lodge and Mount Greylock into historical context.
According to Rachel Fletcher, a conservationist whose commitment to cleaning up the Housatonic River goes back decades, “We are in a unique position to show the public how central the river is to our community.” Fletcher will lead sessions at Great Barrington’s two Riverwalk parks on Saturday. “It’s the only reclaimed landscape among all the walks,” she says, “and allows us to tell two different and distinct stories.”
Along the upstream area, inventor and entrepreneur William Stanley developed alternating current, forever imprinting the river as significant as an industrial site. Downstream, the W.E.B. Du Bois Park, just a few feet from the abolitionist’s birthplace, reminds visitors of the region’s cultural diversity. According to Fletcher, Du Bois “writes about being ‘born by a golden river’ and was a fierce and longtime river advocate who urged its care and clean-up throughout his lifetime, well into the 1930s.”
Du Bois would be happy to know that, in fact, the river was the object of a voluntary effort that removed 400 tons of debris from its shores and its bed over the last 25 years. Today, the half-mile trail through downtown Great Barrington respects nature and reveals the river’s beauty. Other walks that explore the Housatonic will be held at the mile-long Mary Flynn Trail in Stockbridge, and the three-mile-long Old Mill Trail in Dalton.
The Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area, the local management entity that has partnered with the National Park Service to help educate the public about the Heritage Area, runs from Kent, CT to Lanesborough, MA, and encompasses 29 towns and cities through the hilly terrain of western Massachusetts and northwestern Connecticut.
Many of the walks require pre-registration. For more information, a schedule and description, visit www.heritage-hikes.org.(0) Comments
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Lime Rock Limelight: Litchfield’s Historic Race Car Parade
By Penny Stirling Michels
“Start your engines!” A colorful caravan of privately owned and lovingly maintained vintage race cars takes to the back roads of Litchfield County, Thursday, August 29, for Lime Rock’s Historic Festival, a humming herald to the beginning of Labor Day Weekend. The line-up begins at 4 p.m. at Lime Rock Park, where an estimated 150 top racing and sports cars from Great Britain, Italy, Germany, and the US will rumble to life and then strut their stuff along a fifteen-mile parade route through the Litchfield Hills, ending in a Street Festival on the green in Falls Village.
Parade fanciers from Lime Rock Park and the Falls Village Inn are encouraging residents and visitors to set up lawn chairs and picnic blankets along the route, while business owners have agreed to make their sidewalks inviting for the audience. The Street Festival at the parade’s end in Falls Village gives everyone the opportunity to meet the drivers and see the cars up close. There will be a splendid array of food vendors to keep folks munching while the fabulous Wanda Houston sings her heart out as only Wanda can to the music of the HBH Trio.
This is only the third Annual Vintage Race Car Parade in local history. It began as brainchild of Skip Barber, owner and CEO of Lime Rock Park. Barber takes enormous delight in the annual Historic Festival Weekend celebrated at the track every Labor Day weekend since 1983. He particularly enjoys the reactions from fans that have grown up with these iconic cars in the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s.
In 2011, Barber turned to his friend and fellow race car aficionado, Don Breslauer, and suggested they launch a Thursday kick-off for the Historic Weekend with a parade through Lime Rock’s surrounding towns. He was particularly keen for the parade to include a grand tour of the main circle at Noble Horizons. If those early race car fans could no longer travel to the cars, then the cars would travel to those early fans.
The first year’s parade focused primarily on vintage British models, many of them stylish MG racers, from the 1920’s onward. In 2012, the variety and number of cars participating grew to over 100 and the number of enthusiastic fans along the parade route swelled. The folks at Noble Horizons held lawn parties to greet the arrival of these snazzy dames of the vintage racing world.
Don Breslauer has managed all the behind the scenes details necessary to make the parade work since its inception. He is a Design Engineer who has been working with race cars since 1962. He owns and runs a vintage auto restoration shop in Salisbury, CT. His own magnificent Triumph TR3 is a source of great pride, but he won’t be driving it in the parade. Breslauer drives the Pace Car and leads the parade so he can double check to see that every inch of the route has been properly prepared for the occasion.
“Not often can you find vintage car owners driving unregistered restorations, as well as vintage and historic racing cars, on roads like these. Some of these cars aren’t ‘road worthy,’ and special arrangements must be made all along the parade route. This is a tightly coordinated event,” Breslauer explained. “It requires any number of motor vehicle permits, as well as agreements from the constables, police, and fire departments in the participating towns. Traffic must be stopped at the main intersections for about 20 minutes in order for the parade to advance as one group.”
A whole generation of fans who grew up with the pioneers of the racing world comes to Lime Rock Park every year at this time. Lime Rock’s history mirrors the history of sports car racing itself. In its 55-year existence, almost all of the sport’s great drivers have raced here: Andretti, Moss, Gurney, Posey, Rodriguez, Hobbs, Hill, Donohue, Ward, Fitch… the list is astonishing.
Any modern-day car buff can, for free, take his or her beloved model to this very same track to participate in the Annual Vintage Race Car Parade. To qualify, cars must date from 1965 or before and exhibit top-quality restoration and maintenance. They needn’t be racing models and, in fact, many drivers bring their vintage sports cars. Participants begin to line up on the track at Lime Rock Park on Thursday afternoon, August 29, at 3:15 p.m. Participation, as well as simply watching along the circuitous parade route, is free.
Lime Rock’s Historic Festival: Third Annual Vintage Race Car Parade
The route is as follows: Cars leave Lime Rock Park on Rt. 112 West towards the Hotchkiss School. They turn right onto Rt. 41 North at the 4-way stop. They turn right again onto Rt. 41N/44E at the flashing light in Lakeville. They drive through Salisbury to left on Cobble Road to Noble Horizons. They turn right out of Noble and left onto Rt. 41 South, through Salisbury westbound to left onto Salmon Kill Road to Rt. 112, then left onto Rt. 7 North, and left again on Rt. 126 to Falls Village Center.
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Hudson’s Oliver Bronson House: History in Brackets
By Shawn Hartley Hancock
Among the Hudson Valley’s many historic homes is one that’s still a well-kept secret, mostly because of its location on the grounds of the Hudson Correctional Facility, an impediment that adds an obstacle for visitors sensitive to strip searches. (We’re kidding about the strip search, but prisons and historic mansions make unlikely bedfellows.)
The Plumb-Bronson House (also known as The Oliver Bronson House) is a rare example of Alexander Jackson Davis’s Picturesque Bracketed style of architecture, which became the national standard in the 1840s and 1850s. Sitting high above the river on the outskirts of Hudson, and now at an optimistic stage in its long restoration, the Oliver Bronson House will be open to the public for guided tours this weekend and next.
Initially built as an elegant Federal-style residence by Hudson merchant Samuel Plumb more than 200 years ago, the Bronson house is even more special because of changes to its structure and the surrounding 250-acre landscape in two renovations, one in 1839 and another in 1849, by Davis for new owner Dr. Oliver Bronson. Davis transformed the house into one of the best and earliest surviving examples of the “Hudson River Bracketed” style. Davis and A.J. Downing are regarded up and down the Hudson Valley as leaders in the Picturesque style of American architecture. (Image at right courtesy of Michael Fredericks.)
The home’s charming details include egg and dart verge board, elaborate trellis work, and, of course, those romantic ornamental brackets. Inside, the distinctive three-story elliptical staircase is an obvious scene-stealer, but the house is full of interesting detail. The 1849 addition doubled its size and included an octagonal gallery with “an enfilade of rooms that bring in lots of light,” according to Peter Watson, Jr., a historic preservationist and keeper of the blog Dr. Oliver Bronson House Day Book, which chronicles the restoration. “It’s a monster of a house,” he says. “Everyone relates to it in different ways — some respond to the sense of decay — you know, works of man undone by nature. Others are interested in the architectural detail.” Scenes for the motion picture “The Bourne Legacy” were filmed at the house and it has been the backdrop for catalog and other photo shoots. (The photo below is from one of those shoots, for the home furnishings and women’s clothing company Anthropologie.)
After life as a gracious country residence, the property was bought by the state for use as a prison, with the house serving as a residence for the prison’s superintendent. The New York State Training School for Girls, a euphemism for a girls’ reformatory, operated there from 1904 until it closed in 1976, and can boast one famous “guest,” the 16-year-old Ella Fitzgerald, who was incarcerated in the 1930s before her singing career took off. After the reformatory closed, the house sat empty and derelict until the preservation group Historic Hudson took it over in 1997, got it named a National Historic Landmark in 2003, and jumped in whole-hog to faithfully advocate for its stewardship, stabilization, and restoration, after a long battle to win a long-term lease for the property from the state in 2008.
Historic Hudson’s Chair, Tim Dunleavy, says the current push to raise $100,000 is especially important as it will match a recent $300,000 grant from the Capital Region Economic Development Council and bring the restoration within range of completion.
Both this weekend, June 1 and 2, and next, June 8 and 9, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., the house will be open through The New York State Path Through History initiative, which connects the public with historical attractions throughout the state. The final weekend includes “If these walls could talk…” an exhibit presented in conjunction with the Prison Public Memory Project that will explore life inside the former reformatory. Guided tours will be held at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.(0) Comments
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Trade Secrets: The Ultimate Destination for Plants and Antiques
By Dan Shaw
One of the unspoken fears in our neck of the woods is that our area will eventually become like the Hamptons, with the helicopters of hedge-fund managers hovering over our hills and women toting their tomatoes from the farmers’ market in Hermès bags. Of course, residents of the Rural Intelligence region have been worrying about Hamptonization for decades. (Are you old enough to remember the New York magazine cover story “Forget the Hamptons—Now It’s Country Chic” in 1981? Or the “Hail, Columbia!” story in September 1986, when New York announced that “Columbia County, which was an economically stagnant backwater just three years prior, had become one the hottest second-home real-estate markets in the United States”?)
It’s counterintuitive, but Trade Secrets—the glamorous rare plant and garden antiques sale this year on May 18 in Sharon, CT—has reassured us for the past 13 years that as stylish and trendy as our region may have become, it is definitely, and defiantly, not the Hamptons. While Trade Secrets has the elegance of an old money Southampton garden party, it has the heart and soul of a New England church supper. Entirely run by volunteers—no professional organizer collects a fee to stage this gardenpalooza—Trade Secrets is a major fundraiser for the worthiest of causes, Women’s Support Services (WSS), a non-profit organization that offers free and confidential services to victims of domestic violence in northwest Connecticut, as well as nearby Massachusetts and New York State.
The event has haute/humble roots. It began on the front lawn of Bunny Williams’s home in Falls Village, which is nearby the railroad tracks so that the china in her 19th century Greek Revival house vibrates when the freight train passes by twice a day. Her then chief gardener, Naomi Blumenthal, who was a WSS volunteer, suggested that they sell the overflow from the greenhouse as a fundraiser. Bunny and Naomi asked a few favorite antique dealers and nurseries if they’d like to set up booths, too, and Trade Secrets was born and became an instant institution. (Now, there is a waiting list to become a vendor and there are only five new ones this year: Anthropek, Peace Tree Farms, Peony’s Envy, Rare Find Nursery, and Windy Hill Farm.)
Eventually, the Trade Secrets sale became too big for Williams’s property in Falls Village, and is now held at Elaine LaRoche’s vast Lion Rock Farm in Sharon with its corn fields, manicured gardens, and panoramic views of the Taconic Range. A second day of garden tours was added, and they are more evidence that we live in the unHamptons because the owners are hands-on gardeners (with hired help to be sure) who have a deep connection to their land and understanding of the physical and emotional challenges required to nurture a garden in our fickle zone. This year’s tour features three homes in Sharon. There’s Lee Link‘s unpretentious but luxurious garden that includes a custom greenhouse on one end and a sybaritic lap pool on the other; Garrett and Ann Goodbody’s Mudge Manor with its breathtaking views of Mudge Pond, a pair of wisteria-draped pergolas, and a pool surrounded by perennial borders; Plum Creek Farm, Lea Davies and Larry Powers’ home that features rock and woodland gardens, ponds, and formal foundation plantings that they’ve been cultivating for 30 years. And, as always, there is Bunny Williams‘s beloved spread in Falls Village with its Adirondack pool pavilion, orchard, parterre, and cutting gardens.
If you’re a competitive shopper, it’s wise to get the $100 early buyer’s ticket (8 a.m. - 10 a.m.) so you get first crack at the antiques and plants that catch the eyes of uber-gardeners like Anne Bass, Margaret Roach (near left), Carolyne Roehm, and Martha Stewart (far left). But all the vendors who return year after year come prepared with a wide variety of merchandise, so whether you simply want some annuals for a planter, a rare fern for your shade garden or a topiary for your porch, you will find plenty to choose from. And no matter whether you live in Berkshire, Columbia, Dutchess, or Litchfield counties, Trade Secrets always feels like a homecoming.
Trade Secrets at Lion Rock Farm - May 18
Early Buying: 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. — Admission: $100
Regular Buying 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. — Admission: $35
The Sun Shined for Trade Secrets’ 10th Anniversary, May 15, 2010
Trade Secrets: The Ultimate Outdoor Shopping Party, May 16, 2009
Trade Secrets: Martha Stewart Makes the Scene, May 17, 2008
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Making A Day of Hyde Park
Springwood, the Dutchess County estate commonly (though erroneously) called Hyde Park, is to the pantheon of great American houses what Franklin Delano Roosevelt, its scion, is to the pantheon of great American men— perhaps not the most brilliant, but so preternaturally confident, relaxed, good-humored, and patrician that any shortcomings are quickly overlooked. Like FDR, Springwood bears no trace of the arriviste striving and pomposity that casts a pall over the Vanderbilt Mansion next door. It is comfortable American well-to-do, rather than lugubrious European rich — better suited to a Democracy and certainly to a Democrat.
The Roosevelt administration started with a bang. When he was elected, the Depression was entering its fifth year. Thousands of banks had failed, leaving their uninsured depositors penniless. Farmers in foreclosure and school teachers working without pay were demonstrating in the streets and being beaten and jailed by the police. Revolution appeared to be imminent and, to forestall that unthinkable end, the equally unthinkable means, a dictatorship, was being floated by, among others, Walter Lippmann, the pre-eminent liberal columnist of the day.
But Roosevelt did not use the state of emergency he inherited from Herbert Hoover as an excuse for making a power grab. He did not suspend the constitution or expand executive privilege to wartime levels, as many suggested he should. Instead, he instituted the first of his largely symbolic (in the beginning, at any rate) programs for putting the nation back to work and used the relatively new mass medium of radio to get his message across. That message was, of course, “We have nothing to fear…” but the subtext read, “Cheer up. Look at me, I can’t even walk, and I’m confident. Now that I’m running things, you can be confident, too.” Before his administration was 100 days old, there were long lines outside the banks, not of panicky people desperate to withdraw their life savings, but of upbeat depositors who saw it as their patriotic duty — if not as downright fashionable — to pull their cash from under their mattresses and put it back in the banks. The Age of Spin had dawned.
And then, on the 101st day, the president went sailing, and the press said, “well deserved.” Ah, those were the days. It’s all there, just down the road, inventively laid out for us at the The FDR Library. We sit in a replica of a Great Depression Era kitchen (built by McElroy Scenic Studios of Ashley Falls, MA, as was the rest of the exhibit) and listen to the radio as FDR’s voice assures us that, “We have nothing to fear, but…” well, you know. Viewed up close, yet from the safe distance of 75 years, it’s fascinating.
There’s More to Springwood Than Politics
Now let’s see, what else is interesting? Oh right, sex! Many people who visit Springwood combine it with a tour of the Vanderbilt Mansion, as it’s right there. But unless you’re really keen on ormolu, you can skip that and visit Wilderstein instead. While house tours won’t resume until the first of May, the riverside grounds surrounding the house are open to the public, and seeing the mansion itself from the outside is more than worth the trip. (There will, however, be a Daffodil Tea with a tour of the house on Saturday, April 20 @ 1 p.m. to get “a glimpse of what tea time was like during the Victorian era.”) This 35-room Queen Anne pile overlooking the Hudson in Rhinebeck, a few miles north of Springwood, was the ancestral home of Margaret (Daisy) Suckley, who died there at the age of nearly 100 in 1991. Upon her death, a battered black suitcase was found beneath her bed and in it scores of love letters from her distant cousin FDR. Although she was one of the four women (Eleanor not among them) who were with Franklin when he died at Warm Springs, Georgia in 1945, it had not been suspected that they were lovers until after her death. (See related article: A Grand Middle Ground.) Val-Kill, Eleanor’s modest digs, and Top Cottage, FDR’s private hideaway in the hills three miles above Springwood, are also both worth the detour. (Top Cottage, like Wilderstein, reopens May 1.)
And now to lunch: There is only one sane option. The Culinary Institute of America, on the same road five minutes south of Springwood, is Disneyland for foodies. The campus has five restaurants, each specializing in a different style of cuisine and service. I don’t care for table-side service myself (think: silver domes whisked away in unison and frequent outbreaks of flambé) for the same reason I don’t care for ormolu, so I tend to avoid the admittedly fabulous Escoffier. The Ristorante Caterina de’Medici has wonderful Italian food, particularly the fish. But for lunch, my favorite is the St. Andrews Café. Don’t let that “Café” business fool you: this is a bright, attractive, carpeted, tablecloth joint, a perfect place to take a breather in the middle of a day of touring. While you are free to order a pizza or a sandwich at St. Andrews, to do so is to entirely miss the point. The food here is seriously tasty—modern, healthy, inventive, well-prepared and well-priced. Ask your waiter, a student, what to order. Trust him; he’s on his way to becoming the next Wolfgang Puck. —Marilyn Bethany
Springwood, the Roosevelt home, and The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, 4079 Albany Post Road (Route 9), Hyde Park; 845.486.7745; combined admission $14.
Top Cottage (re-opens May 1); admission, $8.
Val-Kill Cottage, the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site; admission $8.
The Vanderbilt Mansion; admission, $8.
People under 15 admitted free; over 62.
Wilderstein (re-opens May 1), 330 Morton Road, Rhinebeck; 845.876.4816; admission $10; seniors $9; children under 12 free.
The Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park; 845.452.9600 or reserve on-line
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Another New Era for the Salisbury Ski Jumps
There are not many spectator sports that make it worth your while to stand outside in frigid weather, but the annual Salisbury Ski Jumps are an exception because they’re so thrilling—and heartwarming. The venerable competition (February 8 - 10), which is an unofficial proving ground for future Olympians, has been a highlight of winter in northwest Connecticut for 87 years.
In addition to the traditional rites of the competition, there’s a new state-of-the-art tower (added two years ago), which was built in record time because the Salisbury Winter Sports Association had to promise to construct a new jump to woo the Junior Olympics. There is also a new line of handsome Salisbury Ski Jumps merchandise (right and below) produced by Peter Beck’s Village Store: baseball caps ($15), knit caps ($39.50), long sleeve T-shirts ($25), and Patagonia fleece vests ($85). These will be sold at Satre Hill (where you can always purchase the cowbells that are traditionally rung as the skiers fly through the sky) as well as at Peter Beck’s on Main Street.
While watching the jumpers when the sun is shining is nice, many spectators’ favorite part of the weekend is Friday Nite Lites, when there is target jumping under the lights along with a chili cookoff, and a human dogsled race. The 12th annual ice-carving competition on Saturday will be held on the lawn of the Scoville Memorial Library. If you’re not familiar with the charms of Salisbury, the Ski Jumps weekend is a great opportunity to explore shops such as Johnnycake Books, Passports, Salisbury Wines and Sweet William’s Bakery.
87th Annual Salisbury Winter Sports Association Ski Jumps February 8 -10
Where to Eat in Salisbury/Lakeville:
Check out our restaurant reviews or restaurant websites
2. Country Bistro
3 At Home in the Country
6. Black Rabbit Bar and Grill
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High Art Meets Hootenanny at MASS MoCA’s FreshGrass Fest
Infamous Stringdusters perform on 9/21
“People might think of museums as being places where you have to be quiet and careful,” says Katherine Myers, director of public relations and marketing at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. “But MASS MoCA—we like to try new things.”
The dynamic and decidedly unstuffy North Adams museum’s latest venture has roots music fans tapping their toes in anticipation. From September 21-23, MASS MoCA is hosting its second annual FreshGrass Bluegrass Festival. The rollicking concerts extend the museum’s tradition of adventurous summer music festivals like Bang On a Can and Wilco Solid Sound well into shoulder season. And lest anyone doubt that there’s a large, enthusiastic, off-season audience, festival tickets are already sold out; Myers says MASS MoCA will be able to release more tickets if the weather cooperates and allows greater use of the museum’s outdoor performance spaces.
“Bluegrass is an interesting kind of music because there’s an old-fashioned kind of feel to it, but it’s also very popular with younger people,” says Myers. The music’s long history and vibrant present is reflected in the festival’s diverse lineup, which unites such bluegrass legends as David Grisman and Tony Rice with fast-rising talents like Carolina Chocolate Drops and Spirit Family Reunion.
Rhiannon Ghiddens, singer and fiddler with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, who were enthusiastically received at their last MASS MoCA appearance two years ago, attributes the current groundswell of interest in bluegrass to the premium that roots musicians place on showmanship. “We’re not just sitting there,” she says. “We’re entertaining the crowd.”
Leyla McCalla plays on Sunday 9/23
Bluegrass is a big-tent genre, encompassing sounds that range from quiet folk to shambling rockabilly foot-stompers; the FreshGrass festival includes artists with a wide range of styles. During the day, concert-goers can bop to the acoustic tunes of New Orleans-based cellist and banjoist Leyla McCalla. Come Friday and Saturday nights, they’ll rev their engines with high-energy groups like the punk-tinged band The Devil Makes Three. “Our hope is that people will just dance like crazy,” says Myers.
Most concerts will be held in the 10,000 square-foot Hunter Center or in MASS MoCA’s outdoor courtyard, depending on the weather. The museum will also integrate pop-up performances into its art exhibits too. “There may be a time when you’re just wandering around in the galleries and all the sudden there’s Alison Brown playing a little show with one amp or no amp,” Myers notes.
Attendees who want to polish up on their banjo skills can attend music workshops with world-renown strummers Bill Evans and Brown on Saturday and Sunday. The musically-inclined can strut their stuff at informal jam sessions on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Those interested in understanding the physics behind bluegrass’s distinctive twang may be interested in a talk by a local luthier who will explain how guitars are made.
Visitors new to the bluegrass landscape will have a handy guide in Friday’s world premiere of The Porchlight Sessions, a documentary that filmmaker Anna Schwaber calls “Bluegrass 101.”
Morgan O’Kane, who plays on 9/21, also appears in “The Porchlight Sessions”
The Porchlight Sessions features many of the bands playing at FreshGrass, including The Infamous Stringdusters and Morgan O’Kane, who Schwaber first spotted busking at an L train station in New York City. Schwaber says the documentary’s crowd-sourced perspective stays true to the music’s grassroots appeal. “It traces the evolution of the sound of bluegrass,” Schwaber says, “not through one band or a voiceover, but through the voice of the community.”
The documentary also gives longtime bluegrass fans plenty of reasons to stomp their feet in appreciation. “We’ve got some really beautiful, intimate, private performances,” says Schwaber. “A lot of people haven’t seen their favorite musicians in that kind of spotlight.”
Families can find plenty to keep the junior set occupied at the festival, too. MASS MoCA’s Kidspace activities include an instrument-making workshop with Mamie Minch on Sunday and a presentation on Bigfoot that culminates in kids shaping their own beastly creations at the Bigfoot Art Cabaret.
A bird’s eye view of last year’s FreshGrass festival
Since MASS MoCA will have a captive audience during FressGrass, it’s taking care to provide attendees with a a wide range of local food and drink options, including plenty of vegetarian choices and a FreshGrass IPA produced just for the festival by The People’s Pint in Greenfield.
And no visit would be complete without tasting those aforementioned, intriguingly named moonshine slushies, a beverage that puts a (legal) twist on old-timey homebrew. “It sounds like they’ll cool you off while they burn you up,” jokes Carolina Chocolate Drops’ instrumentalist Dom Flemons. “I’ll have to get my hands on one of those.” —Sarah Todd
MASS MoCA FreshGrass Bluegrass Festival 2012
September 21- 23, 2012
87 Marshall St, North Adams, MA
Tickets temporarily sold out; any decision to release more tickets will be made by Thursday, September 20. To receive an email notification should more tickets become available, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Creative Workspaces Open to the Public in Art Studio Views
Clockwise from top left: Randy Bloom with one of her paintings; works by Jeff Romano, Carl Greico, and Richard Chianelle
It’s hard enough to be an artist. But to be an artist working alone in a studio in a quiet rural area, however noted for its sophistication and culture, can be, if not a hardship, just a wee bit lonesome and isolating.
When Doris Cultraro (left) first came to Rhinebeck from New York City to set up her studio for making stained glass, she says, “I heard the arts and artists were here—but where were they? I truly wanted to know.” That is how Art Studio Views came into being. Now in its fifth year, this free, self-guided tour, taking place over Labor Day weekend, Saturday and Sunday, September 1 and 2, is designed to promote the work and talents of local artists in Northern Dutchess County. Nearly 40 artists in Hyde Park, Clinton, Rhinebeck, Red Hook, Staatsburg, and Tivoli will open their studios to the public to “share their creative environment, and help visitors understand the inspiration that drives their passion,” Cultraro notes.
“The idea was to encourage people to come into the region and to get beyond the gallery experience to see how the artist works,” says Cultraro. She says that it started with 21 participants in 2007 and now has nearly 40, including painters such as Randy Bloom of Tivoli, sculptors such as Carl Greico of Hyde Park, printmakers such as Melissa Braggins of Rhinebeck (below), and photographers such as Richard Chianelle from Rhinebeck, as well as numerous other artists and artisans working in a variety of media.
“It’s one thing to talk to a gallery owner about an artist, and it’s another to see one working in the flesh,” says Cultraro, who initiated the tour with three other artists. The artists will do what they normally do, and throw in extras for visitors. Joan Levittt, a printmaker in Staatsburg, will teach guests how to make monoprints, by having them create patterns on Plexiglas and run it through the press themselves. Christine Livesey in Rhinebeck, a seriographer who does traditional silk screening, will demonstrate her age-old techinique with help from visitors. Carl Greico will demonstrate the seemingly impossible task of manipulatulating marble or stone into abstract sculptural works.
“It’s hard, like corralling the cats, and I had to pull all my skills in the corporate world to make it happen,” notes Cultraro, a former vice president of administration at Comedy Central, of organizing the annual tour. “Even though I was the newbie at the time, I ended up carrying the torch. But it’s been very rewarding, working with all the artists.” She credits Alice Seeger (niece-in-law of you-know-who) as especially helpful in organizing and promoting this year’s tour; Seeger created this lyrical video for the event.
A new feature of this year’s Art Studio Views is an online auction of wooden boxes designed and donated by each of the artists. Auction proceeds benefit Vassar Brothers Medical Center Pediatric Unit Oncology Arts Program at Vassar Brother’s Hospital in Poughkeepsie. You can check out the Art Boxes in storefront windows in Red Hook, Rhinebeck, and Hyde Park, or preview them here.
Of course Cultraro’s Rhinebeck stained glass studio is also on the tour. “I’ll be having demonstrations on how to make stained glass, a glass-cutting clinic for home repairs, and also a short film on how glass is made,” she says. “With popcorn.” – Scott Baldinger
The Art Studio Views
A self-guided open-studio tour of 30-plus artists in Dutchess County
Labor Day Weekend, Saturday September 1 & Sunday, September 2, 2012
11 a.m. - 5 p.m.
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Role Reversal for Terry Teachout: Critic Turns Playwright
“I hadn’t written a play before, but I had this dream where I saw the stage picture of Pops and heard the first line. It just popped into my mind.” ‘Pops,’ like ‘Satchmo,’ is a nickname for legendary jazzman Louis Armstrong, and the newly minted playwright is the accomplished author and Wall Street Journal drama critic Terry Teachout, explaining that he finished off his first draft of Satchmo at the Waldorf four days after that fateful dream.
The four-day draft stretched into a year of work on Satchmo... before its workshop at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, which he also directed, another first for Teachout. And now the one-man play, starring acclaimed actor John Douglas Thompson, is having its New England premiere at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox.
“I’m a committed compulsive individual,” declares Teachout, who says his journey to writing Satchmo… began at age nine, when his mother called him over to watch Louis Armstrong on the Ed Sullivan Show. “It was before I knew anything about jazz,” he says, but that soon changed; Teachout became an accomplished jazz bassist in his own right before breaking into art criticism with a music review for the Kansas City Star, written before he was graduated from college.
In 2009 Teachout published the biography Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong, of which New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani wrote, “...Teachout restores this jazzman to his deserved place in the pantheon of American artists.” The book benefited from Teachout’s unprecedented access to tapes Armstrong made during the final decade of his life. Much of the knowledge that Teachout acquired in researching the Armstrong biography has been channeled into his new play.
Satchmo… is actually about two men – Armstrong and his manager, Joe Glaser; the former African-American, the latter white and Jewish – both played by the same actor. At least that was how the play was first workshopped and later staged at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater in September, 2011.
Photo by Kevin Sprague
In a surprise twist, actor John Douglas Thompson, who had already committed to play both roles in his first one-man show, will take on a newly added third character, jazz musician Miles Davis, in Teachout’s latest version of the play. “It’s hard to believe but just two days after we added Davis’s speeches, John came in to rehearsal and he had the voice right and the look. It’s the same with his Armstrong. Suddenly he looks the part, and he’s a foot taller than Pops.”
There have been other changes to this new production, directed by Gordon Edelstein, which runs through September 16 before moving in October to Edelstein’s Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut. Originally a two-act play, it’s now a single act. “Dropping the intermission – and I had written a brilliant last moment for the first act that always got great applause – was like taking off the tourniquet: the blood just flowed,” says Teachout. “And people were leaving after the first act, thinking it was over anyway.”
Attending three weeks of rehearsals as playwright, Teachout found the analytical skills he relies on as a critic came in handy to hone and alter the work. “You learn to think diagnostically as a critic and that can be an advantage for a playwright,” he says. “And Gordon is a terrific dramaturge, so you can take a very long look at what you’ve done.”
Creative team Edelstein, Thompson, and Teachout; photo by Kevin Sprague
Like a true compulsive, Teachout – who, in addition to his responsibilities at the Journal, is also the chief culture critic at Commentary and an active blogger – already has two more plays in the works. He has written two opera librettos (The Letter, commissioned by the Santa Fe Opera, premiered there in July 2009, and Danse Russe debuted at Philadelphia’s Center City Opera in April 2011); now he and his composer, Paul Moravec, are toying with a third idea. But before moving full speed ahead on these projects, the author remarked, “there is a need for something to write for, a commission perhaps. Money up front helps. I mean, really, you don’t start the car until the meter’s running.” – Peter Bergman
Satchmo at the Waldorf
At Shakespeare & Company’s Tina Packer Playhouse
Now through September 16
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Homefield: A Shopping Extravaganza at Ventfort Hall
You don’t see much bling in the Berkshires, which is ironic when you consider that Lenox was the summer capital of the Gilded Age. Today, inconspicuous consumption is the law of the land (except for the competitive picnics on the lawn at Tanglewood), so shopping and decorating rarely get their due. But this weekend’s Homefield: Bringing Design Home, a shopping fundraiser at Venfort Hall for Great Barrington-based Community Health Programs (CHP), will prove that “Berkshire style” is not, as some Birkenstock-wearing cynics have quipped, an oxymoron.
Inspired by Trade Secrets, the wildly successful and elegant rare-plant and garden antiques sale in northwestern Connecticut that benefits Women’s Support Services, CHP wanted to create an event that would not only raise much-needed funds but also awareness for its programs for children with developmental delays or disabilities. Michelle Derr, who runs CHP’s WIC program and lives in Litchfield County, turned to her stylish neighbor Stephen Saint-Onge (aka “Designer Dad”) for advice. An interior designer, entrepreneur, author, and blogger, Saint-Onge (right) immediately saw the potential to create a shopping party that would be worth a road trip.
“The setting for the gala event on Friday night and the marketplace on Saturday is in the heart of one of the most stunning areas of the Berkshires,” says Saint-Onge, who’s originally from Vermont and has lived in Litchfield County with his family full-time for the past six years. “When I first drove up to Ventfort Hall I thought it was like an American version of Downton Abbey, so I was loving it from the first moment. From there, we gathered vendors and artisans from the region and beyond to come together in a casual, almost European-style open market under white tents set out on the lawn behind the historic Berkshire mansion. There will be a mix of home furnishings, antiques, art, home design, photography, garden design.”
The 28 vendors (who will donate ten percent of their sales to CHP) reflect the diversity of our region and include Hammertown, Home, Housatonic River Outfitters, Karen LeSage Fine Arts, Nest, Poesis Design, Le Trianon and Wingate Ltd.
“T. P. Saddleblanket from Great Barrington will be having a fashion show at our gala preview on Friday night,” says Derr, noting that the silent auction items include tickets to see the David Letterman Show and a Whirlpool washer and dryer. “You will be escorted by models through the mansion and out to the tents. Stephen said he wants guests to feel like they’re in a movie.” But he also wants people to appreciate the reality that organizations like CHP are vital to the rural social contract. “I love that Community Health Partners was started in this community generations ago and it is still here working with families in the region. That is what makes living in this part of New England so wonderful—a great sense of community.”
Evening Reception and Pre-Sale
Friday August 10, 7 - 11 p.m.
Saturday August 11, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
$25 (free for children under 12)
Book Signing with Stephen Sant-Onge, author of No Place Like Home
10 - 11 a.m