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Vacations are highlights of anyone’s calendar, and summertime is, admittedly, a perfect time to get away. But it’s also a great time to stay at home and enjoy the embarrassment of riches Western Mass. has to offer when it comes to arts and entertainment, cultural experiences, community gatherings, and encounters with nature. From music festivals and agricultural fairs to zoos and water activities — and much more — here is BusinessWest’s annual rundown of some of the region’s outdoor highlights. Have fun!

 

MUSIC, THEATER, AND DANCE

FreshGrass Festival
1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams, MA
www.freshgrass.com
Admission: $46-$119 for three-day pass; $350 for VIP ‘FreshPass’
Sept. 14-16: The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art is known for its musical events, and the Fresh Grass festival is among the highlights, showcasing close to 50 bluegrass artists and bands over three days. This year, the lineup includes Indigo Girls, Trampled by Turtles, Flogging Molly, Béla Fleck, Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, and many more.

Green River Festival
One College Dr., Greenfield, MA
www.greenriverfestival.com
Admission: Weekend, $129.99; Friday, $34.99; Saturday, $69.99; Sunday, $64.99
July 13-15: For one weekend every July, Greenfield Community College hosts a high-energy celebration of music; local food, beer, and wine; handmade crafts; and games and activities for families and children — all topped off with hot-air-balloon launches and Friday- and Saturday-evening ‘balloon glows.’ The music is continuous on three stages, with more than 35 bands slated to perform.

Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival
358 George Carter Road, Becket, MA
www.jacobspillow.org
Admission: $25 and up
Through Aug. 26: Now in its 86th season, Jacob’s Pillow has become one of the country’s premier showcases for dance, featuring more than 50 dance companies from the U.S. and around the world. Participants can take in scores of free performances, talks, and events; train at one of the nation’s most prestigious dance-training centers; and take part in community programs designed to educate and engage audiences of all ages. This year’s highlights include a season-opening performance by the Royal Danish Ballet, a visit from the ever-popular Pilobolus, and an artist-curated program by New York City Ballet’s Daniel Ulbricht.

Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center
14 Castle St., Great Barrington, MA
www.mahaiwe.org
Admission: Varies by event
Year-round: The beloved Mahaiwe Theatre dates back to 1905 — continuously running programs since its opening — and underwent an extensive, $9 million renovation starting in 2003. Today, the theater seats just under 700 and hosts year-round arts programming, including music, dance, theatre, opera, talks, and movie classics. It’s leaders say Mahaiwe is a staple and a resource: its live performances inspire tens of thousands of audience members each year, its embrace of modern technology supplements programming with live, high-definition satellite broadcasts from around the world, and its year-round schedule enhances the quality of life for those who reside in and visit the Berkshires.

Old Sturbridge Village Craft Beer & Roots Music Festival
1 Old Sturbridge Village Road, Sturbridge, MA
www.osv.org
Admission: $14-$28; free for children under 4
July 21: OSV’s craft beer festival is back, with more brews, bands, and bites than ever before. Eighteen craft breweries from across New England will offer an opportunity to sample and purchase some of the region’s top beers, ciders, and ales, while barbecue pork, brats, burgers, and more will be available. At five indoor and outdoor stages, more than a dozen musical artists will present the sounds of Americana, bluegrass, country, folk, and roots music.

Springfield Jazz and Roots Festival
Court Square, Springfield, MA
www.springfieldjazzfest.com
Admission: Free
Aug. 11: The fifth annual Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival will offer a festive atmosphere featuring locally and internationally acclaimed musical artists. More than 10,000 people are expected to hear sounds from a mix of well-known artists and up-and-comers. Headliners announced so far include Maceo Parker, Pedrito Martinez Group, and Jon Cleary, with more announcements expected soon.

Tanglewood
297 West St., Lenox, MA
www.bso.org
Admission: Varies
Through Sept. 14: Tanglewood has been the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra since 1937, and like previous years, it has a broad, diverse slate of concerts in store for the 2018 season, including the Festival of Contemporary Music on July 26-30 and performances by the Boston Symphony and Boston Pops orchestras, ensembles of the Tanglewood Music Center, and internationally renowned guest artists from the worlds of classical, jazz, American songbook, Broadway, rock, pop, and dance.

Williamstown Theatre Festival
1000 Main St., Williamstown, MA
www.wtfestival.org
Admission: $60-$75
Through Aug. 19: Six decades ago, the leaders of Williams College’s drama department and news office conceived of an idea: using the campus’ theater for a summer performance program with a resident company. Since then, the festival has attracted a raft of notable guest performers, with this year’s names including Matthew Broderick (The Closet, June 26 to July 4) and Mary-Louise Parker (The Sound Inside, June 27 to July 8). The 2018 season’s seven productions will spotlight a range of both original productions and works by well-known playwrights.

HISTORY AND CULTURE

Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
1000 Hall of Fame Ave., Springfield, MA
www.hoophall.com
Admission: $16-$24; free for children under 5
Year-round: The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame is home to more than 300 inductees and more than 40,000 square feet of basketball history. Hundreds of interactive exhibits share the spotlight with skills challenges, live clinics, and shooting contests. A $44 million capital campaign is funding a two-phase renovation project, with the first phase, including new dome lighting, a main lobby overhaul, and significant renovation of the Hall’s theater, now complete.

Glasgow Lands Scottish Festival
300 North Main St., Florence, MA
www.glasgowlands.org
Admission: $5-$16, free for children under 6
July 21: Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, the largest Scottish festival in Massachusetts, held at Look Park, features Highland dancers, pipe bands, a pipe and drum competition, animals, spinners, weavers, harpists, Celtic music, athletic contests, activities for children, and the authentically dressed Historic Highlanders recreating everyday life in that society from the 14th through 18th centuries.

Glendi
22 St. George Road, Springfield, MA
www.stgeorgecath.org/glendi
Admission: Free
Sept. 7-9: Every year, St. George Cathedral offers thousands of visitors the best in traditional Greek foods, pastries, music, dancing, and old-fashioned Greek hospitality. In addition, the festival offers activities for children, tours of the historic St. George Cathedral and Byzantine Chapel, vendors from across the East Coast, icon workshops, movies in the Glendi Theatre, cooking demonstrations, and more.

Historic Deerfield
84B Old Main St., Deerfield, MA
www.historic-deerfield.org
Admission: $5-$18; free for children under 6
Year-round: Historic Deerfield, founded in 1952, is an outdoor museum that interprets the history and culture of early New England and the Connecticut River Valley. Visitors can tour 12 carefully preserved antique houses dating from 1730 to 1850, and explore world-class collections of regional furniture, silver, textiles, and other decorative arts on display in the authentic period houses and in the Flynt Center of Early New England Life, a state-of-the-art museum facility. Check out the website for a packed roster of summer activities, including educational lectures, cooking demonstrations, and exhibitions of period decoration, textiles, furniture, and art.

Pocumtuck Homelands Festival
Unity Park, 1st Street, Turners Falls, MA
www.nolumbekaproject.org
Admission: Free
Aug. 4: This fifth annual celebration of the parks, people, history, and culture of Turners Falls is a coordinated effort of the Nolumbeka Project and RiverCulture. The event features outstanding Native American crafts, food, and live music, as well as demonstrations of primitive skills. The Nolumbeka Project aims to preserve regional Native American history through educational programs, art, history, music, heritage seed preservation, and cultural events.

Shakerfest
1843 West Housatonic St., Pittsfield, MA
www.hancockshakervillage.org
Admission: $65-$70 for all access; individual activities priced separately
Aug. 18: Hancock Shaker Village will present a day of music, ballads, storytelling, and dance — a place where musicians blend with the audience, and there’s no backstage. From food to free tours of ancient medicinal herb gardens, this festival offers numerous experiences to enjoy with the music, including afternoon harmony and dance workshop; an evening performance in the barn that combines traditional song and dance with new compositions, movement, and projections inspired by the Shakers who built the barn; and a rollicking barn dance.

Stone Soul Festival
1780 Roosevelt Ave., Springfield, MA
www.stonesoulfestival.com
Admission: Free
Aug. 31 to Sept. 2: New England’s largest African-American festival offers family-oriented activities, entertainment, and cultural enrichment, and is a vehicle for minority-owned businesses to display their wares and crafts. Entertainment at Blunt Park includes gospel, jazz, R&B, and dance. Sunday’s free picnic includes ribs and chicken cooked by talented pitmasters, backed by live gospel music performed by local and regional choirs.

Yidstock
1021 West St., Amherst, MA
www.yiddishbookcenter.org/yidstock
Admission: Festival pass, $236; tickets may be purchased for individual events
July 12-15: Boasting an array of concerts, lectures, and workshops, Yidstock 2018: The Festival of New Yiddish Music brings the best in klezmer and new Yiddish music to the stage at the Yiddish Book Center on the campus of Hampshire College. The seventh annual event offers an intriguing glimpse into Jewish roots, music, and culture.

FAIRS AND FESTS

Berkshires Arts Festival
380 State Road, Great Barrington, MA
www.berkshiresartsfestival.com
Admission: $7-$14; free for children under 10
n July 6-8: Ski Butternut may be best-known for … well, skiing, of course. But the property also plays host to the Berkshires Arts Festival, a regional tradition now in its 17th year. Thousands of art lovers and collectors are expected to stop by to check out and purchase the creations of more than 200 artists and designers.

The Big E
1305 Memorial Ave., West Springfield, MA
www.easternstatesexposition.com
Admission: $10-$15; free for children under 5; 17-day pass $20-$40
Sept. 14-30: As regional fairs go, it’s still the big one, and there’s something for everyone, whether it’s the copious fair food or the livestock shows, the Avenue of States houses or the parades, the local vendors and crafters or the live music. But it’s not the only agricultural fair on the block. The Westfield Fair kicks things off Aug. 18-20, followed by the Blandford Fair and the Three County Fair in Northampton Aug. 31 to Sept. 3, the Franklin County Fair in Greenfield on Sept. 6-9, and the Belchertown Fair on Sept. 21-23, to name some of the larger gatherings.

Celebrate Holyoke
Downtown Holyoke, MA
www.celebrateholyokemass.com
Admission: Free
Aug. 24-26: Celebrate Holyoke is a three-day festival that made its return in 2015 after a 10-year hiatus, and typically draws more than 10,000 people downtown over the course of the weekend. This year’s festival will include live musical performances, food and beverages from local restaurants, activities for children, and goods from local artists and makers.

Downtown Get Down
Exchange Street, Chicopee, MA
www.chicopeegetdown.com
Admission: Free
Aug. 24-25: Now in its fourth year, Chicopee’s downtown block party, which typically draws about 15,000 people to the streets around City Hall, will feature tons of live music, as well as attractions for children, local food vendors, live art demonstrations, and the Get Down 5K Race.

Franklin County Beer Fest
66 Thunder Mountain Road, Charlemont, MA
www.berkshireeast.com
Admission: $25 in advance, $30 at the door
July 21: Join fellow brew enthusiasts for an afternoon of food, music, and drink. The third annual Franklin County Beer Fest will be held at Berkshire East Mountain Resort and will feature beer from several local breweries, local ciders, and local mead and libations. Online ticket buyers will receive a souvenir glass.

Mattoon Street Arts Festival
Mattoon Street, Springfield, MA
www.mattoonfestival.org
Admission: Free
Sept. 8-9: Now in its 46th year, the Mattoon Street Arts Festival is the longest-running arts festival in the Pioneer Valley, featuring about 100 exhibitors, including artists that work in ceramics, fibers, glass, jewelry, painting and printmaking, photography, wood, metal, and mixed media. Food vendors and strolling musicians help to make the event a true late-summer destination.

Monson Summerfest
Main Street, Monson, MA
www.monsonsummerfestinc.com
Admission: Free
July 4: In 1979, a group of parishioners from the town’s Methodist church wanted to start an Independence Day celebration focused on family and community, The first Summerfest featured food, games, and fun activities. With the addition of a parade, along with booths, bands, rides, and activities, the event has evolved into an attraction drawing more than 10,000 people every year.

River Celebration
350 Linden St., Brattleboro, VT
www.ctriver.org/celebration
Admission: $15; free for children 12 and under
June 16: The Connecticut River Conservancy will host this family-friendly event at the Retreat Farm in Brattleboro. Morning excursions including a pontoon cruise on the Connecticut River, a paddling adventure in the Meadows, a freshwater mussel ecology workshop, a fly-casting workshop, and more. Enjoy live music by River Rhapsody and lunch by Tito’s Taqueria and Vermont Country Deli. Additional activities include an ice-cream-making workshop and several demonstrations open all day: a stream table, a soil-infiltration table, a water-quality testing station, and more. Vermont Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman will moderate the “Farm/River Roundtable: Doing Right by Our Rivers.”

Worthy Craft Brew Fest
201 Worthington St., Springfield, MA
www.theworthybrewfest.com
Admission: $45 in advance, $50 at the door
June 16: Smith’s Billiards and Theodores’ Booze, Blues & BBQ, both in the city’s entertainment district, will host more than 25 breweries, with music by Feel Good Drift and the Radiators Soul and Rhythm and Blues Revue, and food served up by Theodores’, Mercado Food Truck, and Nora Cupcake Co. The event will also feature a home-brew contest; Amherst Brewing will make the winner’s beer and serve it at next year’s Brew Fest.

MORE FUN UNDER THE SUN

Berkshire Botanical Garden
5 West Stockbridge Road, Stockbridge, MA
www.berkshirebotanical.org
Admission: $12-$15; free for children under 12
Through Oct. 8: If the flora indigenous to, or thriving in, the Berkshires of Western Mass. is your cup of tea, try 15 acres of stunning public gardens at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge. Originally established as the Berkshire Garden Center in 1934, today’s not-for-profit, educational organization is both functional and ornamental, with a mission to fulfill the community’s need for information, education, and inspiration concerning the art and science of gardening and the preservation of the environment. In addition to the garden’s collections, among the oldest in the U.S., visitors can enjoy workshops, special events, and guided tours.

Crab Apple Whitewater Rafting
2056 Mohawk Trail, Charlemont, MA
www.crabapplewhitewater.com
Admission: Varies by activity
Through Oct. 8: Wanna get wet? Crab Apple is a third-generation, multi-state family business that operates locally on the Deerfield River in the northern Berkshire Mountains of Western Mass. Its five separate rafting excursions range from mild to wild, full- or half-day runs, in rafts and inflatable kayaks. In short, Crab Apple offers something for everyone, from beginners to more experienced rafters.

Great New England Air & Space Show
57 Patriot Ave., Chicopee, MA
www.greatnewenglandairshow.org
Admission: Free; upgraded paid seating available
July 14-15: The 2018 Great New England Air & Space Show at Westover Air Reserve Base will feature popular attractions like the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, who last performed in Chicopee in 2008. But note the subtle change to the event title — ‘Space Show.’ That’s because the Air Force operates the largest space program in the world, and the Great New England Air & Space Show is entering a new phase by incorporating elements of space and cyberspace capabilities of military and civilian contractors.

Lupa Zoo
62 Nash Hill Road, Ludlow, MA
www.lupazoo.org
Admission $10-$15; free for children under 2
Through Nov. 4: Lupa Zoo brings the African savannah to Western Mass. residents. The late Henry Lupa fulfilled his lifelong dream of creating a zoo right next to his Ludlow house, filling it with hundreds of animals and instilling a warm, familial atmosphere. Visitors to the 20-acre can be entertained by monkeys, feed giraffes on a custom-built tower, and marvel at the bright colors of tropical birds. In addition to offering animal shows and animal-feeding programs, the staff at Lupa Zoo promotes conservation and sustainability.

Post #351 Catfish Derby
50 Kolbe Dr., Holyoke, MA
www.post351catfishderby.com
Admission: $10 entry fee
July 20-22: The American Legion Post #351 touts its 38th annual Catfish Derby as the biggest catfish tournament in the Northeast. Fishing is open to the Connecticut River and all its tributaries. The derby headquarters and weigh-in station are located at Post #351. A total of $1,425 in prize money is being offered, with a first prize of $300. Three trophies are available in the junior division (age 14 and younger).

Six Flags New England
1623 Main St., Agawam, MA
www.sixflags.com/newengland
Admission: $57.99-$67.99; season passes $109.99
Through Oct. 28: Continuing an annual tradition of adding a new major attraction each spring, Six Flags New England recently unveiled Harley Quinn Spinsanity, an extreme pendulum ride that sends guests soaring 15 stories in the air at speeds up to 70 mph. Other recent additions include the Joker 4D Free Fly Coaster, the looping Fireball, and the 420-foot-tall New England Sky Screamer swings — in addition to a raft of other thrill rides. But fear not: the park has attractions for everyone along the stomach-queasiness spectrum, from the classic carousel and bumper cars to the giant wave pools and lazy river in the Hurricane Harbor water park, free with admission.

Springfield Dragon Boat Festival
121 West St., Springfield, MA
www.pvriverfront.org
Admission: Free
June 23: The sixth annual Springfield Dragon Boat Festival returns to North Riverfront Park. Hosted by the Pioneer Valley Riverfront Club, this family-friendly festival features the exciting sport of dragon-boat racing and will include music, performances, food, vendors, kids’ activities, and more. The festival is an ideal event for businesses and organizations looking for a new team-building opportunity, and provides financial support for the Riverfront Club as it grows and strengthens its presence in Springfield and the Pioneer Valley.

Valley Blue Sox
500 Beech St., Holyoke, MA
www.valleybluesox.com
Admission: $5-$7; season tickets $99
Through Aug. 1: Western Mass. residents don’t have to trek to Boston to catch quality baseball. The Valley Blue Sox, defending champions of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, play close to home at MacKenzie Stadium in Holyoke. These Sox feature a roster of elite collegiate baseball players from around the country, including some who have already been drafted into the major leagues. Frequent promotional events like postgame fireworks and numerous giveaways help make every game at MacKenzie Stadium a fun, affordable event for the whole family.

 

 

 

Sections Travel and Tourism

‘Time to Step Forward’

An architect’s rendering of the renovated lobby area at the Hall

An architect’s rendering of the renovated lobby area at the Hall, complete with lockers bearing the names of some of the game’s greats.

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame will soon commence work on an ambitious, $15 million renovation and expansion that will dramatically change the look and feel of the shrine. While the project represents the future, it also speaks loudly to just how far the Hall has come since the dark days — and years — earlier this century.

John Doleva calls it a “spaceship.”

That’s what he and others at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame have come to call the individual lights that sit atop the dome that defines the shrine on West Columbus Avenue and change color with the seasons and the occasions.

That’s because they look like one, at least that ’50s sci-fi-movie take on what a spaceship looks like, a flat, roundish base with a circular bubble on top. There are 860 of these lights affixed to the dome, and maybe a quarter of them are in a condition approximating that of the one that Doleva has in his office — cracked, with the seals damaged, allowing water to get in and cause serious trouble.

This is the same ‘spaceship’ he takes with him when he talks to gatherings large and small about the planned $15 million to $16 million renovation of the hoop Hall. That’s because these fixtures will be removed and replaced with projection lighting that is, well, light years ahead of the old bulbs in terms of what can be done with the surface of the giant sphere.

“You can do incredible things with projection lighting,” said Doleva. “It will give us so much variability it terms of bringing the building alive, and the maintenance is so much easier.”

But the lights are really just a small, though highly visible, part of the ambitious undertaking at the Hall, noted Doleva, its president for nearly two decades now. Indeed, he said the current facility, opened in 2003, was designed and built just before digital technology was about to explode and change forever the way information is presented and stories, like those of the hall’s inductees and of the history of the game itself, are told.

John Doleva

John Doleva holds up one of the ‘spaceships’ that are soon to be history at the Hall.

“We have a lot of printed word here — exhibits that don’t necessarily interact and entertain, especially when you’re talking to a 12- or a 14- or a 17-year old,” he explained. “With the advent of all the digital content that’s out there now, we can bring Hall of Famers alive, and that’s what we intend to do; instead of a plaque on a wall and two and a half paragraphs of information, we’re going to bring James Naismith alive; we’re going to bring Bob Cousy alive.”

The renovation project will take part in two stages, with the dome lighting, a main lobby area overhaul, and significant renovation of the Hall’s theater comprising stage one. Work on it will start next month (the museum will remain open during construction), and it will all be finished in June, a few important months before MGM Springfield opens its doors in September 2018.

Phase two involves a substantial overhaul of the museum itself, what’s under the dome, said Doleva, noting that state-of-the-art, digitized presentations are currently being blueprinted. Phase two is slated to begin in January 2020, to be finished six months later, with the museum obviously closed for those six months.

And while this project and the campaign that will fund it — called “A Time to Step Forward” — represent the future of the Hall, they also embody just how far it has come in the years since the current building was put on the proverbial drawing board roughly two decades ago.

Indeed, the existing facility was built without a considerable amount of support from what Doleva collectively calls the “basketball community,” and it was opened with a large amount of debt that left the Hall in precarious financial condition for a number of years.

It has ridden out that storm, if you will, and has regrouped on many levels. The Hall has forged much stronger relationships with that basketball community and its many subcomponents, including inductees themselves (as we’ll see), and, as a result, the capital campaign has far exceeded initial expectations. Because of this, goals have been recalibrated.

“The initial goal of the campaign, $20 million, has been exceeded, and it now stands at $26 million,” said Doleva, adding that more than 90% of this total comes from the basketball community. A new goal of $30 million has been established, he went on, to not only fund the renovations to the galleries and visitor area, but also adequately fund an endowment.

For this issue and its focus on travel and tourism, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at the Hall’s renovation project, and also at the forces that have made it — and a much more secure future for this Springfield landmark — possible.

Net Gains

There are a great deal of numbers associated with the Hall’s renovation project, its capital campaign, and its comeback from those dark years after the new shrine was opened 14 years ago.

And while all of them are significant, from the number of lights to be taken out to the projections on increased visitation — from the improvements, MGM’s opening, and other factors — maybe the place to start is with the number 5.

That’s how many of the Hall’s previous inductees turned out for the enshrinement ceremonies in 2000. (Actually, eight committed to come, and three of them backed out). And in many respects, Hall officials were lucky the number was that high.

That’s because the Hall didn’t pay to fly any of those inductees in, didn’t pay for their hotel rooms, and didn’t pay for anything, really, except their admission to the show — largely because it couldn’t afford to do so.

“We quickly concluded that, if we don’t have Hall of Famers on our side, if they’re not our ambassadors across the country and around the world, then we really don’t have a Hall of Fame,” said Doleva, adding that the Hall now pays such expenses, and the results of such a sea change have been dramatic.

Fast-forward to this past September, and there were 65 former inductees in attendance, a number that certainly helps explain the large number of autograph collectors camping out in front of the downtown Springfield hotels.

These Hall of Famers are now truly ambassadors, said Scott Zuffelato, vice president of Philanthropy for the Hall, adding that they regularly make appearances at Hall-produced events such as fund-raising golf tournaments and basketball events.

“They’ve become our foot soldiers,” he explained. “And this stronger relationship with the Hall of Famers has led us to stronger relationships with others in basketball as well, such as college coaches who take part in our events, and the NBA as well.”

And these improved, much stronger relations, resulting in part from getting coaches and officials in pro and college basketball more engaged in the Hall at many levels, has helped the institution secure a higher placed within the game, Doleva told BusinessWest.

Scott Zuffelato says the Hall has strengthened relationships

Scott Zuffelato says the Hall has strengthened relationships with many constituencies within the basketball community, including the Hall of Famers themselves, which is reflected in giving for the current capital campaign.

“We took the organization from a museum in Springfield where the game was invented,” he said, “to a global basketball brand with the mothership located in Springfield.”

This transformation, if you will, has certainly played a huge role in the enormous — and ongoing — success of the Hall’s capital campaign, which was launched more than two and a half years ago. Those who originally met to plan it did so with the initial mission of retiring lingering debt from construction of the new Hall at the start of this century — the roughly $2 million left from an original figure that approached $12 million.

But soon, the vision — and the campaign — took on new meaning.

“It soon became clear that we had a grander plan — and that was to redo the museum and bring it into the 21st century to again be the world’s finest sports museum,” said Doleva, adding that the campaign will raise far more than is needed for the planned renovations, which will enable the Hall to undertake those projects in a manner that couldn’t have been imagined back in 2000: by paying cash.

“The original goal was $21 million, and we saw that as a big challenge based on where we had been with the 2000 campaign,” he went on. “But very quickly, probably within 14 or 15 months, we hit $21 million. And like any good organization, with so many asks that were out there and so many opportunities that hadn’t been harvested, we decided to raise it to $30 million.”

As noted, the basketball community has responded to the Hall’s bid to step forward in a big way. The donor list is replete with the names of players, coaches, executives, and contributors to the game in various ways.

Zuffelato credited Jerry Colangelo, the Hall’s chairman, former owner of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, and currently a special adviser to the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers, with inspiring many within the basketball community to give to the campaign.

Imagination on Display

What those traveling to the renovated Hall will encounter is a more modern, more visitor-friendly facility and museum that tells stories on a number of levels — both literally and figuratively.

Indeed, the renovated ground-floor lobby, the entry point for visitors, will feature a new, far less imposing ticket area (Doleva has a name for that, too — the ‘tugboat’ — and, more importantly, a number of new displays and attractions.

Overall, the lobby work, a significant portion of phase one, isn’t an expansion in the technical sense, said Doleva. Rather, it is a concerted effort to capture and make much better use of existing space in the lobby area.

“That concourse could really be any retail mall in America — when you walk into it, you don’t know that you’re in the Basketball Hall of Fame; you wouldn’t know until you look through the glass,” he said, adding that the renovations will make it clear to visitors just where they are. “This will be a very high-energy area.”

It will be dominated, he went on, by lockers bearing the names of some of the game’s greats, including Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Grant Hill, Jerry West, and others, who have donated to the capital campaign. These lockers — there are 16 planned, with the ability to expand to 24 — will highlight not only achievements on the court, but the work done by these players within their community.

Meanwhile, a renovated theater in the lobby area, complete with digital technology, surround sound, and an actual stage, will play a more prominent role in the typical Hall visit — and in the Hall’s operations in general.

“Many people don’t know there’s a theater there,” he said. One reason for this, he noted, is that the Hall has never had what he and others in this business call a “signature film” to show to visitors upon their arrival. But it will have one soon, and Doleva said this work in progress will set the emotional tone for one’s visit.

As for the museum, it will see all its galleries renovated and modernized. Doleva explained that such work is necessary not only to keep pace with other museums and sports halls, but to set a new, higher bar.

“We want to present Bob Cousy in a way that will enable people in their teens or 20s to know who he was, and know who Oscar Robertson was, or Kareem,” he explained. “We want to make sure we celebrate all the Hall of Famers, whether they played in recent times or way back; we want to make sure they get their fair share of digital education to the fans.”

Another key addition to the Hall’s lineup, if you will, is the 1891 Gallery, so named because that’s the year James Naismith invented the game.

The gallery will provide area companies that donate specified amounts to the campaign with an opportunity to gain visibility in that space, a company statement that links Naismith’s core values to their company’s values, and a host of other benefits.

Many area businesses have already signed on, including MassMutual, Balise Auto Group, Excel Dryer, Florence Savings Bank, the Chicopee Savings Foundation, and the Davis Foundation.

These renovation project, coupled with MGM’s opening and other forms of momentum at the Hall and across Springfield, are inspiring Hall officials to set some ambitious goals for visitorship — for 2018, and especially for 2020 and beyond.

“I would expect a 20% to 25% increase in attendance,” said Doleva, adding that MGM should have a huge influence on the facility simply by introducing it to people who may not have known it was there.

Court of Opinion

The name affixed to the capital campaign — “It’s Time to Step Forward” is simple, yet has meaning on a number of levels.

On one of them, it speaks to potential donors, inviting them to step forward and play a role in modernizing a Springfield landmark and helping it secure a solid future in a way it never really has.

On another, that name speaks directly to what the Hall is doing — stepping forward — in terms of everything from building a facility truly worthy of the phrase ‘state of the art’ to forging stronger, long-lasting relationships with the basketball community.

These are, indeed, big steps forward, and, to borrow a phrase from the game itself, they comprise a winning formula for years and decades to come.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Travel and Tourism

Happy Trails

A Ski Butternut instructor

A Ski Butternut instructor — one of many who teach lessons for a wide range of ability levels — helps a youngster improve on the slopes.

When operating in a competitive industry with far fewer customers than it boasted a few decades ago, expanding one’s operations carries some risk.

But Ski Butternut believes the niche it has carved out in Great Barrington — a moderately sized mountain that focuses on a family environment and boasts a robust learn-to-ski program — will translate well about 25 miles to the east, which is why it purchased the Blandford Ski Area earlier this fall and rechristened it Ski Blandford.

“It has a long history and a rich tradition; it’s been there since 1936,” said Dillon Mahon, Ski Butternut’s marketing director. “It’s also close to a large population in Springfield, and we’re hoping to attract quite a few people from that area.”

The Blandford resort, which has been owned by the Springfield Ski Club for the past 81 years, has struggled with declines in memberships and visits, and decided in July to sell the property to Ski Butternut owner Jeff Murdoch for $269,000.

“We purchased what was basically a private ski club,” Mahon said. “They didn’t advertise it, and a lot of people didn’t know it was there. We’re reopening it this year and making a lot of improvements, from renovating the lodges to upgrading snow-making equipment and grooming equipment.”

Also important, he added, is spreading the word that Ski Blandford will represent what Butternut does: a place that welcomes families and beginners and helps them navigate the world of skiing and snowboarding — and convinces them to keep coming back. Ski Blandford’s website has been redesigned in the style of the Ski Butternut site — only with less expensive pricing to persuade mountain enthusiasts to give the facility a try.

“It’s a great family atmosphere on a good-sized mountain close to home,” Mahon said, again touching on the emphasis that has kept Ski Butternut successful.

“That’s been a big part of why we’re successful,” he went on. “Butternut focuses on a family atmosphere and on learning, bringing people into the sport. It’s kind of a startup mountain that gives people great service. The ski school here is large and can accommodate large amounts of children and adults. Learn-to-ski weekends made Butternut successful, and it’s something we plan to mirror at Blandford as well.”

The First Time

It’s a critical element, he said, to bringing in new blood at a time when the popularity of skiing has been experiencing a slow decline. In a one-year period from early 2008 to early 2009, 11.24 million Americans took to the slopes, according to industry sources. Eight years later — from the spring of 2016 to early 2017 — the number was 9.78 million. And snowboarding has seen an even more precipitous fall.

That’s when people think about skiing. I can send people e-mails and Facebook posts all day, but when a fresh bunch of snow is on their doorstep, that changes people’s mindset toward skiing.”

One reason is that what’s known as the conversion rate, or the percentage of first-timers who embrace the slopes and return for more, currently stands at around 15% nationally. Mahon said Ski Butternut has made a conscious effort to boost it.

“There are a lot of barriers to entry,” he told BusinessWest. “We as a resort are trying to knock down those barriers, to make it a more accessible sport, make it easier for people to get into the sport.”

For instance, the resort has long offered a one-day beginner’s package that includes access to the milder hills, a group lesson, and equipment rentals, all for $75. After that, an all-mountain pass with a group lesson and rentals costs between $75 and $100, depending on age.

“We’ve had a lot of success bundling those offerings for beginners, giving them a smaller piece to bite off that might be more digestable than a season-long rental and saying ‘good luck,’ Mahon said.

For its part, Ski Blandford is rolling out beginner packages for between $70 and $80, and all-mountain packages of lift ticket, rentals, and lesson for between $70 and $85, depending on the day of the week — slightly less than at Butternut.

“For us as an industry, and especially at Butternut and soon at Blandford, that’s part of our overall strategy to attract more skiers as opposed to putting up more barriers,” he went on. “Basically, we want to hold their hand as they learn to ski and make it a better experience for them. When people try skiing for the first time, it’s hard. How do you choose equipment? How do you ride a lift? We’re doing our best to break down those barriers and make it affordable for beginners.”

After that, well, the challenge is getting visitors to come back. Several years ago, Ski Butternut undertook an extensive upgrade of its snow-making system to guarantee ski-worthy conditions no matter what kind of winter New England experiences.

“We’re open with or without Mother Nature’s cooperation. That’s the way things go,” Mahon said. “We have great snow-making equipment, and we’ll be updating with the equivalent at Blandford as well — more guns, higher capacity. We’re open hell or high water.”

That said, “it also helps quite a bit to get a bunch of snow,” he conceded. “That’s when people think about skiing. I can send people e-mails and Facebook posts all day, but when a fresh bunch of snow is on their doorstep, that changes people’s mindset toward skiing.”

The typical season brings well over 100 inches of snow, but some are drier. Even in those years, typically the weather will remain cold enough to consistently manufacture snow. Temperatures below 26 degrees are ideal for making snow, because the water that emerges from the nozzles in tiny droplets are almost instantly supercooled to create the best-quality snow.

Beyond the Slopes

Ski Butternut has also done well with its non-skiing activities, such as its popular tubing park, complete with a mechanized lift to keep riders energized for their two-hour sessions.

“Tubing is a different market in some ways,” Mahon said. “Everyone likes tubing, while not everyone skis. So it’s great for families with little kids — something to do for a quick day out.”

Meanwhile, the event calendar features plenty of activities, from race events to wine and beer tastings; from Saturday concerts on the lodge deck to a ‘ski and paint’ day on Jan. 28, which is exactly what it sounds like. In the summer, the mountain stays open to hikers and outdoor enthusiasts, and the resort is also the site of the annual Berkshires Arts Festival.

“Some of these events aren’t necessarily skiing-based events,” he noted. “We want to draw on the local community and give people a good experience so they keep showing up.”

He and the ownership team at Butternut hope for the same at Ski Blandford, which is why Murdoch is investing in painting the lodges, upgrading snow guns and grooming equipment, and, in general, letting people know the resort is on the way back.

“We’re making a lot of improvements over the next couple of years,” Mahon said. “It’s going to get better and better.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Travel and Tourism

Strike Up the Bands

 

John Juliano and Anne-Alise Pietruska

John Juliano and Anne-Alise Pietruska say procuring musical talent for the Big E is a year-round challenge, and several acts have already been booked for 2018.

John Juliano has been booking entertainment at the Big E for almost 30 years, but his first job for the fair was a little less glamorous. Specifically, it was a part-time gig cleaning out horse stalls in 1982.

He didn’t mind, though, because it was money in his pocket, and a chance to be a part of a regional icon he’d loved from his childhood.

“It was always my favorite thing to do,” said Juliano, senior director of Sales, Marketing & Entertainment for the Eastern States Exposition. “When I was in junior high school, across the street in Agawam, I’d hop the fence and sit in the bleachers. My buddy would be chasing girls, and I was on the bleachers, waiting to see a show.”

Given his predilection for live music, it wasn’t surprising that Juliano moved on from the horse barn to a job in fair operations in 1984, and started booking acts five years later. It’s a role that affords him creativity and the ability to shape the musical atmosphere of the Big E, but also a challenging, year-round effort — some acts have already been booked for 2018 — that requires a good deal of hustle.

So, when fairgoers hear that Grand Funk Railroad, Cole Swindell, Cam, Smash Mouth, and Night Ranger will perform this year in the 6,300-seat Xfinity Arena, or peruse a list of 23 free concerts on the Court of Honor Stage, ranging from up-and-comers to big names like the Lovin’ Spoonful, Sheila E., and the Sugarhill Gang, they might not realize the amount of research, legwork, and networking it takes to secure them — particularly at a time when many artists are simply out of the Big E’s price range.

“Our budget, despite what most people believe, is not astronomical,” said Anne-Alise Pietruska, whose business card reads ‘brand content / entertainment,’ three words that don’t quite illustrate the number of hats she wears, from social-media marketing to graphic design to article writing. A few years ago, Juliano learned of her passion for — and knowledge of — the live-music realm, and welcomed her into his world — and gave her another hat.

If we feel an act will sell tickets, that’s somebody we’re going to go for. We sit here with issues of Pollstar and Billboard and go back and forth about every single act — where they’ve played, what their gross is, what their attendance is, and how they would play here. Some acts that wouldn’t play well in South Dakota will go over well here.”

“If we feel an act will sell tickets, that’s somebody we’re going to go for,” he said. “We sit here with issues of Pollstar and Billboard and go back and forth about every single act — where they’ve played, what their gross is, what their attendance is, and how they would play here. Some acts that wouldn’t play well in South Dakota will go over well here.

“We know our demographic pretty well. We’ll get an agent who’ll call and pitch us an act, but we know it wouldn’t work well. Or we’ll call them, and they’ll say, ‘that’ll work at the Big E?’ And I say, ‘yeah, I think it will work.’ We’re always trying to find something new,” he went on, singling out two of this year’s free acts — roots rocker Martin Sexton and R&B dynamos Vintage Trouble — as examples of artists who make up in stage presence what they may lack in the household-name department.

Even something as simple as last year’s decision to cover the Court of Honor stage with a tent is making a difference, as some acts would rather not play while exposed to possible — well, Pietruska almost said rain, before admitting that’s not a word folks like to say out loud in the Eastern States offices. She did call the tent a big hit, however, one that makes the venue more attractive to performers and attendees alike.

“It allows us to expand our lineup by bringing in more diverse bands covering all genres of music, and tap into artists who have strong followings in this area.”

But crafting each year’s musical lineup takes much more than a tent and some phone calls. It also requires plenty of foresight, a dollop of passion, and an occasional leap of faith.

The billboard at the West Springfield-Agawam line only scratches the surface of the variety of music on tap for this year’s fair.

The billboard at the West Springfield-Agawam line only scratches the surface of the variety of music on tap for this year’s fair.

Crystal Ball

The foresight and leaps of faith often collide, actually, in an annual game of ‘buying low’ on an act that’s just about to make it big.

That was the case with Cheat Codes, an electronic-music trio from California that was among the final acts booked for the 2017 fair; Juliano, who came across the band in Billboard, is convinced their fee will double by next year.

Sometimes, landing a band on the cusp of stardom for a reasonable price backfires. Take the country act Midland, with whom Juliano admits he became a little obsessed when he heard they would be at South by Southwest, the massively influential annual music festival in Austin, Texas (one of many he and Pietruska visit each year).

He scored a meeting with their manager, struck up a relationship, and nailed down a date for Midland to play in West Springfield. But two months later, their record label cancelled the gig.

“Their album was dropping the week they were going to perform at the fair, and the label would rather have them out at radio stations than playing before 6,000 people,” he recalled. “That was frustrating, to lose out on an act after putting in a lot of time and effort.”

Pricing itself has become frustrating in recent years, with some acts charging $50,000, $100,000, or more to play the fair, which is why the Big E — which, for generations, offered all concerts as part of fair admission — started charging extra for several shows each year (the vast majority remain free).

That said, as one of the most well-attended fairs in the country — typically ranking between fifth and seventh on that list each year — the Big E is a draw for many performers. A veteran of several music-association boards, like the Academy of Country Music, the Country Music Assoc., and the International Entertainment Buyers Assoc., Juliano knows from conversations with artists, managers, and agents that the Big E has plenty of credibility in their industry.

“If they didn’t want to play here, my phone wouldn’t be ringing off the hook,” he told BusinessWest, adding that performers are treated well, if not exactly in luxury, this being, after all, an outdoor agricultural fair. “We’re not a billion-dollar casino, so we can’t afford fancy dressing rooms, flatscreen TVs, and all those niceties, but when they come to the fair, we treat them like they’d want to be treated.”

In the end, however, it’s about the fan experience, and the Big E is tossing in a few extra wrinkles this year, like the Twine Country Fest in the Xfinity Arena on Saturday, Sept. 30, featuring four hot touring acts: Granger Smith, Parmalee, the Cadillac Three, and Lindsay Ell.

“It’s been exciting for me to add my marketing perspective and creativity and develop events that take on a life of their own under the Big E umbrella, and Twine is one of those,” Pietruska said. “Our country fans are so loyal.”

That loyalty to music can benefit the Big E in the long run, Juliano said, noting that more than  90% of fair attendees on any given year eventually come back. If the 17-day gala can draw a few newcomers because of a band they want to hear, perhaps they’ll have a good time walking around the fairgrounds, gorging on fried food, or perusing crafts and animal exhibits, and decide they want to be among that 90% who return.

“With any new show or event we bring in, we want to attract a new audience that might not typically come to the Big E, but might come for that particular entertainer,” Pietruska said. “And we’re seeing that pay off.”

Word of Mouth

Clearly, the Big E’s entertainment team members have put their hearts into a key aspect of New England’s famous fair, which is why it’s discouraging, Pietruska said, when critics read booking updates online and lash out as Internet trolls do; one, clearly unimpressed with the music slate, recently called Juliano “a waste of space.”

“Because I manage the social media, that can be painful for me,” she said. “But my focus is on making the Big E even more of an entertainment venue than it already is.”

Juliano agreed. “I get so much gratification from this, and we work so hard on this, you can’t let the critics get to you.”

Then it was back to the phones, chasing down 2018’s next big thing — before the price doubles.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Travel and Tourism

The Fright Stuff

Brennan McKenna says Warner Farm aims to provide scares for all ages each October.

Brennan McKenna says Warner Farm aims to provide scares for all ages each October.

Haunted houses and other Halloween attractions are nothing new, but they’re enjoying somewhat of a renaissance in America today, generating, by one estimate, more than $1 billion in revenues annually. Some are kid-friendly, while others are extreme enough to issue guests a safe word in case they need an early exit. But they all feed off people’s natural attraction to an often-intense adrenaline rush that’s totally safe — even though it might not feel that way at the time.

 

Brennan McKenna started working at Warner Farm at age 14, manning the strawberry stand. He returned every summer during high school and college, and started helping out with the farm’s renowned, artistic corn mazes in 2004; that year’s design was George W. Bush and John Kerry.

He’s had other jobs since, but he takes pride in his current role — pressed for a title, he came up with ‘haunted events manager’ — at the Sunderland farm.

“I tell people, ‘my job this week is to figure out how to scare people in the most efficient way, using some piece of farm equipment.’”

He’s not kidding — one scene in the haunted cornfield depicts an executioner’s chamber, where one poor character (not real, fortunately) is being chopped apart by — well, McKenna isn’t sure what it is, except that it’s an old farm implement stamped with the year 1875.

Adjoining this walk-through attraction is Mike’s Maze, an annual corn-maze attraction first created by farm owner Mike Wissemann and an artist neighbor 16 years ago; the theme for this year’s maze is “See America,” a tribute to the National Park Service. That remains a draw throughout each fall for visitors who enjoy navigating it by day and, with flashlights in hand, by night.

The neighboring haunted maze is a more recent addition, first developed three years ago. The farm has since added Zombie Night Patrol, where guests ride a wagon through a creepy village and shoot mounted paintball guns at the zombies who charge the vehicle.

“That’s a thrill,” McKenna said as he gave BusinessWest a tour of the village — like the haunted maze, silent during the day but ready to spring to life (or at least some undead state) thanks to a gaggle of paid actors in costumes and makeup. “Kids can do this and not get overly scared. The haunted corn maze is much scarier because walking through corn thinking someone’s going to pop out is inherently scary.”


See: Area Tourist Attractions


The Halloween attractions at Warner’s, collectively called Mike’s at Night, have been a boon for the farm, which aims for a complete family experience, complete with concessions, live music, and a children’s play area with slides, a jump pad, and pedal cars.

It’s also an example of how Americans have increasingly embraced the fun and pageantry of Halloween in recent years, evidenced by a proliferation of haunted houses and other spooky attractions.

Jeremie LaPointe and David Spear recognized that trend when they launched DementedFX in Easthampton two years ago. The haunted house they created drew 19,000 visitors over two seasons, and now they’re aiming higher with a new, much larger space on Main Street in Holyoke, with more room for the walk-through and an indoor bar area, serving beer and wine, that wasn’t possible before. But it wasn’t simply the need for more space that brought them to the Paper City.

“We went into this business venture thinking we wanted to get as close to the Five College area as possible,” LaPointe said. “We thought this was our demographic, but we came to find out, it really wasn’t.”

David Spear, left, and Jeremie LaPointe

David Spear, left, and Jeremie LaPointe say they don’t forbid kids from entering DemetedFX, but the intense scares are geared for adults.

The reasons aren’t totally clear, but he suggests a lack of money — today’s high-school and college students are struggling with a very difficult market for the kinds of jobs people their age used to have — may be a factor. Whatever the reason, the post-college crowd dominated the queue in Easthampton, with more sales to 36- to 50-year-olds than to the 14-to-18 crowd.

As a result, the revamped DementedFX is geared more toward adults, with some strong language, violent scenes, and ‘anatomically correct’ props, though nothing that could be considered sexual content. Children aren’t turned away, but their parents are warned, and refunds aren’t given if they decide to cut short their trip (which runs about 18 minutes, on average) by using a safe word.

“We don’t want to pander to the kids because we realized they’re not our demo,” LaPointe said. “My son’s 9, and I wouldn’t let him come here. But I’m not going to parent for people. We had a group of 5-year-olds go through with their parents the other day — and we’ve also had grown men cry.

“A lot of it has to do with your own level of anxiety, what your own fears are,” he went on. “We try to hit a lot of those fears. We use smells, which a lot of people find unpleasant. We use temperature changes, claustrophobia, light sensitivity — and it’s really loud. By the time you’re done, your anxiety level is high, so when you finally finish, it’s a moment of celebration, which is fun to watch.”

In other words, he said, getting scared is fun. Increasingly, people seem to agree.

Catching Fire

The Haunted House Assoc., an industry group, draws a distinction between Halloween attractions (hayrides, corn mazes, pumpkin patches) and haunted houses, but reports that, together, these destinations bring in more than $1 billion in revenue per year — and help keep many family farms afloat.

McCray’s Farm in South Hadley offers both types of attractions, thanks to Dan Augusto, a man who, a quarter-century ago, turned a love of Halloween and a collection of holiday-themed props into one of the region’s true seasonal success stories.

Seeking a place to display his collection, Augusto approached farm owner Don McCray, who was intrigued with the concept — originally, a simple hay-wagon ride out to the fields, into a heavily wooded area, where about 15 scary scenes were laid out, populated with both props and actors. “We probably had 30 volunteers — friends and friends of friends,” Augusto said.

There was only one problem — what was then a very limited parking area. “I told Don, ‘we need more parking; we’ll have vehicles up and down Alvord Street.’ He laughed and said, ‘settle down, city slicker.’ By the third weekend, I hopped off the wagon, and he came over and hugged me, smiling, saying, ‘Dan, I don’t know where we’re going to put these cars. You were right.’ But, at the time, it was a good problem to have.”

The second year, Augusto was paying the actors, and the event became more of a real business, with a payroll and workers’ compensation and liability insurance. Animatronic displays were added as well, and the path expanded as well to include more displays. “Every year, we said, ‘let’s try to put more and more into this space.’”

In the late 1990s, Augusto converted a large carport into the property’s first haunted walkthrough, which in recent years has become known as Massacre Manor, a full-blown haunted house, filled with animatronics and actors. This year, he added a second walk-through attraction, cheekily called DON — in reference to Don McCray, and also an acronym for Diagnostics Operation Nexus. “It’s a genetic research facility that’s had…” — here he paused for effect — “…some issues.”

DON is important in the evolution of what collectively has become known as Fear on the Farm, he explained, because now there’s truly something for everyone. The hayride aims to scare, but there’s security to be found in a big group aboard the wagon (and for those too young even for that, the farm offers milder daytime attractions for children). Massacre Manor increases the fright with a more close-up experience, and DON, aimed squarely at an adult audience, ramps up the intensity even higher.

Even the hayride is customizable depending on the crowd, and the actors will occasionally, and discreetly, break character to comfort a child or, better yet, give him a glowstick and tell him lighting it is the only way to keep the monsters at bay and save his parents — essentially, giving a sense of control back to a kid who might otherwise feel overwhelmed. Older riders don’t get the same treatment; the actors delight in targeting obviously frightened adults.

“I’ve seen some attractions where, if they see a kid crying and screaming, the actors will attack that poor kid,” Augusto said. “There’s nothing creative there; you’re terrorizing a little kid. We try to entertain that kid by going after his parents and the other people on the wagon.”

Rising Terror

As Halloween attractions have gained a greater following across the country in recent years, a strain of extreme terror experiences have popped up as well, like the popular Blackout haunted houses in New York and California, where guests are handled — often roughly, sometimes with a sexual connotation — and subjected to actual abuse. (One year, Blackout actually waterboarded people.)

Others have taken the concept further. Blackout requires a liability waiver, but also issues a safe word for those who want out immediately (and many do). San Diego’s McKamey Manor offers no safe word — and is known to last several hours, inflicting, by some accounts, real trauma on people who begged to be set free.

Dan Augusto

Dan Augusto, creator of the Fear on the Farm attractions at McCray’s, says he has long loved Halloween, a time when anyone can be anything they want.

The traditional haunted-house industry frowns on this trend, Augusto said. “It’s not creative. We might have a prop brush your leg, and your imagination runs with it. But physical touch is something I’m not interested in doing.”

LaPointe agrees, noting that DementedFX also has a no-touching policy.

“I want to classically scare you without physically touching you. It’s a lot harder. If I wanted to scare the s— out of you, I’d bind you up, take you to the basement, and throw you in a hole. That’s not what we’re trying to do here. We’re trying to get a clean scare out of you without going down that road.”

Augusto is also appalled that clowns have become associated with terror of the not-so-fun kind, thanks to myriad sightings in recent weeks that have law enforcement on edge. “One of the guys in the industry said it best: ‘if you want to dress up and scare people, come see us, and we’ll give you a job, rather than risk getting shot or arrested.’”

To maintain safety inside DementedFX, cameras are positioned in every area, constantly monitoring and recording. But there’s a second rationale behind those cameras.

“It deters people from doing malicious things, but we also watch the scares. We see if they’re successful or not. And if they’re not successful, we’ll demo out the whole thing and change it all. Using this scare knowledge, it keeps getting better and better,” said LaPointe, adding that he and Spear plan on adding another 2,000 square feet of currently unused space to the walk-through next year. “I never want to get stagnant. I’m not going to change everything out, but I want to continuously grow, bigger and better.”

Spear recalled the ‘spider house’ from DementedFX’s first year in Easthampton, a room that featured a mechanized spider that came shooting across a table. “The concept was incredible — it looked real — but it didn’t scare a lot of people,” he said. “So we got rid of it and changed the whole room over. That’s why we have the cameras, to see if people are getting bang for their buck. If we don’t like what we see, we change it. That kind of sets us apart. We’re not going to throw something together and just be happy with it. We always want to improve and be better.”

LaPointe, who noted that he and Spear conceptualize and build many of the props and animatronics (others are purchased), said they’re not making money off the undertaking — all revenues, after paying the actors, security, and other staff, are reinvested into the attraction — but they expect to be profitable within a few years. Meanwhile, they hope this year, with the big move complete, will allow them a little more family time away from what is, essentially, a year-round enterprise on top of their day jobs. “I can’t tell you how many soccer games, dance classes, dinners, Saturday and Sunday nights we missed because we were here.”

McKenna said improving Mike’s at Night each year is his goal as well, and he attends the TransWorld Halloween & Attractions Show, an annual trade event, to learn about trends and gather ideas. He also encourages changes mid-season if something isn’t providing the necessary scare. “We trust our actors to improvise and adapt to different groups. If something doesn’t work, change it and try to make it scarier.”

October Surprises

LaPointe and Spear make no bones about their goal to scare every guest, and they don’t tone it down for kids — they simply discourage them from coming. “I’ve seen kids leaving, and they’re just traumatized, and I feel bad for them,” Spear said. “But we ask them up front, ‘do you really want to do this?’”

For most guests, though, scary equals fun. Traditionally, about 1.5% of DementedFX ticket buyers opt for the safe word and an early exit — the percentage is running a touch higher this year — but most crave the adrenaline rush of facing their fears, making it all the way through, and exiting into the chill October air with smiles and shouts of relief.

“People don’t come to haunted houses looking for problems,” LaPointe said. “They’re here to have a good time.”

Augusto has also spent a lifetime embracing the fun of the season. He grew up poor in Holyoke, he said, but it never mattered on Halloween, the one day anyone could be anything they wanted for a few hours. That love of the holiday stayed with him into adulthood, when he wanted to give people a richer experience than the haunted houses that proliferated in the 1970s, “just black walls and no fire safety and cheap rubber masks. But it was still fun to do.”

Many of the actors have worked at McCray’s each October for the past 15 to 20 years, and have become a sort of family — and appreciate being able to provide an experience and memories that will stick with the families who dare to be scared.

“Every year, we lose more and more Americana,” Augusto said, adding that he hopes haunted houses and hayrides don’t go the way of the drive-in theater. He is encouraged, though. “Halloween, every year, is gaining on Christmas. Christmas is still the biggest money-generating holiday, but Halloween is right there. You see more houses decorated than ever before. America’s embracing it.”

McKenna agreed, adding that families regularly drop $30 or more on movies and popcorn, and welcome something a little different.

“Here, it’s real; it’s in person,” he said. “I think it’s the nature of the human psyche — they want the thrill, and knowing it’s a thrill that’s safe.”

Well, except for that poor guy caught in the antique farm implement. He didn’t look particularly thrilled. Or safe. Sweet dreams.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Travel and Tourism

Scent-sational Attraction

Wade Bassett

Wade Bassett says more than a half-million people visit Yankee Candle Village every year, and many return to make new memories.

There aren’t many flagship stores on people’s bucket lists of places that they want to visit before they die.

But the Yankee Candle’s flagship location, which is also known as Yankee Candle Village, is one of them, and visitors from a wide variety of countries have planned trips and flown overseas just to see and experience the ‘scent-sational’ offerings in the 90,000-square-foot South Deerfield building that was designed to create memories, bring back the past, and inspire family traditions that have lasted for generations.

Indeed, the flagship is far more than a place where candles are sold; it’s filled with a number of unique areas where magic seems to come to life.

Animated figures sing and perform on stages year-round, and families stroll through diverse settings that include a Bavarian Christmas Village where it snows every four minutes on everything, including a 25′ tall indoor rotating Christmas tree; a Black Forest area that offers Christmas collectibles and a large selection of ornaments year-round; a Nutcracker Castle that contains Yankee Candle Toy; Santa’s Workshop, where he can be found almost every Wednesday through Saturday; a moat area with a 20-foot cascading indoor waterfall; a ‘Dept. 56’ section with fascinating displays of collectibles; and a fully outfitted Home Store where items for sale include candles, foods, cookbooks, kitchen accessories, clothing, designer bags, and jewelry.

Many of the activities, offerings, and merchandise are changed seasonally, so new experiences await guests of all ages who flock to South Deerfield on repeat visits.

“We see more than a half-million visitors a year at this location,” said Wade Bassett, director of Sales and Operations. “We opened in 1983, and since that time, our flagship has become a true destination. We understand that people’s experiences here have to be unlike anywhere else. Santa Claus is here year-round, we create new events all the time, and we make sure there are plenty of hands-on, interactive things to see and do.”

Although return visits are not tracked, many guests tell employees they visit frequently, especially during the holiday season, which has become an annual outing for families whose children have photos taken with Santa and Mrs. Claus, while parents shop for gifts to suit everyone on their list.

Santa Claus is in Yankee Candle Village

Santa Claus is in Yankee Candle Village year-round, but his arrival on a helicopter at the end of November draws about 5,000 guests each year.

Activities for children include a candle-making area called Waxworks where the small set can dip their hands in wax, make wax figurines and colored candles, and get a Glitter Too, which is the company’s version of a temporary, glittery tattoo.

There’s also a café and area to enjoy goodies such as homemade fudge, gourmet popcorn, or Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, a treat which was recently added; and for those who prefer a full meal, Chandler’s Restaurant fits the bill, only a short distance away on the property.

“This location is our birthplace. It’s the platform to our brand, and what we do here translates to all of our other stores,” Bassett said, adding that families often spend two to three hours in the village.

Candles are the primary attraction, however, and the store contains more 400,000 in 200 original fragrances that change with the seasons. They come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes — jars and glass holders with multiple wicks, votives, wax melts, and scented accessories such as car jars, car vent sticks, room sprays, and more.

Eight to 10 new fragrances are added every season, and older ones are often retired, although scents such as Balsam Cedar, McIntosh Apple, Clean Cotton, and Home Sweet Home are traditional standbys.

“Our factory in Whately produces more than 200 million candles each year, and we have made more than a billion in the past five years,” Bassett said. “It’s a staggering number; we use 64 million pounds of wax each year, which equates to more than 175,000 pounds per day.”

The average guest spends $70 to $100 during each visit, but some purchases total in the thousands, and sales have come a long way from the company’s early years.

In the past, a small handbasket could accommodate the needs of most shoppers, but today, full-size, grocery-style shopping carriages are needed to hold a multitude of purchases.

For this issue and its focus on travel and hospitality, BusinessWest takes a look at one of the leading attractions in Western Mass., and examines not only what draws people to the flagship store, but what is done to ensure that visitors have new experiences that make them want to return time and time again.

Waxing Nostalgic

Yankee Candle’s history began in 1969 when 16-year-old Michael Kittredge decided to make a Christmas candle for his mother because he didn’t have money to purchase a gift for her.

A neighbor saw it and asked to buy the luminary before he gave it to his mother, and a new business was born that has grown to encompass more than 575 retail stores and 35,000 authorized dealers across the world.

Kittredge opened his first store in South Deerfield and eventually sold his company in 1998 to New York-based Forstmann Little, a private equity firm.

The company has had several owners since then; the newest is Newell Rubbermaid, which purchased the company from Jarden Corp. in July.

But despite changing hands, the way business is approached in terms of the customer experience hasn’t varied.

Yankee Candle’s busiest season begins when the leaves start changing color in the fall and runs to the end of December; the fourth quarter accounts for 65% to 70% of annual sales.

“We employ about 180 people in the store at this time of year, as well as another 70 in Chandler’s Restaurant,” Bassett noted.

Employees are carefully chosen, and personality plays a definite role in who gets hired, as the goal is to make guests feel so welcome they share their experiences with employees and feel free to make suggestions, which are written down and perused each week by executives in the firm.

“We encourage our employees to get to know our guests and feel a connection with them,” Bassett said, explaining that they hear many tales of joy as well as difficulties that lead visitors to South Deerfield for the warmth they find in the store.

To that end, employees have the option of choosing a visitor or group who seems especially deserving each day to receive what they call a ‘Golden Key.’

This newly created living room

This newly created living room on a 10-by-10-foot platform was designed to add interest to the store and show visitors how to use Yankee Candles to enhance their holiday decorating.

For example, last year a family told an employee they had saved for several years for a trip to Disney World, and in the excitement of leaving for the airport, the father left his wallet on top of the car. When they arrived at the airport, it was gone, so they didn’t go on the vacation, but ended up at Yankee Candle Village, where they had a fun-filled day.

All experiences inside the village are free to Golden Key recipients, which range from eating ice cream to making candles, and Santa does his part by making special origami Christmas ornaments for them to take home.

“It’s an incredible experience, and people have talked about it and thanked us via social media,” Bassett said, as he continued relating stories about Golden Key recipients.

But the Golden Key is only one of many things Yankee Candle does to entice guests to return to the flagship store. In addition to a seemingly endless array of scented candles, special fragrances are created that are collectibles and sold only in the South Deerfield location.

In addition, members of the company’s Visual Team create displays that change with the seasons; three weeks ago they launched a new living-room display on a 10-by-10-foot platform that was designed to inspire guests to use their candles to enhance their holiday decorating in an elegant setting.

“We try to create the feeling of home and bring it to life in the store with candles and accessories that people can purchase here,” Bassett told BusinessWest.

A professional photographer is brought in during every holiday season to take children’s pictures with Santa and Mrs. Claus, and an hour-long show leads up to the Santa’s arrival in a helicopter after Thanksgiving.

Other recent events created to draw traffic include fall photo shoots, pumpkin decorating, a Halloween Bash, and a concert by children’s musical artist Mister G planned for Nov. 5.

Two years ago, the village began hosting an after-hours event called Girls Night Out that includes local vendors, raffle prizes, and other incentives, including the opportunity to shop at a time when the store is not busy. It proved so popular, it is now held four times a year.

“We change continuously with the seasons; in summer there are displays with palm trees, sand, and beach-scented candles, and in the fall we bring trees into the store and build a scene around them,” Bassett noted.

Roughly 60% of the flagship’s merchandise consists of candles and fragrance-related items, and three buyers are employed to purchase the remaining inventory of gift items that make shopping in the store so interesting.

There is something to suit almost everyone, including sports memorabilia and Harley-Davidson signs inside a man cave that features a large, flat-screen TV, so men who don’t want to shop can enjoy their visit while their families take part in activities.

“A lot of people come here to find unusual gifts, and some get all of their Christmas shopping done in one weekend,” Bassett said.

Burning Brightly

When the flagship store opened, it consisted of 5,000 square feet that included space for the corporate offices, the store, the factory, and the loading docks.

Today, they are all separate — the manufacturing is done in Whately, while the corporate office, distribution facility, and store are in South Deerfield.

But a trip to the village is truly a sensory experience. On a recent day, adults picked up jarred candles, smelled them, then closed their eyes and inhaled deeply again; children’s eyes grew large with wonder as they peeked around a corner and saw Santa in his workshop; and cooks marveled at items they found in the Home Store.

As the holidays draw closer, business will continue to pick up, and new and old visitors alike will visit Santa and enjoy a day of merriment and wonder.

“We want to continue to evolve, so whether someone comes back once a month or every year, they will see and feel something entirely different,” Bassett said.

Such experiences have continued to generate a history of memories and traditions that people want to repeat in different seasons and different ways.

Sections Travel and Tourism

Ready to Take Off

Aer Lingus

The Aer Lingus flights scheduled to begin at Bradley International Airport in September are expected to attract a mix of business and leisure passengers .

As they talked about the Aer Lingus flights set to begin at Bradley International Airport late next month, Kevin Dillon and Keith Butler used strikingly similar language as they discussed what the service means to their respective organizations.

Indeed, Dillon, executive director and CEO of the Connecticut Airport Authority (CAA), which manages Bradley, and Butler, chief commercial officer for the Dublin, Ireland-based airline, said the timing for this venture is ideal, that the flight represents a key component of their respective growth strategies, and that it could be a catalyst for more developments of this type.

And they were in agreement on something else, too: that a firm commitment from the region’s business community — with ‘region,’ in this case, meaning what has come to be called the Knowledge Corridor — is necessary for this venture to, well, get off the ground.

“The success of this flight relies heavily on business travel,” said Dillon. “We know that this is going to be an extremely popular route in the summer months — we’ll have a lot of leisure travelers on this flight — but in order to retain a flight, it has to be successful year-round.”

Added Butler, “we’re expecting good volumes of both leisure and business travel, but support from businesses will obviously be a key to success in Hartford.”

Looking ahead, both the airline and the airport believe they will get such a commitment, in large part because their research — and especially the CAA’s — tells them there is considerable demand for such a service (more on that later).

Kevin Dillon

Kevin Dillon

The Aer Lingus flight will depart Bradley just after 6 p.m., local time, and arrive in Dublin at 5:20 the next morning, meaning that someone could be in London (via a connecting flight) for the start of the workday there, said Butler. The return flight will leave Ireland at 2:20 p.m. and arrive in Hartford at 4:20.

“You can essentially do a day’s work in Connecticut, hop on a plane, and immediately the following day do a full day’s work in London — if that’s what you wanted to do,” said Butler.

The flights will be on a Boeing 757, with 12 business-class seats and 165 in economy. Those aren’t big numbers, but the impact of this flight could be enormous, said both Butler and Dillon.

For Aer Lingus, now the fastest-growing airline in the world in terms of trans-Atlantic business, the Hartford flights represent another spoke in the wheel when it comes to a broad growth strategy that has seen the company add flights in several U.S. cities in recent years.

“We’ve nearly doubled our trans-Atlantic capacity over the past five years,” said Butler, while quantifying the growth of Aer Lingus, now part of IAG, which also owns British Airways. “We’ve expanded our business model; we don’t just fly people between the U.S. and Ireland — we’re increasingly flying more people into Europe via Dublin, and we’re looking to continue to grow.”

As for Bradley, the impact could be even bigger, largely because of what Aer Lingus has done in terms of broadening its reach, said Dillon, noting that, while the airport is, indeed, an international airport, that term is narrow in scope and limited to this continent. With the Aer Lingus flight, the definition will become much broader.

Keith Butler

Keith Butler

Indeed, while the service will connect business and leisure travelers alike to the Emerald Isle itself — and there is ample demand for that — it will also bring convenient connections to dozens of other cities across Europe, meaning that travelers can begin their journey to those destinations by driving to Windsor Locks, not Boston, New York, or Newark, which represents a tremendous opportunity for the airport.

“Passengers from Hartford will be able to connect to at least 24 European cities,” Butler explained. “That includes London, Paris, Amsterdam, Madrid, Barcelona, Frankfurt, Munich, and many cities in Great Britain. Our flights won’t just connect people to Dublin, but all of Europe.”

For this issue and its focus on travel and tourism, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at the Aer Lingus service out of Bradley, and at what it means for the airport, the airline, and, most importantly, this region.

Soar Subject

When asked for a timeline on the Aer Lingus service and a quick explanation of how it came about, Dillon ventured back to 2012 and the creation of the CAA, which brought what he called a “dedicated focus to aviation in this region.”

As part of this stated mission, the organization undertook extensive outreach to the Hartford-Springfield business community, with the goal of identifying ways to improve service to that vital constituency, said Dillon, adding that, while the results were not exactly surprising, they did provide the CAA with confirmation of what was wanted and needed, and thus a specific direction in which to move.

Actually, several of them, as things turned out. He noted that one of the stated desires within the business community was for non-stop service to the West Coast, a need addressed through a partnership with American Airlines, which in June began service out of Bradley to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).


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“So far, it’s proving to be a very popular service,” said Dillon, adding that the flight not only provides business and leisure travelers with better, easier access to the West Coast, but also to Asia, which has become an increasingly popular destination for both constituencies.

But in many ways, the bigger stated priority was for trans-Atlantic flights, said Dillon, citing some eye-opening numbers gained through the CAA’s outreach.

“We worked with 23 companies representative of those across our catchment area,” he said, meaning the Hartford-Springfield corridor. “What we found is that those 23 companies were spending more than $43 million annually on trans-Atlantic travel. And we said, ‘if we could get just a piece of that, we could have a very successful trans-Atlantic route.”

Bradley has long sought such service as a growth vehicle and means to make it the proverbial airport of choice for people in this region. And it had such service nearly a decade ago, when Northwest Airlines introduced non-stop flights to Amsterdam, but that venture was doomed by poor timing — sky-high fuel prices and then the Great Recession — and the service ceased in September 2008.

Since then, Bradley and the CAA have been relentless in their quest to bring Europe back within its direct reach. But that sentiment hardly makes it unique.

“There are a lot of airports that are very hungry for European connections — the competition is actually quite fierce,” said Butler with a laugh, noting that Aer Lingus, now celebrating 80 years in business, has had many suitors, and many attractive options, as it has weighed proposals for continuing and accelerating its strong pace of growth.

Airports that want to prevail in that competition have to present opportunity in the form of a package of location, attractive conditions, ample opportunities to effectively market the service, and suitable demographics, meaning a mix of both leisure and business travelers looking for something more convenient than the available options.

Hartford presented just such a package, said Butler, adding that it became an attractive addition to the airline’s existing Northeast-corridor service in and out of New York (JFK), Boston, Newark, and Washington (Dulles), for many reasons.

“Hartford came about because it represented an opportunity to strengthen our position in the Northeast,” he explained. “It has strong cultural ties to Ireland, but also business relations. At the same time, we were also looking to try something different, and go into a secondary city.

“Bradley fits, and Hartford fits, into a broader plan we have for expansion,” he went on, adding that the airline has also recently added service to San Francisco, Toronto, and Los Angeles, among other destinations. “We’re growing quite rapidly.”

Indeed, the airline now flies to almost every major city in Europe — with 18 flights daily to London alone — as well as many destinations on this side of the Atlantic.

The timing for such additions is appropriate, he went on, adding that economic conditions globally have improved greatly since the recession, and that is especially true in Ireland, meaning more people are flying out of airports there for destinations on both sides of the Atlantic.

As for the Hartford flights, there will be four per week during the winter months, which Butler defines as October to March, and daily flights (all seven days) the rest of the year to accommodate greater leisure travel.

Dillon told BusinessWest that the initial response has been quite solid, and he expects demand to remain steady, because of the high level of connectivity to European cities that Aer Lingus provides, and also the airline’s ability to provide pre-clearance for its passengers heading back to the U.S., a service that could save them a two-hour trip in the line at customs.

The task at hand is to extensively market and promote the new flights and drive home to the business community the great opportunities that they provide.

“We’ve spent a significant amount of time out in the business community educating them about the flight,” he explained, “and trying to put them in touch with Aer Lingus to hopefully provide commitments to the airline for use of the service. Because if that support is not there, it’s going to be very difficult to make this flight work.”

Plane Speaking

As mentioned earlier, while they were talking from much different perspectives, Butler and Dillon used markedly similar language about the service set to start Sept. 28.

They both used the phrase ‘this makes perfect sense’ when talking about the flights, and for good reason. They add another dimension to the growth strategies for both organizations and open the door to new opportunities.

Not only to the airport and the airline — but the region and its diverse business community.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Cover Story Sections Travel and Tourism

Instruments of Progress

Peter Salerno

Executive Director Peter Salerno on the steps of Symphony Hall

As it enters its 73rd year, the Springfield Symphony Orchestra does so knowing that, to remain relevant, it must be creative and willing to assume risks as it strives to cultivate new audiences, especially the younger generations. Peter Salerno, who has twice served as interim director of the SSO and took the helm on a permanent basis earlier this year, says the institution is more than up for that challenge.

Peter Salerno said the phone call seemed to come out of left field … or from the 20-yard line, as the case may be.

On the other end was someone from the New England Patriots’ marketing department. She wanted to know if the Springfield Symphony Orchestra, which Salerno was serving then as interim executive director, could have 50 or 60 of its musicians at Gillette Stadium in 24 days for a performance that would celebrate the team’s fourth Super Bowl victory, earned six months earlier, and usher in the 2015 season.

It was an extraordinary request on many levels, and Salerno, who has since dropped the word ‘interim’ from his title, knew he couldn’t say ‘yes’ at that moment, as much as he wanted to, knowing what this opportunity would mean for the venerable institution in terms of invaluable and incalculable exposure. Indeed, he would have to consult with Maestro Kevin Rhodes and other members of the team to see if this was even logistically feasible, and then get approval from the SSO board, because this was a venture far outside the orchestra’s traditional mission — and comfort zone, for that matter.

He got the nod from both parties and promptly called the Patriots back, thus setting the wheels in motion for perhaps the most memorable night in the orchestra’s 73-year history.

It was certainly the biggest stage, at least in a figurative sense. Indeed, while the actual performing area was a trifle snug, more than 70,000 people at the stadium and another 35 million watching NBC’s broadcast of the Thursday-night game against the Pittsburgh Steelers saw and heard the orchestra perform “O Fortuna,” the Patriots’ so-called tunnel song, and eventually shared the stage with the rapper T-Pain.


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“It was quite an upbeat moment for us,” said Salerno, using both wordplay and understatement to get his point across. “I recognized this is an opportunity for us to perform, and be relevant, in an area that we never thought we could before.”

In many respects, that performance at Gillette almost a year ago effectively speaks to the aspirations, goals, and challenges that define the SSO moving forward. It was a dramatic attempt to move beyond what would be considered traditional (in terms of both the venue and performing with a rapper), attract new and larger audiences, and greatly improve visibility beyond the confines of Symphony Hall.

There will be a lot more of that — although certainly on a smaller scale — in the months and years to come, as a look at the 2016-17 calendar reveals.

One of things I’m teaching, but also learning at the same time, is that our orchestra must respond to different genres of music to remain in the forefront of the people’s minds.”

In addition to the classical offerings — a Tchaikovsky Gala on opening night (Sept. 24), Brahms’ “Double Concerto” on Nov. 19, and Beethoven’s “Emperor Concerto” on Jan. 21 — the SSO will share the stage with the Irish Tenors two weeks before St. Patrick’s Day, and will wrap up the season on May 13 with something called Video Games Live!

As that name suggests, this will be an immersive concert that features the musical scores from the greatest video games of all time — as those games appear on large screens around the hall, with synchronized lighting and other special effects.

Those unique events, and especially the final one, are designed to draw more diverse audiences, particularly young people, a stern challenge now facing all arts institutions.

SSO and its conductor, Kevin Rhodes

Peter Salerno says the main challenge for SSO and its conductor, Kevin Rhodes (pictured), is audience development.

To meet this challenge head-on, the SSO must do something not exactly within its character, historically, and that is to be far more willing to take risks, said Salerno, adding quickly that the board has essentially greenlighted such an approach to business, and so has long-time conductor Rhodes and the rest of the orchestra’s team.

“One of the things I’m teaching, but also learning at the same time, is that our orchestra must respond to different genres of music to remain in the forefront of the people’s minds,” he explained, adding that this is the mindset driving the SSO and forging its schedule for the coming year.

For this issue and its focus on travel and tourism, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at how the SSO is looking to expand its playing field, in all kinds of ways, and put every definition of the term ‘score’ into play.

Developments of Note

Looking back on the 24 days after that fortuitous phone call came in from Foxborough, Salerno used all kinds of descriptive phases to characterize them — from ‘long’ to ‘exhilarating.’

“Those were 60-hour weeks,” he said, smiling as he did so because, while the work was sometimes tedious — involving everything from drafting contracts with the Patriots and NBC to insurance matters and a mountain of logistics — it was also very exciting.

This was, after all, the proverbial opportunity of a lifetime, and the SSO was going to do everything in its power to seize the moment.

“This was a surreal moment for our orchestra, and it showed the versatility of our people,” said Salerno as he showed a video of the performance, with the SSO clearly visible to fans amid fireworks and low-lying fog, adding that perhaps the biggest obstacle was creating a sheltered performing area for the orchestra, something the Patriots organization pulled together. And demand for it was warranted because it rained in the hours leading up to the performance and stopped only moments before it was set to begin.

In many respects, dealing with cloudy forecasts and unsettled skies — in a figurative sense — has been a part of doing business for the SSO in recent years. Like all arts venues, it has seen its traditional audiences age, and with that demographic shift a need has emerged to embrace change and, as mentioned earlier, risk.

The Patriots performance was, again, a significant manifestation of this trend — this was believed to be the first time a full symphony orchestra had performed at such an NFL ceremony and perhaps the first time an orchestra of this type had appeared with a rapper — but there have been others, with more planned for the year ahead.

“We’re participating in the creation of new horizons for symphonic sound,” he said, adding that orchestras across the country are facing the same challenges. “And we’re going to keep pushing, and bringing world-class talent to the Springfield arena.”

Leading the orchestra through this intriguing period is Salerno, now 75 years old, who brings a wealth of experience in business, work with nonprofit institutions, and the SSO itself, having been a trustee for many years and serving not one, but two stints as interim executive director.

Described by many as a stabilizing influence to the operation, he succeeds Audrey Szychulski, who left the SSO in the spring of 2015 after less than two years at the helm.

Salerno brings a diverse résumé to the post, including everything from stints as COO of Providence Hospital and president and CEO of Brightside to work coordinating new retail stores for Taylor Rental Corp.; from a short stint running an operation that managed college bookstores to his own business, PTS Consulting, launched nearly a decade ago.

Over the years, he’s taught several graduate-level business courses at Bay Path University and Clark University in Worcester, with a focus on business strategies for nonprofit organizations, marketing, and finance.

In his latest role with the SSO, he’ll be applying the lessons that he teaches, especially as they apply to the most pressing challenge facing the institution — audience development.

Drumming up Interest

There are many components to this assignment, he said, listing everything from imaginative artistic events to new and different types of talent that will share the stage with the SSO, to a variety of touches that will make SSO performances true happenings.

With that, he took out a copy of the schedule for the coming year and started running his finger down the listings.

His first stop was the holiday concert, set for Dec. 3, although Salerno said ‘concert’ doesn’t go far enough, so the actual wording on the schedule is Holiday Extravaganza.

It was chosen to encapsulate the theme — “It’s a Wonderful Life” — and describe the sum of the activities and events, including a Christmas tree outside Symphony Hall, a visit from Santa, perhaps a reindeer if one can be secured, and more.

“We want to make coming to the symphony not just an event, but an entire presentation,” he explained. “We don’t want it to just be sitting in the audience for two hours.”

Elaborating, he said the SSO will again coordinate visits whereby ticketholders gather at spots in area communities, are then bused downtown for dinner at various downtown restaurants, and then taken to Symphony Hall.

“We’re trying to make it convenient for people to come to us,” he explained. “And we view this as an opportunity to attract more people to Symphony Hall.”

Kevin Rhodes is seen here with rapper T-Pain

SSO conductor Kevin Rhodes is seen here with rapper T-Pain at the performance last fall at Gillette Stadium to usher in the Patriots’ new season.

His next stop, schedule-wise, was several months later, in early March, when the Irish Tenors, well-known to PBS audiences, will take the stage.

Similar to the holiday performance, this will be more than a concert, said Salerno, adding that it will be more like a celebration of Irish heritage, one featuring many moving parts.

The full itinerary is still a work in progress, he said, but in the days leading up to the performance, there will likely be an Irish-style dinner featuring luminaries and elected officials of Irish descent, and other touches, such as a possible discussion of the 1916 uprising.

“We’re trying to build the activities and the service level to a higher plane than we have in the past,” he explained, adding, again, that the goal is to move beyond the music and create experiences.

That will certainly be the goal for the season finale, Video Games Live!, which is the most dramatic example to date of the orchestra’s efforts to attract young people.

“Some of our donors have expressed interest in efforts to create continuity with younger audiences and thus lower the demographic age of our attendees,” he noted. “And we determined that one of the areas where we could start making an impact was with junior-high and high-school students.”

To that end, the SSO will contract with a California-based organization to bring the music from video games, orchestral sound, and a host of special effects together in the same venue on May 13.

“There are so many opportunities to show off our talents, and this might be a good one,” he said, adding that the show, similar to others staged in other cities in recent years, should prove to be an impactful vehicle for introducing young people to the orchestra and beginning the process of turning them into life-long audience members.

The other performances on the schedule will bring some of these elements to the table, said Salerno, adding, again, that developing new audiences and remaining relevant in the years and decades to come will require the SSO to continue to push the envelope.

“The board has allowed us to take more risk in terms of encouraging us to look at new genres and new methodologies,” he said. “I think it’s essential that we take advantage of the strengths that we have and marry them to the interests of our population, while at the same time preserving the outstanding classical performances that attract people from all over.”

Reaching a Crescendo

Returning to that now-famous phone call one more time, Salerno acknowledged that he allowed himself to think about why the Patriots were calling the SSO, and whether this was the team’s first call.

But only for a brief moment, and not in a deep manner, he told BusinessWest, noting that doing so would be counterproductive at a time when the sentiment should be, ‘why not call the SSO first?’

“One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” he joked, before taking the discussion to a much higher plane.

“If we ask that question — ‘why us?’ — we’re probably not thinking of ourselves as being as good as we really are, so I didn’t ask that question,” he explained. “Instead, I said, ‘let’s just make this happen.’ When they called us, I just assumed they wanted us number one; I believe in this orchestra.”

These sentiments — not to mention the ‘let’s just make this happen’ remark, which refers to far more than a performance at a football game — could only be described as a winning attitude, one where the orchestra is, quite literally, taking the ball and running with it.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Travel and Tourism

What Summertime Blues?

SummerHappeningsDPart

In the mood for some live music or theater? Or are art shows and antiques more your style? How about clambering through the trees or soaring on roller-coaster tracks? Whatever your taste, Western Mass. boasts plenty of ways to enjoy the summer months, making any day potentially a vacation day. Here are 25 ideas to get you started, in a region that’s home to many, many more.

July

> Berkshires Arts Festival
Ski Butternut, 380 State Road, Great Barrington
(845) 355-2400; www.berkshiresartsfestival.com
Admission: $7-$14; free for children under 10

July 1-3: Ski Butternut may be best-known for … well, skiing, of course. But the property also plays host to the Berkshires Arts Festival, a regional tradition now in its 15th year. Thousands of art lovers and collectors are expected to stop by to check out and purchase the creations of more than 175 artists and designers, as well as experiencing theater and music from local and national acts. Founded by Richard and Joanna Rothbard, owners of An American Craftsman Galleries, the festival attracts top artists from across the U.S. and Canada.

1Fireworks>Fireworks Shows Various Locations

July 1-4: Independence Day weekend is brimming with nighttime pageantry throughout the Pioneer Valley. The Valley Blue Sox in Holyoke kick things off with fireworks following its July 1 game. July 2 brings displays at Beacon Field in Greenfield, while on June 3, Michael Smith Middle School in South Hadley and East Longmeadow High School get into the act. July 4 will bring the spectacle to Riverfront Park in Springfield and McGuirk Stadium at UMass Amherst. And Six Flags in Agawam will light up the night on July 2, 3, and 4.

> Brimfield Antique Show
Route 20, Brimfield
(413) 283-6149; www.brimfieldshow.com
Admission: Free

July 12-17, Sept. 6-11: After expanding steadily through the decades, the Brimfield Antique Show now encompasses six miles of Route 20 and has become a nationally known destination for people to value antiques, collectibles, and flea-market finds. Some 6,000 dealers and close to 1 million total visitors show up at the three annual, week-long events; the first was in May. The Brimfield Antique Show labels itself the “Antiques and Collectibles Capital of the United States,” and — judging by its scope and number of visitors — it’s hard to disagree.

2GlasgowLands-2> Glasgow Lands Scottish  Festival
Look Park, 300 North Main St., Florence
(413) 862-8095; www.glasgowlands.org
Admission: $16; $5 for children 6-12; free for kids under 6

July 16: This 23nd annual festival celebrating all things Scottish features Highland dancers, pipe bands, a pipe and drum competition, animals, spinners, weavers, harpists, Celtic music, athletic contests, activities for children, and the authentically dressed Historic Highlanders recreating everyday life in that society from the 14th through 18th centuries. Inside the huge ‘pub’ tent, musical acts Enter the Haggis, Soulsha, Albannach, Screaming Orphans, and Charlie Zahm will keep toes tapping in the shade. Event proceeds benefit programs at Human Resources Unlimited and River Valley Counseling Center.

> Pioneer Valley Beer & Wine Festival
Look Park, 300 North Main St., Florence
(413) 584-5457; www.lookpark.org
Admission: $35 in advance, $40 at the door

July 30: Hungry — or thirsty — for something to do as the dog days of summer take hold? Look Park presents its first annual Beer & Wine Festival at the Pines Theater from noon to 4 p.m. Attendees (over age 21 with ID) will get to sample local beer and wine from the Pioneer Valley, live music, and food vendors including Local Burger, La Veracruzana, and Sierra Grille.

August

> Pocumtuck Homelands Festival
Unity Park, 1st Street, Turners Falls
(413) 498-4318; www.nolumbekaproject.org
Admission: Free

Aug. 6: This annual celebration of the parks, people, history, and culture of Turners Falls is a coordinated effort of the Nolumbeka Project and RiverCulture. The event features outstanding Native American crafts, food, and live music by Theresa ‘Bear’ Fox, Mohawk (Wolf Clan), ‘wave artist’ Mixashawn, the Medicine Mammals Singers, and Kontiwennenhawi, the Akwasasne Women Singers. Also featured will be the Black Hawk Singers, the Visioning B.E.A.R. Circle Intertribal Coalition Singers, a Penobscot hoop dancer, round dancing, elder teachings, craft activities, storytelling, and traditional dances. The Nolumbeka Project aims to preserve regional Native American history through educational programs, art, history, music, heritage seed preservation, and cultural events.

3SpringfieldJazz

> Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival
Court Square, Springfield
(413) 303-0101; springfieldjazzfest.com
Admission: Free

Aug. 6: The third annual Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival will offer a festive atmosphere featuring locally and internationally acclaimed musical artists, dance and theater workshops, local arts and crafts, and plenty of food. More than 5,000 people are expected to attend and enjoy the sounds of jazz, Latin jazz, gospel, blues, funk, and more. Featured performers include Taj Mahal, Eric Krasno Band, Joey DeFrancesco Trio, Terri Lyne Carrington Group, Samirah Evans and Her Handsome Devils, Rayvon Owen, Heshima Moja and Ofrecimiento, and Jose Gonzalez and Banda Criolla. The festival is produced by Blues to Green, which uses music to bring people together, uplift and inspire, and help build a more equitable and sustainable world.

> Agricultural Fairs
Various locations and admission costs; see websites
www.thewestfieldfair.com; www.theblandfordfair.com; www.3countyfair.com; www.fcas.com; www.belchertownfair.com

Starting in late August and extending through September, the region’s community agricultural fairs are a much-loved tradition, promoting agriculture education in Western Mass. and supporting the efforts of local growers and craftspeople. The annual fairs also promise plenty of family-oriented fun, from carnival rides to animal demonstrations to food, food, and more food. The Westfield fair kicks things off Aug. 19-21, followed by the Blandford Fair and the Three County Fair in Northampton on Sept. 2-5, the Franklin County Fair in Greenfield on Sept. 8-11, and the Belchertown Fair on Sept. 23-25.

September

> Stone Soul Festival
Blunt Park, 1780 Roosevelt Ave., Springfield
(413) 636-3881; www.ssfestival.weebly.com
Admission: Free

Sept. 2-4: Stone Soul began in 1989 as a community reunion picnic aimed at gathering together the Mason Square Community. It has since evolved into a three-day event, and New England’s largest African-American festival. Stone Soul aims to provide family-oriented activities, entertainment, and cultural enrichment, and is a vehicle for minority-owned businesses to display their wares and crafts. Entertainment includes gospel, jazz, R&B, and dance. Sunday’s free picnic includes ribs and chicken cooked by talented pitmasters, as well as barbecued beans, cole slaw, and more, with the backdrop of an afternoon of live gospel music performed by local and regional choirs.

4MattoonStreet> Mattoon Street Arts Festival
Mattoon St., Springfield
(413) 736-0629
www.mattoonfestival.org
Admission: Free

Sept. 10-11: Now in its 44th year, the Mattoon Street Arts Festival is the longest-running arts festival in the Pioneer Valley, featuring about 100 exhibitors, including artists that work in ceramics, fibers, glass, jewelry, painting and printmaking, photography, wood, metal, and mixed media. Food vendors and strolling musicians help to make the event a true late-summer destination.

> Glendi
22 St. George Road, Springfield
(413) 737-1496
www.stgeorgecath.org/glendi
Admission: Free

Sept. 9-11: Every year, St. George Cathedral offers thousands of visitors the best in traditional Greek foods, pastries, music, dancing, and old-fashioned Greek hospitality. In addition, the festival offers activities for children, tours of the historic St. George Cathedral and Byzantine Chapel, various vendors from across the East Coast, icon workshops, movies in the Glendi Theatre, cooking demonstrations, and a joyful atmosphere the whole family will enjoy.

> Fresh Grass
1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams
(413) 662-2111; www.freshgrass.com
3-day pass: $99 for adults, $89 for students, $46 for ages 7-16

Sept. 16-18: The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art is known for its musical events, and the Fresh Grass festival is among the highlights, showcasing more than 50 bluegrass artists and bands over three days. This year, the lineup includes Old Crow Medicine Show, Glen Hansard, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, The Devil Makes Three, Rosanne Cash, the Infamous Stringdusters, and many, many more. Also on tap are new-artist competitions (with prizes totaling $25,000) and bluegrass workshops open to festival attendees.

All Summer Long

> Berkshire
Botanical Garden
5 West Stockbridge Road, Stockbridge
(413) 298-3926
www.berkshirebotanical.org
Admission: $15; free for kids under 12

Through Oct. 10: If the flora indigenous to, or thriving in, the Berkshires of Western Mass. is your cup of tea, try 15 acres of stunning public gardens at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge. Originally established as the Berkshire Garden Center in 1934, today’s not-for-profit, educational organization is both functional and ornamental, with a mission to fulfill the community’s need for information, education, and inspiration concerning the art and science of gardening and the preservation of the environment. In addition to the garden’s collections, among the oldest in the U.S., visitors can enjoy workshops, special events, and guided tours.

> CityBlock Concert Series
Worthington and Bridge streets, Springfield
(413) 781-1591
www.springfielddowntown.com/cityblock
Admission: Free

Through Aug. 25: Downtown Springfield’s annual Thursday-evening summer music series is again studded with a mix of national touring acts and local lights, starting with FAT on June 30 in Court Square. The shows then move to Stearns Square for the rest of the summer, and include Ricky Nelson Remembered (July 7), Forever Motown (July 14), the Machine (July 21), Natalie Stovall and the Drive (July 28), Terry Sylvester (Aug. 4), Max Creek (Aug. 11), Blessid Union of Souls (Aug. 18), and the Shadowboxers (Aug. 25). The presenting sponsor for the shows is MassMutual, and the series is presented by the Springfield Business Improvement District. See article on page 27 for more information.

> Crab Apple
Whitewater Rafting
2056 Mohawk Trail, Charlemont
(413) 625-2288; www.crabapplewhitewater.com
Admission: $110-$116 through Sept. 11; $99 after Sept. 11

Through Oct. 9: Wanna get wet? Crab Apple is a third-generation, multi-state family business that operates locally on the Deerfield River in the northern Berkshire Mountains of Western Mass. Its five separate rafting excursions range from mild to wild, full- or half-day runs, in rafts and inflatable kayaks. In short, Crab Apple offers something for everyone, from beginners to more experienced rafters.

> Hancock Shaker Village
1843 West Housatonic St., Pittsfield
(413) 443-0188; www.hancockshakervillage.org
Admission: $8-20; free for children 12 and under

Through October: In 1774, a small group of persecuted English men and women known as the Shakers — the name is derived from the way their bodies convulsed during prayer — landed in New York Harbor in the hopes of securing religious freedom in America. Nearly 250 years later, their utopian experiment remains available to the public in the restored 19th-century village of Hancock. Through 20 refurbished buildings and surrounding gardens, Shaker Village illuminates the daily lives of its highly productive inhabitants. After spending a day in the recreated town, visitors will surely gain a greater appreciation of the Shakers’ oft-forgotten legacy in the region.

JacobsPillowSuchuDance-BRuddick-2008> Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival
358 George Carter Road, Becket
(413) 243-0745; www.jacobspillow.org
Admission: $25 and up

Through Aug. 30: Now in its 84rd season, Jacob’s Pillow has become one of the country’s premier showcases for dance, featuring more than 50 dance companies from the U.S. and around the world. Participants can take in scores of free performances, talks, and events; train at one of the nation’s most prestigious dance-training centers; and take part in community programs designed to educate and engage audiences of all ages. This year’s events introduce a quirky, charming company from Germany, the explosive footwork of South American gauchos, inspiring ballet companies from across the U.S., astounding flex dancers from the streets of Brooklyn, and 12 high-flying men from Algeria — plus, more live music than ever before. See article on page 25 for more information.

> Lady Bea Cruise Boat
1 Alvord St., South Hadley
(413) 315-6342; www.brunelles.com
Admission: $10-$15; free for kids 3 and under

Through Labor Day: If you’re in the mood for a scenic meander up and down the Connecticut River, consider the Lady Bea, a 53-foot, 49-passenger, climate-controlled boat operated by Brunelle’s Marina, which typically runs Thursday through Sunday between South Hadley and Northampton. If you don’t feel like sharing the 75-minute narrated voyage with others, rent the boat out for a private excursion. Amenties include a PA system, video monitors, a full bar, and seating indoors and on the sun deck — but the main attraction is the pristine water, sandy beaches, and unspoiled views along the river.

6Mahaiwe> Mahaiwe Performing
Arts Center
14 Castle St., Great Barrington
(413) 528-0100; www.mahaiwe.org
Admission: Varies by event

Year-round: The beloved Mahaiwe Theatre dates back to 1905 — continuously running programs since its opening — and underwent an extensive, $9 million renovation starting in 2003. Today, the theater seats just under 700 and hosts year-round arts programming, including music, dance, theatre, opera, talks, and movie classics. It’s leaders say Mahaiwe is a staple and a resource: its live performances inspire tens of thousands of audience members each year, its family and educational events are vital to the region, its embrace of modern technology supplements programming with live, high-definition satellite broadcasts from around the world, and its year-round schedule enhances the quality of life for those who reside in and visit the Berkshires.

> Nash Dinosaur
Track Site and
Rock Shop
594 Amherst Road, South Hadley
(413) 467-9566; www.nashdinosaurtracks.com
Admission: $3 for adults; $2 for children

Year-round: Walk where the dinosaurs walked, literally. It’s hard to believe that the first documented dinosaur tracks found in North America were on the shores of the Connecticut River, in 1802, near today’s site of Nash Dinosaur Track Site and Rock Shop in South Hadley. Over the years, thousands of dinosaur tracks have been discovered; many were sold to museums and private individuals all over the world, but many more can be seen due to the extensive work of Carlton S. Nash. Visit the site and learn about some of this region’s earliest inhabitants, and also about the geology of the area.

7PeacePagoda> New England Peace Pagoda
100 Cave Hill Road, Leverett
(413) 367-2202
www.newenglandpeacepagoda.com
Admission: Free

Year-round: A Peace Pagoda is a Buddhist stupa, a monument to inspire peace, designed to provide a focus for people of all races and creeds, and to help unite them in their search for world peace. Most peace pagodas built since World War II have been built under the guidance of Nichidatsu Fujii, a Japanese Buddhist monk. Fujii was greatly inspired by his meeting with Mahatma Gandhi in 1931 and decided to devote his life to promoting non-violence. In 1947, he began constructing peace pagodas as shrines to world peace.

> Ramblewild
110 Brodie Mountain Road, Lanesborough
(844) 472-6253; www.ramblewild.com
Admission: $69 for adults, $59 for youth

Year-round: Aerial parks are an outdoor activity in and among the trees that offer excitement, challenge, and personal growth for families and adventurists of all kinds. At Ramblewild, the focal point is a central wooden platform about 10 feet above the ground from which eight aerial obstacle courses originate, meandering from tree to tree at various heights through the forest. Each course consists of 15 to 17 elements (high wires, ziplines, balancing logs, rope ladders, cargo nets, suspended bridges, etc.) that meander through a pristine hemlock forest. These tree-to-tree challenge courses are designed to have a profound impact on visitors’ self-confidence — while having lots of fun, of course.

8SixFlags> Six Flags New England
1623 Main St., Agawam
(413) 786-9300
www.sixflags.com/newengland
Admission: $61.99; season passes $91.99

Through oct. 31: Continuing an annual tradition of adding a new major attraction each spring, Six Flags New England recently unveiled Fireball, a looping coaster, and rethemed Bizarro to its original Superman motif, adding a virtual-reality component (via goggles) to boot. Other recent additions include the Wicked Cyclone, the 420-foot-tall New England Sky Screamer swings, the 250-foot Bonzai Pipeline enclosed waterslides, and the massive switchback coaster Goliath — in addition to a raft of other thrill rides. But fear not: the park has attractions for everyone along the stomach-queasiness spectrum, from the classic carousel and bumper cars to the wave pools and lazy river in the Hurricane Harbor water park, free with admission.

> Valley Blue Sox
Mackenzie Stadium
500 Beech St., Holyoke
(413) 533-1100
www.valleybluesox/pointstreaksites.com
Admission: $4-$6; season tickets $79

Through Aug. 1: Western Mass. residents don’t have to trek to Boston to catch quality baseball. The Valley Blue Sox, members of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, play close to home at MacKenzie Stadium in Holyoke. These Sox feature a roster of elite collegiate baseball players from around the country, including some who have already been drafted into the major leagues. Frequent promotional events like postgame fireworks and numerous giveaways help make every game at MacKenzie Stadium a fun, affordable event for the whole family.

> Williamstown Theatre Festival
1000 Main St., Williamstown
(413) 597-3400; www.wtfestival.org
Admission: $40 and up

Through Aug. 21: Six decades ago, the leaders of Williams College’s drama department and news office conceived of an idea: using the campus’ theater for a summer performance program with a resident company. Since then, the festival has attracted a raft of notable guest performers. This season will spotlight a range of both original productions and plays by well-known lights such as Tennessee Williams (The Rose Tattoo) and Wendy Wasserstein (An American Daughter), as well as a number of other programs, such as post-show Tuesday Talkbacks with company members.

Joseph Bednar can be reached a  [email protected]

Sections Travel and Tourism

Choreographing a Game Plan

Jacob’s Pillow

Pamela Tatge says an invite to Jacob’s Pillow is a goal set by choreographers across the country and around the world.

There are 10 weeks to the season at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival each summer, and two main theaters hosting productions. That means 20 dance groups get to appear during those extended weekends between late June and the end of August.

But that’s a tiny fraction of the number that would like to book a trip to the picturesque campus in the Berkshire County hamlet of Becket, noted Pamela Tatge, who said that to be chosen for one of those 20 spots represents what she called a serious “vote of confidence” for the troupe in question.

“This is a very powerful brand — to get to Jacob’s Pillow is a goal that choreographers across the country and around the world share,” said Tatge, who recently took over as director of ‘the Pillow,’ as it’s known, succeeding Ella Baff. “It is a gold standard.”

Choosing which groups get this vote of confidence is a team effort, but something at or near the top of a lengthy list of her job responsibilities, said Tatge, who arrived in April.

Others include everything from fund-raising to marketing; from preservation (this is a National Historic Landmark) to overseeing acclaimed education and residency programs; from so-called audience engagement (welcoming attendees to those aforementioned performances, for example) to working with the institution’s large board of directors to create a vision and set a tone, artistically and otherwise, for the Pillow moving forward.

And recently, there have been some additions to that list, or at least matters that have taken on a new sense of urgency.

These include efforts to work in greater collaboration with other Berkshire-area attractions and institutions to make the region an even greater destination, and work to develop new and different ways to diversify the audiences at those performances and, especially, engage more young people in dance, the Pillow, and the arts in general.

Tatge, who comes to the Becket campus from a lengthy stint as director of the Center for the Arts at Wesleyan University, embraces every line on that job description and the broad, overarching challenge of continuing a proud, 84-year-old tradition.

“I knew how precious this institution was,” she said while explaining this career move, “and what an incredible opportunity it would be to be invited to lead it.”

For this issue and its special Summer Happenings section, BusinessWest talked at length with Tatge about the Pillow, her vision for its future, and how she intends to carefully choreograph a game plan for this venerable institution for the decades to come.

The Next Steps

Tatge said she couldn’t recall how many times she had taken in performances at Jacob’s Pillow over the years, but made it clear she didn’t need directions to the Becket campus, located just off Route 20.

Created by Ted Shawn, one of the first notable male pioneers of American modern dance, in 1933, the Pillow has been not only a place to take in fine dance, she explained, but also a scholarly retreat, both literally and figuratively, in many respects, providing a window into the past, present, and, in some ways, the future of contemporary dance.

“Jacob’s Pillow has been in my consciousness ever since I was a dance presenter,” she said, adding that she considers her work with dance to be perhaps her signature accomplishment at Wesleyan. “It’s the place I looked to discover emerging artists, to see international work that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to see because I didn’t have the travel resources at my institution, and for its resources — the archives are so extensive and so important for dance curators like me to access.”

So when a headhunter called last fall inquiring about whether she would be interested in succeeding Baff, Tatge offered an enthusiastic ‘yes,’ thus setting the wheels in motion for what would become a much different kind of visit to the Becket campus.

Fast-forwarding to this past April, Tatge said that, upon arriving on campus, she set out to immediately fill the calendar with meetings involving a variety of stakeholders, from the staff to board members to the managers of other arts institutions in the Berkshires with which the Pillow collaborates.

She described them all as learning experiences that will be of great benefit as she goes about tackling all the responsibilities within that description.

She said her meetings with board members have been especially enlightening and eye-opening.

“They are palpably passionate about this dance form, and they are here all the time,” she explained, adding that she’s met with 21 of the 23 members. “I wanted to understand their connection, hopes, and dreams for the Pillow individually.”

Looking forward, she said she has a number of goals for the institution, and generally, they can be described as efforts to continue and strengthen traditions that have been in place for decades.

“I want to continue and deepen our investment in choreographers and the development of new work, using the campus at Jacob’s Pillow as a research site for artists,” she explained. “And think of the many ways we can leverage the assets we have at our magnificent site and our archives for the benefit of artists. I also want to continue our commitment to international work, making sure our audiences witness the world here, as they always have.”

Getting into greater detail, she said one of her goals is to continue work she described as cross-disciplinary.

Indeed, at Wesleyan, Tatge became known for work that brought different arts forms together in unique ways. In one, she brought a Japanese artist and a Wesleyan history professor together for a course on the history of the atomic bomb — the former through the work of artists in postwar Japan, and the latter handling the science and history.

Such work dovetails with initiatives already in place at Jacob’s Pillow, she said, listing, as just one example, a partnership with MASS MoCA in North Adams that brings dance and modern visual arts together.

“I’m fascinated by the intersection of art forms,” she explained. “And a lot of the work we will do at MASS MoCA will involve artists who are working at the crossroads of visual arts and dance, and I’m delighted to have that platform for that kind of work.”

Rallying the

Pamela Tatge

Pamela Tatge says she embraces all of the many lines on her very lengthy job description as director at Jacob’s Pillow.

Meanwhile, another priority will be work to broaden audiences — and the Pillow’s membership base — and draw more young people into the arts at all levels. This is not a challenge unique to the Pillow, she said, noting that arts institutions across the country face the same hurdle, nor is it a recent phenomenon.

Indeed, the Pillow has been engaged in a number of initiatives in this realm, everything from incorporating more live music into performances to taking its act (and acts) off site and into area communities.

As an example, she said the group scheduled to perform in mid-August, Brooklyn-based FLEXN, will conduct an advance visit to the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield. It will include a dance-off (practitioners from across the region will be invited to participate), with members of the group taking part. The young dancers will be invited to take in one of the group’s performances in Becket.

“To engage new audiences, we need to leave our site and take dance into many different parts of our county,” Tatge explained, “as a way to expose audiences, on their turf, to what it is we do, and then invite them to come to our house after we’ve gone to their house.”

There are many other initiatives in this realm, she said, listing everything from visits to area schools to more intense use of social media to market the Pillow and its performances, to free admission to the so-called Inside/Out Stage, where groups beyond those chosen 20 perform each week.

As for that aforementioned work to decide which 20 groups get to come to Becket for a given season, Tatge said this is a challenging assignment as well, given the number of groups, or projects, wanting to get that vote of confidence she described, as well as the need to satisfy many different tastes for dance and its various genres, all while maintaining an international flavor.

She described the process of meeting that challenge with a single word — balance — and a commitment to creating it.

“I want to make sure that all of the appetites of our audience have to be taken care of,” she explained, adding that she is in the thick of creating the schedule for 2017 and is already thinking about 2018.

Elaborating, she said this assignment involves a mix of proactively seeking out choreographers and companies whose work represents “the intention and aesthetic I’m excited about for our audiences” as well as fielding entreaties from agents and groups about existing projects they would love to bring to Becket.

“What’s wonderful about the current Pillow program is how broad it is in terms of genre and geography, and I want to maintain that,” she told BusinessWest. “We’re a national center for dance, so we need to make sure that we’re being geographically represented when we’re considering U.S. artists, while continuing our commitment to international work.”

A look at the 2016 schedule, which includes groups from Stuttgart, Germany; Chicago; New York; Santa Fe; Seattle; and a host of other cities, reveals this geographic diversity, said Tatge, adding that this is certainly a tradition that will continue.

Beyond the Routine

When asked how she intended to make her mark, or put her stamp, on Jacob’s Pillow during her tenure, Tatge said one obvious answer would be the manner in which the schedule for those 10 weeks each summer is filled.

But from a larger-picture perspective, the answer lies in how, and how successfully, she addresses each of the many lines in her job description — from broadening the audience to creating those collaborations with other arts institutions, to securing a solid future for this eight-decade-old tradition.

When it comes to that assignment, Tatge has been given her own vote of confidence, and she intends to make the very most of that opportunity.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]