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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]

Sections Travel and Tourism

The Sounds of Summer

Stearns Square

Each summer concert in Stearns Square may attract between 1,000 and 5,000 attendees, depending on the artist.

Chris Russell says the performers at this year’s CityBlock Concert Series will appeal to a wide variety of musical tastes.

“The outdoor concerts have been a popular event for many years, and we worked hard last year to diversify the offerings,” said the executive director of the Springfield Business Improvement District, or BID, which stages the series. “But we think we’ve done an even better job this year.”

The summer lineup includes a range of genres and showcases well-known groups whose music ranges from pop, rock, and folk to country, Motown, and blues.

“We offer regional and national acts that most people have to pay to see,” Russell told BusinessWest, noting that performances are held on Thursday nights in Stearns Square in the heart of downtown.

They begin at approximately 7:30 p.m., and Russell said area restaurants definitely benefit from the events: they are filled before and after the concerts, which is particularly beneficial because the summer is a time when business usually slows down.

“The restaurants get very busy on the nights of the performances. The concerts are one of the driving economic forces for their weeknight summer business, and they are very important to them. They report a big uptick during the events,” he noted, adding that the concerts attract about 20,000 people each season, with attendance varying from 1,000 to 5,000 each night, depending on the weather and what group is playing.

Word has spread about the free attractions, and the BID begins receiving requests as early as December from groups that want to be part of the concert series in Springfield.

“We try to get national touring acts, so putting schedules together can be challenging,” Russell noted, adding that, although the BID stages the events — which includes hiring the acts, taking care of all operations, and producing the series — the sponsors provide critical funding.

This year, MassMutual Financial Group is CityBlock’s presenting sponsor, followed by other businesses that include Williams Distributing, Sheraton Springfield, the Eastern States Exposition, and United Personnel.

Diverse Talents

Although all of the concerts feature well-known groups, a few are expected to be especially popular. They include the Machine Performs Pink Floyd, which will appear July 21.

“We’re expecting a very large turnout that night,” Russell said.

The Machine is the most popular Pink Floyd show in the nation and has been playing for 25 years. They employ elaborate stage displays and dramatic lighting and have appeared in theaters, large clubs, and casinos across North and Central America, Europe, and Asia, along with playing at many renowned music festivals.

The American country-music group Natalie Stovall and the Drive, which will appear July 28, is also expected to attract a large crowd.

Stovall began playing the fiddle professionally at age 10 and made her Grand Old Opry debut at age 12. She puts on about 200 shows every year and has performed at the White House as well as on the Oprah Winfrey Show, and supported non-country acts like Switchfoot, the Doobie Brothers, Styx, and Safetysuit.

The Springfield BID staged the first CityBlock Concert Series 15 years ago, and the annual events have continued since that time, boosting business downtown and bringing people to the city who might not otherwise visit on a weeknight.

BID ambassadors are stationed on a number of streets, and the architectural details of many historic buildings are highlighted, thanks to special lighting installed by the BID, which runs from the MassMutual Center along Main Street to Lyman Street.

Extra police details patrol the area during the concerts, although Russell says Springfield is one of the safest cities of its size in the region.

And although many communities offer free summer music events, Springfield’s CityBlock series differs due to the local and nationally acclaimed acts, which are made possible by the support of local businesses.

“The concerts take place rain or shine and are a big undertaking,” Russell said, adding that vendors offer food and alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages to concertgoers, although many choose to frequent downtown restaurants before and after the shows.

The first concert will take place June 30 and will feature FAT, a rock band from Springfield that toured as the opening act for the Allman Brothers after their first album was released, and has sold out the MassMutual Center Ballroom.

“They’re a local favorite and always draw a huge crowd,” Russell said.

Their performance will be held in Court Square instead of Stearns Square, but there will be no street closures, and parking will be available in the Civic Center and 91 South garages, as well as on the street.

In addition to FAT, the Machine Performs Pink Floyd, and Natalie Stovall and the Drive, other concerts include:

• Ricky Nelson Remembered on July 7;
• Forever Motown on July 14;
• Terry Sylvester on Aug. 4;
• Max Creek on Aug. 11;
• Blessid Union of Souls on Aug. 18; and
• The Shadowboxers on Aug. 25.

Russell said the American rock band Max Creek is expected to draw a large and diverse audience. The group has been playing for more than 40 years, and its music incorporates rock, country, reggae, soul, jazz, and calypso, as well as their own songs. Guitarist Scott Murawski, keyboardist Mark Mercier, and bassist John Rider have been with Max Creek since the mid-’70s, and are accompanied by the drums and percussion team of Bill Carbone and Jamemurrell Stanley.

A performance by the Shadowboxers, which will mark the end of the season and is being paid for by the Big E, is also expected to bring large numbers of people to Stearns Square. Their first full-length album, Red Room, produced by Brady Blade (Dave Matthews, Emmylou Harris) was featured in the New York Daily News “Top 10 Picks in Music,” and the band’s cover of Justin Timberlake’s “Pusher Love Girl” attracted nearly 200,000 YouTube views as well as recognition on Twitter from Timberlake and Pharrell Williams.

In addition to the main acts, the Eastern States Exposition is sponsoring a weekly opening-act performance. These acts will be finalists in the exposition’s Masters of Music Competition, and the overall winner will perform at the Big E and receive $1,000 and a trip to Nashville for two band members.

“The concerts provide a fun night in the city,” Russell said. “But we have to give a lot of credit and thanks to our sponsors, and we are very grateful for their support.”

Sections Travel and Tourism

The Great Escape

The Berkshire region

The Berkshire region has become known for its outdoors and foodie tourism.

By JACLYN C. STEVENSON

The Berkshires have always been a haven for tourists and a region in many ways dependent on the dollars those tourists spend. And throughout history, this has been largely a summer phenomenon. But in recent years, the state’s westernmost county has been devoted to making itself a year-round destination, with those efforts yielding solid results.

In the late 1800s, society’s well-to-do waved farewell to ‘the season’ in the Berkshires — the summer months — with elaborate parades, featuring horse-drawn carriages.

In the 1910s and 1920s, vacationers returned in the warmer months to venues like the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, for a chance to see the stars — Ethel Barrymore, Al Jolson, and Sarah Bernhard, to name a few — basking in the glow of General Electric’s newfangled footlights.

And in the 30s, the first picnickers began flocking to Tanglewood’s grounds, bringing increasingly over-the-top spreads with them to listen to music outside and engage in a bit of neighborly competition.

Today, all of these attractions — even GE’s switch-board-operated footlights, though not in operation — still help define a vibrant summer and early-fall season that offers a number of historic cultural opportunities. Across Berkshire County, however, leaders of destinations of all kinds agree that year-round development is the key to continued success. To that end, they’re allocating dollars, developing partnerships, and highlighting hidden talents, with the common goal of welcoming visitors during all seasons, not just ‘the season.’

Dinner and a Show

Lindsey Schmid, director of Marketing at 1Berkshire and the Berkshire Visitors Bureau, said this includes calling attention to all the area’s specific strengths: farm-to-table culinary experiences, year-round outdoor recreation, and several different types of lodging opportunities, from bed and breakfasts to boutique inns to large hotels.

“The Berkshires will always be a cultural mecca, but the rolling hills and open space not filled with cars is part of that culture,” Schmid said. “More and more people are viewing us as a year-round escape, and we’re working to call attention to the different things visitors are escaping to.”

That includes a rich ‘foodie’ culture that extends from fine dining to locally produced niche items, such as spirits from Berkshire Mountain Distillers, cheese from Cricket Creek Farm, craft beer from Big Elm Brewing and Wandering Star Brewery, and bread from Berkshire Mountain Bakery.

1Berkshire staff

1Berkshire staff pose with #intheberkshires signs — just one aspect of a larger effort to brand the region as a year-round destination for travelers of all ages.

The Berkshire theater scene, often thought of in terms of summer stock, has evolved to offer readings of plays in progress, musical-theater labs, and new works that have started at venues such as Barrington Stage Co. in Pittsfield, Shakespeare and Co. in Lenox, and WAM Theatre, a professional company that produces plays and events across Berkshire County with a focus on female theater artists and stories of women and girls.

“There’s so much to do all year round, we often remind even local residents of the value that is in their backyard,” said Schmid. “Many theater productions that got their start here have gone on to present off- and on-Broadway following successful showings in the Berkshires. That’s a point of pride for us.”

For instance, Schmid called WAM Theatre (the acronym stands for Where Arts and Activism Meet) “a start-up that also brings a new level of theater” to the Berkshires. Now in its seventh year in business, WAM continues to find new ways to extend its influence — and its season. Artistic Director Kristen van Ginhoven announced plans for the company’s 2016 season in February — including performances and events scheduled from February into October and a new collaboration with the Berkshire Theatre Group (BTG), an organization created in 2010 by the merger of two of Berkshire County’s oldest cultural organizations: Berkshire Theatre Festival, founded in 1928 in Stockbridge, and the Colonial Theatre, built in 1903 in Pittsfield.


Click HERE for a chart of the region’s tourist attractions


“I’m delighted to announce the programming we’ve planned for WAM Theatre’s seventh season,” said van Ginhoven. “We have a dynamic lineup of events that fulfill our vision of creating opportunity for women and girls.”

She will direct WAM’s main-stage production, the American premiere of The Bakelite Masterpiece by Kate Cayley, in September and October this year, outside of the more traditional summer season. The play will be co-produced with BTG and performed at the Unicorn Theatre in Stockbridge.

“The play came to me via a close colleague in Canada who acted in the original production,” she noted. “I immediately envisioned it at the Unicorn and approached Kate Maguire [Berkshire Theatre Group artistic director and CEO], who loved the play. WAM Theatre is very excited that the Berkshire Theatre Group has opened their doors to make this a co-production.”

A Walk in the Woods

Schmid noted that she’s seen the region’s marketing dollars spreading across the entire calendar more and more in this way — traditional seasons lengthening, the ‘off-season’ shortening, and an overall, collaborative effort afoot to position the Berkshires as an escape for all types of travelers, rather than simply an historic or cultural destination.

“In the past, there’s been a lot of marketing of the summer and fall, because that’s when we had traffic. In the last couple of years in particular, though, we’ve focused more branding dollars on the shoulder seasons,” she said, adding that the tourism industry on the whole is seeing a trend toward travelers looking for unique outdoor experiences, and that’s something on which Berkshire County can capitalize.

“It’s not just taking a hike outdoors — there are adventure opportunities like aerial parks, as well as things designed to make nature feel more accessible to people who aren’t used to it,” she said, listing mountain biking, white-water rafting, mountain coasters — including North America’s longest, the Thunderbolt at Berkshire East in Charlemont — and the burgeoning trend of forest bathing, through which groups are guided through the woods, traveling short distances but taking in the scenery, among the options.

Lindsey Schmid

Lindsey Schmid says the region’s farm-to-table culinary experiences, outdoor recreation, and lodging opportunities make it a year-round destination.

“The outdoor activity message in the Berkshires is allowing us to talk to a slightly younger audience,” she said, “but also to address other hurdles, like museum fatigue among group tours. That’s something so many cultural facilities are experiencing … and here, they can stay outdoors, experiencing the natural beauty and enjoying a cultural experience at the same time; that sets us apart.”

Indeed, Berkshire County is home to several outdoor cultural venues. In addition to Tanglewood, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer home in Lenox, Jacob’s Pillow in Becket offers world-class dance performances outside on a 220-acre parcel of land that is also a national historic landmark. The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge includes 36 acres of largely walkable space, as does adjacent Chesterwood — once the summer home of sculptor Daniel Chester French — which regularly offers modern sculpture walks on its campus.

Conversely, the region’s outdoor destinations, including its mountain resorts — among them Berkshire East, Ski Butternut in Great Barrington, Jiminy Peak in Hancock, and Bousquet Mountain in Pittsfield — have taken a page from the cultural venues, offering a greater variety of things to do throughout the year. Now in its 15th year, the Berkshires Arts Festival is hosted at Ski Butternut in July. Jiminy Peak has had some late-autumn success with its 13 Nights of Jiminy haunted attraction, and Berkshire East opened Thunder Mountain Bike Park just last year.

Sherry Roberts, who owns Bousquet, noted that a number of upgrades have been made at the mountain in recent years, all with an eye toward year-round operation.

“We’ve made a lot of renovations to our banquet space, allowing us to open the lodge up for private functions,” she said. “We’re contacting schools and booking them now for summer adventure camp, as well as different parks and recreation groups.”

Roberts said the adventure-camp business, along with other offerings such as a waterslide, adventure park, zipline, and go-karts, serve Bousquet Mountain well — necessitating a full-time office staff during the summer months as well as ski, snowboarding, and tubing season.

“We do try to book most of the summer,” said Roberts, noting that the mountain resort community feels the importance of year-round business acutely, especially following a particularly slushy winter ski season that never quite guaranteed even a full week of strong sales. “When you have a group coming at a specific time and date, there are no surprises — not like opening the doors in January and seeing pouring rain.”

With all of New England seeing record warmth, Roberts said this season was particularly short.

“There were no snowstorms in the forecast, so we were very careful with the money we spent on snow making,” she said. “But we continued right to the end of the season, and I have a tremendous staff that is young and full of ideas. Whether it’s private functions, groups, or what we offer to the public, we’re always trying to build on it.”

All for One

Continuing to build on the idea of cooperation across all types of tourism outfits in the Berkshires, Schmid said 1Berkshire is working more and more with its members to create group opportunities such as cooperative ad buys, sponsorships, and other member benefits that help stretch the marketing budget across 12 months. To woo a younger audience, the region has also taken to putting its many attractions under one social-media umbrella: #intheberkshires, which is added to everything from billboards to Facebook updates.

“We’re branding all year round, and we’re better honed in than ever on specific messages about what our members offer,” she said. “The overall push is that, whoever you are, you can imagine yourself in the Berkshires.”

While that daydream might include a late-season picnic at Tanglewood, a night at the theater, and a farewell to the season with flower-festooned carriages, it can also include a modern meal, an arts walk, or even a high-wire zipline. Whatever the season, the Berkshires are open for business.

Sections Travel and Tourism

Treasure Trove

Shows are held in May, July, and September

Shows are held in May, July, and September, and unusual statues are among the many items for sale.

Patricia Schultz’s New York Times bestseller 1,000 Places to See Before You Die includes the Brimfield Outdoor Antiques Show, and, as a result, the world-renowned event has been put on many people’s bucket lists.

“I had a lady call from Michigan last week who is coming in May just for that reason,” said Lenny Weake, president of the Quaboag Hills Chamber of Commerce, which fields an untold number of calls every year about the show that began 57 years ago and features about 6,000 vendors on 1,200 acres of privately owned property that stretch along a one-mile strip of Route 20.

The event is held three times a year, and the first show of 2016 will take place May 10-15. Many people make reservations a year in advance, and local hotels and motels from Springfield to Sturbridge take bookings from all over the U.S. and as far away as England, France, and Korea.

“Anything you could ever dream of can be found here,” Weake said. “It’s not just small items and trinkets. There are life-size statues, vintage ice-cream stools and counters, all types of period furniture, antique signs, toys, clocks, trains, jewelry, old magazines, movie posters, and buttons so intricate you need a magnifying glass to see the mosaics on them.”

But he admits it can be a test of endurance when a dedicated collector is in search of a specific item because vendors are not grouped by the type of merchandise they sell or the fields where they are located. In fact, there is no map to help locate a particular vendor, which makes it especially important for people to get receipts with names and phone numbers when they make a purchase, in case they want to return to the booth.

It takes days to walk the properties, and Weake advises people to dress comfortably and bring a backpack or wagon to hold their purchases because their vehicle may be parked six fields away from where they find what they want.

Some fields are open only on selected days, and because there is an endless bounty of things to see, many shoppers browse Wednesday through Sunday, including avid antique enthusiasts and collectors determined to be among the first on hand when a new field opens.

Over 1 million people attend the three annual outdoor showcases, which will be held this year May 10-15, July 12-17, and Sept. 6-11. However, the May show typically contains the most merchandise because dealers buy pieces all winter and often bring so much, they need to rent more than one spot to put it on display.

David Lamberto began helping the owner of Hertan’s Antique Show 25 years ago. That’s the name of the field he eventually purchased and runs today. He explained that the words ‘field’ and ‘show’ are used interchangeably, but the reality is that each show is its own entity and run by the person who owns the property.

The town of Brimfield is not involved with the event, although property owners must get permits, and Massachusetts state tax is collected on purchased items.

Vendors plan for the events far in advance, and many have been returning for decades, setting up their wares in booths next to their friends.

“They regard it as more than an opportunity to sell things,” Lamberto noted. “They also come to buy and network. It’s almost like a convention of antique dealers from all over the country.”

Expanding Horizon

Auctioneer Gordon Reid staged the first notable Brimfield antique show in 1959 after he purchased a piece of property on Route 20. It featured 67 dealers, attracted about 300 people, and was so successful he held a second one the same year.

Lenny Weakes

Lenny Weakes says people come from all over the world to buy and sell at the Brimfield Outdoor Antiques Show.

By the time Reid died in 1974, the 25 acres dedicated to his show had become home to about 800 vendors, and many marked the annual events on their calendars. After he passed away, his daughters, Jill Lukesh and Judy Mathieu, took over and changed his business name from the Gordon Reid Company to J & J Promotions.

Word spread about Gordon’s success, and when they began turning dealers away due to lack of space, many started knocking on neighbors’ doors, and the show expanded as owners of adjoining properties cashed in on the opportunity.

Every show or field charges for parking, and a few, including J & J, charge the first day they open, but many have no admission charge. In addition, a plethora of food vendors are spread out over the mile-long strip so visitors don’t have to worry about where to eat. Most dealers have porters that can help with large, bulky items.

And although the Brimfield Outdoor Antique Show is a venue unto itself, local businesses including restaurants, gas stations, hotels, motels, and bed-and-breakfast operations benefit from each seasonal show and have come to rely on it for part of their annual revenue.

The Quaboag Hills Chamber of Commerce receives endless calls about where to stay and what there is to do in the area, since families and spouses often attend together, but not everyone likes to shop. Weake and his staff work hard to educate them, promote their members, and tell callers about area historical or tourist attractions they might enjoy.

He added that transportation is often a critical part of a discussion because many visitors arrive at Bradley International Airport or on Amtrak and need to rent a vehicle. “People from places like New York City can’t envision what the show is like or the geography of it is like,” Weake explained. “They’re flabbergasted when I tell them there is no public transportation or taxi service in Brimfield.”

But the event is definitely an economic driver for the area, and Weake’s goal is to get people to stay at least an extra day. Many do, and visit attractions that range from the Basketball Hall of Fame and Springfield Museums to Yankee Candle and Old Sturbridge Village, while others drive to see historic sites, such as the 14 milestones Benjamin Franklin erected in 1767 when he was assistant postmaster general of the U.S. and mail was delivered to towns along the Old Boston Post Road.

The owners of properties who rent space formed the Brimfield Show Promoters Assoc. some time ago and advertise the event via the Internet, TV, and print media. They also belong to a number of different chambers and visitors and convention bureaus that help to spread the word. And some, including J & J Promotions, do their own advertising.

Social media has also helped raise awareness, and five years ago, Gretchen Aubuchon of Aubuchon Hardware started a tent for designers at Hertan’s by advertising it on Twitter. It was well-received, and for three years, busloads of designers from across the country gathered in a beautifully decorated private tent outfitted with chandeliers and a bar where they relaxed, compared notes, and stopped to rest during shopping sprees.

The tent ceased to exist two years ago after Aubuchon moved to a different job, but designers still band together, and last week Lamberto received a call from a Chicago group that will attend the May event. There are also celebrities and buyers from many different places, including local antique shops that rely on the show to boost their inventory of sought-after items.

“Ralph Polo sends a team to find things to decorate their stores, and we see people like Barbra Streisland and Martha Stewart every year,” he told BusinessWest.

The popular TV show Flea Market Flip usually stages a taping in Brimfield at least once a season, and Weake said the newest, most-sought-after items include repurposed furniture and building materials that have been transformed into lights, wine racks, and other one-of-a-kind pieces.

Collecting Memories

When eBay first became popular, business decreased slightly, and although people still use their cell phones to compare prices and haggle, there is nothing like the joy of finding something unexpected, being able to touch it, and bringing it home that same day.

“Our father was a visionary. He pioneered the show, did beautifully with it, and we hope we are making him proud,” Lukesh said.

Leake is happy it draws so much attention to the Quaboag region and also benefits area businesses.

“It’s the place to be, and people come here from all over the U.S. as well as from other countries,” he said. “We want them to have a good time, and they do. It’s a beautiful area and a treasure hunt; there is everything under the sun, and you never know what you will find.”

Sections Travel and Tourism

Steeped in History

Wistariahurst

Kate Preissler says she wants history to come alive for Wistariahurst visitors.

Throughout its history, the property now known as Wistariahurst Museum — which draws guests for myriad events and individuals who simply enjoy stepping into the past — has been referred to as one of the “showplaces in Holyoke.” The museum’s director says she wants to make history fun, and the visitor count — up to 14,000 annually — suggests she’s succeeding at her goal.

Throughout its history, the property now known as Wistariahurst Museum has been referred to as one of the “showplaces in Holyoke.”

Indeed, during the holidays, the former home of silk manufacturer William Skinner and his wife, Sarah, is truly a sight to behold with its enormous curved stairway draped with holiday garland and Christmas trees twinkling throughout its 22 spacious rooms where lofty ceilings and elaborately detailed architecture speak to a bygone era.

Tickets were sold out weeks in advance for performances of “Nutcracker & Sweets” staged by the Massachusetts Academy of Ballet, which ran Dec. 11-13. The annual event captures the magic of the holidays in the spacious Music Room that Belle Skinner, daughter of William and Sarah, built to house a collection of musical instruments after her parents’ deaths.

“This season’s performance of the Nutcracker was set in Holyoke, rather than Russia, and there were references in it to the city’s history. The father figure was cast as William Skinner, and his daughters Belle and Katharine were also depicted,” said Museum Director Kate Preissler.

Although the event is extremely popular, December is actually a quiet time for Wistariahurst, which stages a plethora of programs throughout the year that appeal to children, families, adults, and people of varying interests.

“The Nutcracker is our biggest holiday event, but we’re owned by the city of Holyoke, and our mission is preserving the history of Holyoke and inspiring an appreciation of history and culture through educational programs, exhibits, and special events,” Preissler told BusinessWest, adding that, over the past decade or so, those events have shifted from museum tours and formal affairs to a wide variety of offerings.

For example, last month Holyoke Wellness Coordinator Julia Wilkins began holding strength-training classes for city employees in the Music Room, while a few weeks later an elegant event called Winter Festivitea 
was held in the same space, and guests sat at elegantly decorated tables and sipped tea while they were entertained by live music.

“We are complex and use the physical space to provide as much value as we can,” Preissler said, as she conducted a tour through two of the home’s three stories, including a visit to the Leather Room with its leather wallpaper, a noteworthy library, Belle’s bedroom, the conservatory where a stained-glass peacock window is believed to be a Tiffany original, the dining room next door with two fireplaces, and the grand, sweeping staircase Belle added to the home.

Kate Preissler
Kate Preissler says Wistariahurst, donated to the city of Holyoke by the Skinner family, has become a real community asset.

“We hold a wine tasting here in February, and our annual gala takes place in June in the gardens,” Preissler noted. “It’s our primary fund-raising event, and people come outfitted in period dress and dance to live music in Belle’s Music Room. Last year it was held on a beautiful night at sunset, and you could see people throughout the garden in ’20s clothing who were probably imagining what it would have been like when the Skinner family lived here.”

The museum greets 12,000 to 14,000 visitors a year, and most come for events, rather than tours of the home. About 15 wedding ceremonies take place in the Music Room each year, and some couples hold their receptions in tents on the manicured grounds.

“We’re an exclusive venue for people looking for a historic place to get married in; Wistariahurst offers an intimate and beautiful setting,” Preissler said, adding that photos are often taken on the grand staircase, and harpists, classical guitarists, and pianists have been hired to play before and after ceremonies.

There are also seasonal holiday teas and a Mother’s Day Tea, which Preissler said give people an opportunity to have fun in the museum.

“Last fall we held a Mad Hatter Tea which was really popular. It attracted a lot of people who had never been here before, and many came in costume,” she noted. “They enjoyed a formal tea in the Music Room, played croquet on the lawn, and did crafts. It was a multi-generational event that was meant to be a way for kids and families to relax and enjoy themselves here.

“There is always the feeling of being in a historic home where Belle Skinner entertained her guests, but it’s important for our visitors to have fun,” she went on, repeating the word that she used frequently to describe what goes on inside Wistariahurst today.

Links to the Past

Curator and City Historian Penni Martorell said William Skinner emigrated to the U.S. from England in 1874. “He was a skilled silk dyer and established a silk-manufacturing and dyeing business on the Mill River in Haydenville,” she noted.

Penni Martorell

Penni Martorell says Belle Skinner took a real interest in the gardens of Wistariahurst and added a rose garden and Japanese tea house.

The business was destroyed when the river flooded following a dam breach in 1874, and Skinner relocated the operation to Appleton Street in Holyoke. He also relocated his Haydenville home, which had been designed by William Fenno Pratt, who also designed Northampton City Hall and other noteworthy structures. “Skinner had the home dismantled and moved to Holyoke,” Martorell said.

His second wife, Sarah, was an avid gardener, and although photos from 1875 show the home surrounded by barren grounds, her letters and diaries are filled with references to the plantings and trees she established on the site, which include the renowned wistaria vines that still bloom profusely every May.

They became widely acclaimed for their beauty, and their flowering was reported in local papers, which eventually led to the home’s name.

After William and Sarah died, their two unmarried children — Ruth Isabelle (“Belle”) and her brother William — inherited the home and used it as a summer residence.

“They entertained quite frequently, and Belle added onto the home,” Preissler said, including the addition of a sweeping staircase so she could make a grand entrance at parties, as well as the magnificent Music Room to house her collection of antique musical instruments.

“Belle’s collection was well-known and contained a spinet reputedly owned by Marie Antoinette and a Stradivarius violin,” Preissler added. “It was donated to Yale University and resides there today.”

The home and grounds remained in the family until 1959, when Katharine Skinner Kilborne, the youngest child of William and Sarah Skinner, and her heirs donated Wistariahurst to the city of Holyoke for cultural and educational purposes.

It operated as a museum under the auspices of the Holyoke Public Library for many years, but today a private foundation called Historic Holyoke at Wistariahurst supports its programming, events, and communications.


Click HERE to download a PDF chart of area tourist attractions


“The annual operating cost is $200,000, and the city pays $170,000 of that amount, while the remainder comes from fund-raisers, membership programs, and donations,” Preissler said, adding that the facility has two full-time employees, three part-time employees, and a large, dedicated staff of volunteers.

Martorell said a lot goes on behind the scenes.

“We have a docent program, and the collections we house are an important part of Holyoke’s history. They include letters, photographs, records of businesses, the Skinner family’s collection of correspondence, and records for Skinner and Sons Manufacturing, as well as the Carlos Vega Collection of Latino History in Holyoke,” she told BusinessWest, adding that the Vega collection was established in 2012 and is significant because nearly 50% of Holyoke’s population is Latino.

The museum also houses a textile collection containing many Skinner silk and satin wedding gowns and period clothing, and the archives are used by the Five College community and local genealogists.

“We want to use the past to inspire residents and visitors and give them new perspectives on life,” Preissler said. “History doesn’t have to be boring. People understand it better when it is presented in a way that allows them to be active participants, and our goal is to have them leave feeling that they want to come back and experience more.”

To that end, a Pumpkin Glow was held in October. Teens from the city and professional artists carved faces and designs on a large number of pumpkins, which became an outdoor exhibit that was viewed by about 250 people.

“The pumpkins were lit in the gardens at dusk, and a lot of families and people who had never been here before came to see them,” Preissler said. “It’s the combination of activities that gives us our identity, and we try to provide opportunities for different interests. For example, we hold a historical lecture series as well as Family Fun Days.”

Concerts are staged inside and outside Wistariahurst on its beautiful grounds that have been restored over the past decade. “They provide a lot of green space that is open to the public at no charge from dawn to dusk,” Preissler continued. “The gardens were inspired by designs created by Sarah Skinner and the three acres contain a beautiful rose garden, an azalea garden, 53 types of trees, 43 types of hosta and our signature wisteria, which was planted in the 1880s and grows up the side of the house. People come here to read books or walk the grounds; families bring picnics and we have had kids playing tag in the roses. It’s a particularly magical place for children where they can run around, feel safe and have fun.”

Martorell said the museum also houses a gallery that exhibits works by local artists that change every two months. In 2016 the facility will host a landscape show staged by Holyoke Art League and a spring program titled ‘Nuestras Abuelas de Holyoke,’ which is Spanish and translates to “our grandmothers.”

It will include photos and oral histories of residents and will be put on by curator Waleska Santiago and invited guests, she noted. “There will also be an exhibit by students from Holyoke Community College and a Rotary collection that will put on display from our archives.”

Preissler noted that Wistariahurst wants to become known as a premiere cultural venue, so it strives to hire exceptional musicians and performances.

“We’re planning a curated music series for next year and have brought musicians here that have a distinct sound that is new and fresh in the area,” she said, adding that performers have included jazz musician Michael Sheridan, gypsy music from the Roma culture performed by The Bohemian Quarter, and banjo music played by Cynthia Sayer.

“We are supported by the community, so it’s important for our programs to improve the quality of life and involve things that people can enjoy and respond to,” she added.

Bright Future

Preissler said the programming at Wistariahurst has evolved in conjunction with events held at other historic homes and museums. “There is a realization that we need to have more participatory experiences where visitors are actively engaged,” she noted.

Next year a member of the board of directors, a grandson of Katherine Skinner and the last living descendant to live in Wistariahurst as a child, will give a number of guided tours. In addition, there will be plenty of fun-filled events to round out the agenda.

“We will continue work to engage our audiences in new ways,” Preissler continued.

Which is exactly what Belle Skinner did when she built rooms in Wistariahurst to house her collections and entertain guests in a grand style.

So, the tradition of transforming Wistariahurst to bring it into the present will continue long after the holiday season is over in a home resplendent with history that sits quietly right in the heart of Holyoke.

Sections Travel and Tourism

Plane Speaking

Janice Webb

Janice Webb says that the strong dollar, coupled with a desire among Baby Boomers to see the world, is the prevailing force when it comes to travel in 2016.

Janice Webb says three area couples put down their deposit for a trip to Paris for next April on the morning of Nov. 13, just hours before news of the terrorist attacks across the City of Light first broke on CNN.

Webb, owner of Emerald City Travel in Springfield, circled back with the group the next day to see if they had any questions or concerns — or intentions to change their travel plans.

They had some of the former, certainly, but none of the latter, she told BusinessWest, adding that the prevailing attitude was that, while the attacks that killed 130 people were alarming, they were not enough to prompt cancellation of a trip, which would continue with a river cruise to Amsterdam, that those involved have been looking forward to for most of their lives.

“They all e-mailed back and said, ‘let’s do this and hope for the best,’ and that appears to be the common sentiment,” said Webb, a 30-year industry veteran who noted that the various forms of turmoil in Europe are colliding head on with a potent package — a weak euro combined with a powerful desire among retiring Baby Boomers and others to get out and see the world, or at least the homes of their ancestors.

The latter is, by and large, the much stronger force at the moment.

“People want to travel, and they’re not going to let this stop them,” she said, using ‘this’ to describe the sum of the international and domestic turmoil. “They’re going to be more cautious, certainly, but they’re still going to travel.”

Paul O’Meara agreed. He’s the business development manager for the Globus family of travel brands, which includes Avalon Waterways, Cosmos, and Monograms. He told BusinessWest that, since 9/11, and even moreso in recent years, international travelers have adapted to what he called a “new norm.”

Roughly translated, this equates to expectations — for longer lines and tighter security at airports, armed soldiers at many popular tourist destinations in Europe, and, yes, possible incidents involving terrorism.

“People are more experienced now, they know what to expect, and they’re more aware of their safety and more aware of their surroundings,” he said, adding that such travelers would certainly take notice of the recent global travel alert issued by the U.S. State Department (in effect until February), but they would not be intimidated or frozen by it. “This is not 1985 or 1965; travelers are more sophisticated now, and they’ve adjusted to this new norm.”

As for the attacks in France’s capital city and their impact on travel there, he summed things up with a line he would utter more than a few times.

“Paris is Paris — there’s a reason why 30 million people go there every year,” he said, adding that his company books more visits to that city than any other except Rome. “We have about 500,000 people booked on various trips to Paris, and fewer than a dozen have cancelled.”

But an attitude of defiance when it comes to not letting terrorism get in the way of a long-planned, long-dreamed-about trip to Europe also extends to Berlin, London, Venice, Belgium (despite the fact that Brussels was locked down for several days last month), and, to a lesser extent, Istanbul, although some cruise lines and travel companies are changing some itineraries in Turkey.

“The knee-jerk reaction to what happened in Paris or in Brussels is that people aren’t going to travel there,” said O’Meara. “But that’s not what’s happening.”

For this issue and its focus on travel and tourism, BusinessWest looks at how recent events are spawning concern, but they’re not keeping travelers from reaching their destination — whatever that might be.

Cruise Control

As he talked about travel to Europe and why he doesn’t expect it to be seriously dented by the attacks in Paris and other terrorist actions in that part of the world, O’Meara started his explanation by detailing one of his company’s current offerings.

It’s a package known as ‘Italian Vista,’ and it features eight days with stops in cities like Rome, Florence, Milan, and Venice, and includes hotel stays, meals, and guided tours. The price this fall was an already-attractive $1,999, and for next year, it’s a jaw-dropping $1,449.

“That’s all due to the weak euro and the attractive exchange rates,” he told BusinessWest, adding that such sticker prices on trips across the continent help explain why bookings for 2016 are running roughly 13% ahead of the pace for last year, despite the attacks in Paris, the bomb that brought down a Russian airliner, the refugee crisis, and other forms of turmoil.

“This is the time to book, and people are doing it,” he said. “The prices are attractive, the dollar is strong … these are great opportunities, and people don’t want to miss out on them.”

the City of Light

The terrorist attacks in Paris were unnerving, but thus far, they do not appear to be a deterrent for those making plans to visit the City of Light.

That’s not to say that the terrorist attacks in Paris are not having an impact in that city or others. Indeed, the general manager of the Palace Hotel Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome and Park Hyatt’s vice president for France recently told The New York Times, “Naturally, occupancy is drastically decreasing in the wake of the attacks … we noticed a lot of cancellations right after the attacks for the following days and weeks, with the decrease more significant on bookings from the leisure traveler segment than the business one.”

But overall, O’Meara says travelers are simply pausing before traveling to Paris and other destinations, and the sentiment within the travel industry is that they won’t be pausing for long, unless there are more incidents.

Webb agreed. She said fall is the time when travel companies put out deals designed to fill cruise ships and hotels for the coming season, and thus far, travelers have not been shy about snapping them up.

“They offer these deals, which include airfare sales, percentage discounts, and past-passenger discounts, to get the product rolling,” she said, adding that these discounts are typical of what’s been offered the past several years. “And I’ve had a lot of people make reservations starting the first week in October; it’s been steady since, and it’s mostly European product.”

She said there are many factors at play when it comes to the ongoing surge in international travel — and travel in general. They include the strong dollar, which is now worth almost as much as a euro, when three years ago the rate was almost 1.4 dollars to the euro.

But there’s more to the equation. Bad winters, especially the one in 2015, have promoted many to conclude that, to endure such punishment, they need to break it up with a week or 10 days someplace warm, usually coinciding with February school vacation.

Adventure-packed destinations are still very much in vogue, which means Costa Rica is still hot, said Webb, adding quickly that many people young and old have already been there and done that, and now, most are just looking for a good deal and a good beach.

Then there are the aging Baby Boomers, many of them with disposable income, and others as well, who want to visit places they’ve heard about or the country their family calls home.

For many in this region, that means Italy or Ireland. “It seems like there’s lots of Irish and Italians in the Springfield area,” said Webb, who is booking lots of trips to both countries.

But there is still another factor in all this, she went on, noting that, overall, events like those that took place in Paris have only a temporary impact on travel — if other conditions are favorable, such as the economy — and usually not a deep impact.

An exception to that rule was 9/11, Webb added quickly, noting that the industry suffered greatly as business was frozen by uncertainty. But even then, there were groups and individuals who were undaunted and determined to seize opportunities.

“People were generally fearful at first,” she said of the days and weeks following 9/11. “But there’s one contingent of people who travel right away because they know the prices are going to be low, and they’re going to book the bargains. And then, a second contingent of people come right behind them, because they’re just tired of not doing what they want to do, and at that point, they perceive the risk to be worth taking to see what they want to see or live the way they want to live.”

Whether this pattern continues in the wake of this tumultuous fall remains to be seen, but all indications are that it will.

But while travelers will be undaunted, for the most part, they will also be more cautious, Webb predicted. She predicted that some may opt to travel with a group rather than visiting a city or region on their own, which is good for cruise-ship lines and tour operators.

Meanwhile, others may seek out destinations deemed to be safe, or at least safer.

“Sometimes a travel warning like this will push people to cruising,” Webb explained, “because if a port is deemed unsafe, the cruise line won’t go there; they’ll just substitute another port, and so people feel confident that, if the cruise lines go there, it’s a safe place to go.”

Not Tripped Up

Even within the confines of that ‘new norm’ O’Meara described, the terrorist attacks in Paris were certainly unsettling — for travelers and the travel industry.

Thus far, though, it appears that the package of attractive fares, a strong dollar, a desire among Boomers to see the world, and ‘Paris being Paris’ is creating opportunities well worth the sum of the risks involved.

Like those three local couples bound for Paris next spring, people are booking, and hoping for the best.

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

Sections Travel and Tourism

Fair Forecast

Big E Crowd

Since taking over as CEO of the Eastern States Exposition in 2012, Gene Cassidy has overseen record-setting attendance during the 17-day Big E fair and a robust series of year-round events that, together, generate nearly a half-billion dollars in economic impact. But that success is no fluke; it’s a result of year-round work and the ability to plan years down the road. That road will soon bring several challenges, from increased competition for dollars (notably from a Springfield casino) to a very worrisome highway reconstruction. But with a century of history behind it, the Big E seems poised for a promising future.

Gene Cassidy buys groceries just like everyone else, but he doesn’t look forward to it.

“I’ve said this before: There are very few places to work, places you can establish yourself as a professional, where your patrons look forward to supporting you,” said Cassidy, CEO of the Eastern States Exposition (ESE). “Don D’Amour [CEO of Big Y] is a good friend of mine, but, as much as I like Don, I hate grocery shopping. But people want to come to the fair. So we have to work 24/7/365 to make sure this stays relevant in people’s minds and they come to support us.”

That year-round effort — which is intensifying this month as the Big E, the ESE’s flagship, 17-day agricultural fair, prepares to open on Sept. 18 — has resulted in record-setting attendance figures every year since Cassidy, who has been with Eastern States since 1993, took the reins from Wayne McCary in 2012.

Gene Cassidy

Gene Cassidy says record-setting attendance for the past three fairs is a result of year-round planning.

“Obviously, our goal is to set records,” he said. “We want to create an event that people want to be a part of, and we really operate 365 days a year with that in mind. We want people to buy into the whole product that is the Eastern States Exposition.”

And they do, he continued. But it’s fun with a purpose.

“We’re geared toward families and geared toward fun, but we have a mission,” Cassidy told BusinessWest. “We are stewards of a nonprofit organization that’s charged with the promotion of agriculture and industry for the six New England states.”

Cassidy reveres the fair’s founder, Joshua L. Brooks, an industrialist so concerned that agriculture was losing ground in New England at the turn of the last century — with so much being produced out of the Midwest and South Central states — that he persuaded the National Dairy Show to move its annual event from Chicago to West Springfield in 1916, christening the new event the Eastern States Agricultural and Industrial Exposition.

“That name was so cumbersome that, in 1923, Mr. Brooks shortened it to Eastern States Exposition,” Cassidy said. “But he was an industrialist; he wanted to make sure we pay attention to industry in our region, and that’s something that’s easily lost in translation to the average fair patron. Even residents of West Springfield may not associate Eastern States with industry, but we play a significant role in supporting educational endeavors to that end.”

As treasurer of the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County (REB), Cassidy has long been involved in efforts to meet the workforce needs of area industries by supporting education and training programs. “We need to make sure we have the resources to keep building a workforce for the future.”

He noted that trades aren’t taught in high schools like they were 25 years ago, having been replaced by an emphasis on preparing students for a liberal-arts education in college, and that shift has contributed to a skills gap area companies grapple with today.

From Maine lobster to Rhode Island chowder

From Maine lobster to Rhode Island chowder to anything that can possibly be deep-fried, the Big E offers food for every taste.From Maine lobster to Rhode Island chowder

“The machine-tool industry will need 44,000 more people in the next 10 years, and at the rate we’re educating these kids, we can only produce half that number,” he said. “We have to change the way we’re doing things today if we want to keep these core industries relevant in our economy. Otherwise, those companies will move somewhere else.”

The Big E has long played a role in raising awareness of industry in the region, but that has become an increasingly difficult task.

“We’ve struggled with that,” Cassidy said. “There was a time at the fair when there were more elements of industry; we had big trucks and combines, machine-tooling equipment on display. In this age, there are now trade shows that satisfy those specific markets, and they advertise on the Internet.”

Years ago, he explained, companies like Westinghouse and General Electric would introduce new products at the Big E, and Nash Motors would put brand-new models on display. “In this contemporary age, fairs don’t fill that need anymore; there are other means by which companies communicate with customers.”

To fill that gap, Cassidy and his team bring as many niche trade shows as possible to the fairgrounds throughout the year, but the Big E itself has had to evolve past its industry-centric roots. No worries, though — there’s still plenty on tap.

Farm System

Agriculture, for instance.

“The lion’s share of our revenue goes to supporting best practices in agriculture production,” Cassidy told BusinessWest, and it’s an effort that extends throughout the year.

“Because of the way agriculture has changed over the past 100 years, our reach goes way beyond New England,” he added. “Last week, we had a youth sheep show that attracted people from 20 states, including Michigan, Missouri, and Oklahoma.

“Our agriculture schedule takes place all year,” he went on. “Obviously, it’s very important for us, as it was to our founder. We play a material role in subsidizing the horse-show industry. Two of the oldest horse shows in the country are produced during our fair. It’s historically important — a part of our DNA.”

But Cassidy admitted that plenty of people attend the Big E for the wide array of food.

“We’re always searching for new food products, and that search goes on every day,” he said, noting that the recent food-truck festival held on the fairgrounds — which featured 41 trucks and attracted almost 30,000 attendees, double the expected turnout — reflects how important food offerings are to the success of the fair. “And nowadays, the food trailers have incredible technology; they can cook virtually anything.”

Still, he added, “it’s not easy to get into the Big E. We’re very, very concerned about people’s health. We work very closely with the town of West Springfield’s health inspector, and we also have an independent health inspector on our own payroll to make sure the food products are second to none,” he said, noting that, for example, all frying oil must be changed daily, where restaurants might reuse a batch for two or three days.

In a time when an incident can spread across social media with viral speed, the Big E takes its reputation seriously.

“Food safety is extremely important to all of us,” he added. “All you need is one person to get sick, and that’s the end of you. You’ve got to be diligent with refrigeration. It’s not inexpensive to be a food purveyor on the fairgrounds because we insist on high standards.”

The animal shows and competitions also feature much more behind the scenes than patrons realize, he added.

“We have very high ethical standards on our agricultural programming; in fact, the code of ethics at Eastern States has been copied by other agricultural entities across the country. If you’re competing at that level, people will drug their cattle, so we have to do a lot of animal testing. Just like with steroids in baseball, we make sure they’re not chemically tampered with.

“We take that stuff seriously,” he went on. “Just this week, the headlines in the agriculture industry were that all the people showing cattle at the Indiana State Fair last year were stripped of their ribbons after it was determined there was some drugging going on. We wouldn’t want our cattle show to be compromised. That’s our frontline reputation, same as if someone got sick with salmonella at a food stand.”

This year has brought another threat — breakouts of avian flu, which is lethal to poultry.

“The avian flu is a big issue for us. That’s why this is the first year in maybe 60 years we won’t have a chick hatchery,” Cassidy explained. “We just can’t take a chance of contributing to the spread. It doesn’t harm humans, but we don’t want to take any chance of spreading avain flu to other birds.

“People won’t like that,” he said regarding the hatchery closing. “They do look forward to it. But we’ll have an exhibit about poultry, educating people about avian flu.”

Music, Music, Music

Musical entertainment has been a staple of the Big E for generations. But every year, Cassidy noted, it has become more expensive to book top acts, so several years ago, the Big E started charging for a top musical act or two while charging fair attendees nothing for the rest.

The midway lined with carnival rides

The midway lined with carnival rides is typically a big hit with the younger set at the Big E.

“You have to budget for a profit so you can pay your bills, but you have to invest in your product so people can enjoy their experience. We give away a lot of entertainment, so that everyone can participate at no extra cost,” he said, noting that this year’s live concerts include Kansas, Ace Frehley, Bridgit Mendler, the Charlie Daniels Band, Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, Anita Ward, and about a dozen more, including a visit from DJ Paris Hilton, who, it turns out, enjoys spinning records when she’s not earning tens of millions annually in the fashion world.

“Now, as we speak, in the early weeks of August, we’re really focused on 2016,” Cassidy said, adding that John Juliano, the Big E’s long-time special-events director, is already working on securing entertainment contracts for next fall. “He’s constantly building his contact network so we’re able to attract good-quality talent. So much of our ability to promote ourselves is connected to these big names.”

He added that the Big E has a strong reputation in the entertainment industry for managing talent, which is critical. “We make it so these people have a great experience here, so we can attract the next batch. And we have to be really good at it, because we’re competing in a very difficult marketplace.”

It’s a constant battle, he went on. “Within three days of the fair closing down, John is in Nashville, meeting with talent agents, and the management team from Eastern States will be fully engaged, out at national conventions, looking for exhibitors and vendors. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s a lot of work. You have to get 2016 booked up; if you don’t have everyone lined up by May 1, you’re in trouble.”

There’s plenty at stake when planning a successful fair, he noted. According to a report the ESE produced last year, the 17-day Big E, plus all the other events that take place on the fairgrounds each year — which feature exhibitions for animal lovers, car enthusiasts, gun owners, campers, and dozens of other groups — benefit the region with an annual economic impact of $479 million.

The tax revenues alone include $3 million in income tax, $1.4 million in sales tax, $427,000 in hotel tax, and $3.3 million in food and beverage tax. More significantly, events generate $299 million in gross regional product and account for 3,000 jobs in Hampden County that generate $91.9 million in personal income. The exposition’s impact on the rest of New England and New York include 2,000 jobs generating $134 million in personal income. In all, 2.5 million visitors stop by the fairgrounds each year, well over 1 million for the Big E alone.

“A lot of my time is dedicated to discovering more non-fair events, trying to draw people to the region year-round with trade shows and other stuff,” he said. “It’s a means by which to promote the region, get more people here to our hotels, drive people to our airports, and create a mechanism for commerce.”

Home Stretch

Of course, most of the staff’s attention is acutely tuned to the Big E — everything from the big picture to the smallest details.

“We’re making sure the fairgrounds are tuned up,” Cassidy said. “Everything has to be tested — door locks, fire suppression, make sure the drains are clear. We do a lot of maintenance during the year, but this is the time everything gets tested.

“If we didn’t start setting up the fair until very late, we’d have way too many people working way too many hours, and mistakes would happen,” he added. “So, right now, we’re a steam locomotive going downhill.”

That preparation mingles with a healthy dose of hope — mostly for favorable weather, as a weekend of steady rain can wreak havoc with revenues. But weather isn’t the only challenge. As Cassidy mentioned, the entertainment market has been crowded in recent decades by the two Connecticut casinos (and more to come in Massachusetts, including MGM Springfield right across the river in 2017), civic centers, and other venues.

showcase for local talent from schools and clubs

The annual fair also provides a showcase for local talent from schools and clubs.

“The addition of the [Springfield] casino is terrific in terms of a rising tide lifting all boats,” he told BusinessWest. “I’m looking forward to a time when we can help them with promotion and some talent, and maybe they would be interested in helping us as well. Working in unison, they can benefit from the traffic we drive to them, and people experiencing their facility for the first time may learn about the existence of the Eastern States Exposition.”

That casino might not open until 2018, however, thanks to a major highway reconstruction project that will shut down a portion of I-91 in downtown Springfield for more than two years.

“The highway job scares the hell out of me; it really, really does,” Cassidy said. “This could extend beyond two fairs, and it’s something we have very serious concerns about. Frankly, everyone in the region who is in business needs their awareness raised about this. Once it’s done, it will be a marvelous thing, a terrific improvement. But between now and then, it’s going to tax businesses — and the ability of facilities such as ours to attract people.”

But, when it comes to such challenges, he’s accustomed to planning ahead, because that’s how a century-old institution remains vital in the public’s mind.

“In a 100-year-old organization, I have to be thinking 25 years out,” he said. “This place has got to be as relevant in 2040 as it is in 2015. Mr. Brooks, when he conceived of this place, he was thinking way into the future.”

The fairgrounds have seen plenty of change; Cassidy recalled how the site was once an ice-hockey mecca before the rink was eliminated in 1992. And he showed BusinessWest detailed plans for how the Big E grounds might have been used for several Olympic events in 2024, including cycling and cross-country — plans that are now defunct, obviously, since Boston is no longer competing to host those Games. But the effort demonstrates how Eastern States Exposition leaders need to think outside the box to remain relevant in the next 100 years.

“We have a responsibility to families to maintain ourselves as a place that provides a family environment an outlet for socializing and learning about agriculture and industry, and I think those things won’t change; those are staples of American society,” he said. “There’s a sense of community at Eastern States, and fewer and fewer places have that sense.”


Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]