Summer in the Valley
25 Ways to Enjoy Everyone’s Favorite Season
It’s officially summer in the Pioneer Valley, an exceedingly enjoyable, if all-too-short time marked by a seemingly endless variety of diversions. Some of these — Six Flags, Tanglewood, and Jacob’s Pillow come to mind — are well known, or should be. But others fall into that ‘best-kept-secret’ category, and shouldn’t. These include everything from the Holyoke Blue Sox to the Nash Dinosaur Tracks in South Hadley; from one of the few remaining drive-in movie theaters (located near the New Hampshire border) to the often-overlooked Quabbin Reservoir. For this issue, BusinessWest offers 25 intriguing suggestions for how one can devote some time during this summer in the Valley. There are myriad more, but these provide a good indication of what this region has to offer during everyone’s favorite time of the year.
Berkshires Arts Festival
Ski Butternut, 380 State Road, Great Barrington, MA
Schedule: July 4-6 and July 12-14
The Berkshires Arts Festival has proven to be so successful in its 12 years of existence that organizers have expanded the event into a second week. The festival attracts hundreds of acclaimed artists and big-time collectors from across the country for two consecutive weekends, transforming Butternut from a ski lodge into an outstanding art gallery. And while the artwork is the main focus, the festival also provides musical entertainment from renowned local, national, and international acts. Visitors can also participate in fun, interactive events like a puppetry and storytelling workshop. Besides, it’s hard to turn down tented AC and free parking.
Berkshire Botanical Garden
5 West Stockbridge Road, Stockbridge, MA
Schedule: May 1 to Oct. 14, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily
Admission: Free for members; adults, $15; seniors, $12; students, $12; children under 12, free
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 summer-guided tours on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 10 a.m., from June 15 through Sept. 1.
10 North St., Blandford, MA
Schedule: Labor Day weekend, Aug. 30 to Sept. 2
Not much appears to have changed in the 145 years of the Blandford Fair, but that’s what makes it so charming. This Labor Day weekend, at the 146th edition of the event, fairgoers can witness the classic rituals of the giant pumpkin display, the pony draw, and the horseshoe tournament. Most likely not seen in the earlier days is the fantastically loud but always-intriguing chainsaw-carving demonstration and the windshield-smashing demolition derby, both highlights of this year’s fair. With many more exhibits and attractions to offer, a weekend at the Blandford Fair is a wonderful way to close out the summer.
Bridge of Flowers
Shelburne Falls, MA
Schedule: April 1 to Oct. 30
Where can you find Siberian Iris and Iris Germanica (the bearded beauties, of course), Wild Wings, Ghost Train, Fire Breather, or False Indigo? The Bridge of Flowers, of course. With interesting names, and even more amazing flowers, this once-abandoned trolley bridge is now a garden pathway, cared for by the Shelburne Falls Area Women’s Club Bridge of Flowers Committee for more than 80 years. While advances in transportation doomed its original use, the bridge eventually bloomed as a tourist attraction, and from bulb season to Dahlia season, and every bloom season in between, it welcomes flower followers from all over the country.
Brimfield Antique Show
Route 20, Brimfield, MA
Schedule: July 9-14, Sept. 3-8 (Tuesday-Sunday); open from sunrise to sundown
Call it tkotchke heaven, or adopt the old phrase ‘one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.’ But whatever your connection to this wide variety of aged items, you’ll find folks flocking to a mile-long stretch of antiques and collectibles along Route 20 in Brimfield during six days in July, rain or shine. The annual Brimfield Antique Show labels itself the “Antiques and Collectibles Capital of the United States,” and it’s hard to disagree when, during the course of three events a year — in May, July, and September — the shows attract 6,000 dealers who buy, sell, and trade items from bygone eras to more than 130,000 antiques aficionados from around the world.
Green River Festival
Greenfield Community College
One College Dr., Greenfield, MA
Schedule: July 20-21
Admission: $65-75; weekend pass, $90; children 12 and under, free
The Green River Festival remains the Pioneer Valley’s one-stop option for fans of both hot-air balloons and eclectic musical acts. Located on the Greenfield Community College campus, the festival began in 1986 as purely a hot-air-balloon affair, but quickly integrated musical entertainment into the event. Now, the festival features a packed weekend lineup including acclaimed musicians drawn from an assortment of traditional as well as unconventional genres such as ‘high-intensity gypsy swing’ and ‘adventurous folk.’ Sore from the high-intensity dancing, visitors can sample the local cuisine, try their hand at a crafts workshop, or check out all the action from above in a colorful balloon.
Hancock Shaker Village
1843 West Housatonic St., Pittsfield, MA
Schedule: Through Oct. 27
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 successfully 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.
Holyoke Blue Sox
MacKenzie Stadium, 500 Beech St., Holyoke, MA
Schedule: June 6 through early August (playoffs Aug. 4-12)
Tickets: $4-6; children 5 and under, free; group rates available
Valley residents do not have to trek out to Boston in order to catch a Sox game this summer. The Holyoke Blue Sox, members of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, play close to home at MacKenzie Stadium in Holyoke. These Sox may not have David Ortiz batting cleanup, but they do feature a roster comprised 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.
Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival
358 George Carter Road, Becket, MA
(413) 243-0745 (box office)
Schedule: June 15 – Aug. 25
Admission: $22 and up
As the 81st season of Jacob’s Pillow opens this summer, the annual dance festival finds itself firmly rooted as one of the premier venues for dance in the U.S. The picturesque, 220-acre campus in the Berkshires is a national historic landmark, and was recently awarded a National Medal of Arts by President Obama. Dance enthusiasts will surely marvel at the 350 free and ticketed recitals performed by celebrated companies from around the world, but any devotee of the arts will enjoy Jacob’s Pillow’s other offerings of photography and art exhibits, seminars, discussions, and film screenings, many of which come at no cost.
Lady Bea Cruise Boat
1 Alvord St., South Hadley, MA
Schedule: May through early October
Admission: $10-20; season passes available
Western Mass. residents should be reminded that Interstate 91 is not the only direct thoroughfare from South Hadley to Northampton. The Lady Bea will take you up and back on daily cruises along the Valley’s other major highway: the Connecticut River. If you don’t feel like sharing the 75-minute narrated voyage with others, rent the boat out for a private excursion. Or take advantage of the entertainment and themed cruises that feature local artists. Just like your car, the Lady Bea is climate-controlled and chock full of amenities, though your Honda Civic doesn’t come equipped with a full bar.
62 Nash Hill Road, Ludlow, MA
Schedule: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily
Lupa Zoo brings the African savannah to Western Mass. residents. The late Henry Lupa fulfilled his lifelong dream of creating a zoo right next to his Ludlow house, filling it with hundreds of animals and instilling a warm, familial atmosphere. At Lupa Zoo, you can be entertained by monkeys, feed giraffes on a custom-built tower, or marvel at the bright colors of tropical birds. In addition to offering animal shows and animal-feeding programs, the staff at Lupa Zoo promotes conservation and sustainability, so if you’re thinking about heading to the zoo, grab your bike from the garage and start pedaling.
MASS MoCA’s Bang on a Can
1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams, MA
Schedule: Museum summer hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Bang on a Can: July 15 to Aug. 3, weekdays, 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 4:30 p.m.
Admission: Adults, $15; students, $10; children 7-16, $5; children 6 and under, free; members, free
MASS MoCA has a big-bang theory that large-scale, contemporary art isn’t the only interesting reason to venture to the northwest corner of the Commonwealth. So at MASS MoCA, the former 19th-century factory buildings turned art galleries, the annual Bang on a Can music series turns the whole campus into a spontaneous combustion chamber for music from talented students and renowned guest conductors. Daily gallery recitals offer an extra measure of creative expression during a visit to the multiple buildings housing contemporary forms of art. Bang on a Can recitals are free with museum admission.
Mountain Park at Mount Tom
Mountain Park Access Road off Route 5, Holyoke, MA
(413) 586-8686 (box office)
Schedule: July 27 and Aug. 16; 8 p.m.
Tucked inside dense woods near the base of Mount Tom is one of the Valley’s hidden gems. What began as a recreation area near a trolley station more than 100 years ago became a popular amusement park in the early to mid-1900s, only to fade from the landscape in the late ’80s. Reconstituted as a concert venue in 2009, Mountain Park is back in favor and playing host to established musical groups in a summer concert series. This summer, jam to English prog-rockers Yes (July 27) and Boston punk stars Dropkick Murphys (Aug. 16) at the park’s scenic amphitheater.
Mount Sugarloaf State Reservation
300 Sugarloaf St., South Deerfield, MA
Schedule: May through October, dawn to dusk
If you really want to commemorate your summer of 2013, then you might want to drive or climb the steep road up Mount Sugarloaf in South Deerfield to take some photos with the family at one of the most picturesque locations in Western Mass. Indeed, the view from the Observation Tower atop the peak, overlooking the curved, tree-lined Connecticut River far below, is the most brochure-worthy, and published, image of this region. The state reservation, which consists of two summits, North and South Sugarloaf, boasts more than 500 acres of land for picnicking, picture taking, and hiking the many trails. Be warned, some of the trails will be quite challenging … and provide some of the most stunning views of the Connecticut River Valley.
Nash Dinosaur Track Site and Rock Shop
594 Amherst Road, South Hadley, MA
Schedule: Thursday through Monday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 4 p.m.
Admission: Adults, $3; children, $2
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, near today’s site of Nash Dinosaur Track Site and Rock Shop in South Hadley. Originally uncovered in 1802 by a farmboy plowing his family farm, the findings weren’t officially called dinosaur tracks until the 1830s. 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.
981 Northfield Road, Hinsdale, New Hampshire
Schedule: Fridays and Saturdays at dusk, rain or shine
Admission: Adults, $9.50; children under 12, $5.50
Take a trip back in time to the Northfield Drive-In and experience summer movie watching like your parents used to do … under the stars. Serving Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont for 65 years, the venue welcomes families to gather for a summer Friday or Saturday evening of clean, fun-filled entertainment, which includes two or three first-run movies. And don’t forget the hot dogs, pizza slices, and hot, buttered popcorn from the snack bar, of course.
485 Ware Road, Belchertown, MA
Schedule: Open dawn to dusk, year-round
If you love the outdoors, there is nothing but pure nature on more than 25,000 acres overlooking the man-made, 412-billion-gallon Quabbin Reservoir. A warm summer day can be filled with hiking, biking, picnicking, nature photography, fishing, and wildlife watching, especially the growing population of resident eagles. After flooding five towns, the Commonwealth created the Quabbin during the 1930s as the main drinking-water source for the city of Boston. It has since become the ‘accidental wilderness’ due to the thousands of acres of protected watershed area. Be sure to visit the Quabbin Interpretive Services Program in the Quabbin Visitor Center to learn more about this carefully regulated, yet open-to-all, park.
Six Flags New England
1623 Main St., Agawam, MA
Schedule: Six Flags: weekdays, 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., weekends, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Hurricane Harbor: weekdays, 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; weekends, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Admission: $45-55; advance tickets and season passes available
Summer doesn’t have to be filled with lazy days. Consider a free-fall through a 250-foot enclosed waterslide at Six Flags New England called the Bonzai Pipeline. Just launched this summer, the all-new, 65-foot tall waterslide complex is in Hurricane Harbor water park and joins numerous rollercoasters boasting foreboding names like Scream, Mind Eraser, and Cyclone — and, of course, the world-famous Bizarro coaster, the centerpiece ride of the popular theme park. But fear not: the park has attractions for everyone along the stomach-queasiness spectrum. The carousel and bumper cars are significantly closer to sea level, as are the two giant wave pools in Hurricane Harbor. No matter what type of ride you prefer, Six Flags will provide many smiles — or screams — on a summer day.
Stearns Square Concert Series
Worthington and Bridge streets
Schedule: Thursdays, July 11 through Sept. 12; opening bands, 6-7:30 p.m.; headline bands, 8-9:30 p.m.
The sounds of guitars, saxophones, and drums bouncing off the buildings in downtown Springfield tells you it’s summer in the city when the Stearns Square Concert Series makes its run from July 11 to Sept. 12. What started 13 years ago as the coolest free Thursday-night summer concert series to liven up the cerntral business district has become the hottest outdoor spot to catch a diverse range of live music, people watch, and marvel at the spectacle of motorcycles parked along the park that have given the successful series a secondary moniker — ‘Bike Night.’ This year’s slate of performers includes internationally acclaimed musicians Ana Popovic (Aug. 8), Springfield native Taj Mahal (July 18), and returning favorites FAT (Aug. 22), Roomful of Blues (Aug. 29), and Georgia Satellites (Sept. 5), to name a few.
297 West St., Lenox, MA
Schedule: June 23 through Sept. 1
Admission: $21 and up
For outdoor music, Tanglewood represents the best of what Western Mass. has to offer. This beautiful campus in Lenox has been the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra since 1937, and has been drawing visitors from around the country for just as long. Pack some sandwiches for a picnic, throw a blanket and folding chairs in the car, and take in a magical evening of music on the lawn. While Tanglewood always puts forth its fair share of classical programs with superb concert soloists, it also offers performances by contemporary groups, like this summer’s shows by the Steve Miller Band and Guster, for those more inclined to the Beatles than Beethoven.
Western Mass. Vineyards and Wineries
Various towns in Western Mass.
Schedule: Check websites
Western Mass. is the perfect place to ‘wine’ down with friends at a winery, and there are several to choose from. Consider Green River Ambrosia in Greenfield (ever heard of honey wine?); or Mount Warner Vineyards in Hadley, open by appointment; or the Black Birch Winery in Southampton, which offers summer wine tastings on weekends. If you’re still thirsty for more local variety, try the Amherst Farm Winery in Amherst, Les Trois Emmes Winery & Vineyard in Hadley, or the Pioneer Valley Vineyard in Hatfield, which all have retail shops to explore as you’re sipping the fruits of the past year’s labor.
Williamstown Theatre Festival
1000 Main St., Williamstown, MA
Schedule: June 26 through Aug. 18
Admission: $20 and up; some events free
For 58 years, the Williamstown Theatre Festival on the campus of Williams College has been offering Tony Award-wining theater in the Berkshires. During that time, the theater venue of the Main Stage and Nikos Stage has attracted such performers as E.G. Marshall, Blythe Danner, Colleen Dewhurst, and Christopher Reeve, and the summer of 2013 will be no different. The festival will present a range of both classical and original productions, late-night cabarets, free theatre, and other special programs like the Family Friday Workshops, from 4 to 6 p.m. from July 5 to August 9.
Yiddish Book Center
Hampshire College, 893 West St., Amherst, MA
Schedule: July 18-20, 7 p.m.; July 21, noon, 2, 4, and 7 p.m.
Admission: $8-38; festival pass: $135 for members or $175 general admission; pass includes admission to all concerts, lectures, and workshops
Forget Woodstock; discover the best in klezmer and new Yiddish music at the 2nd annual Yidstock. Set on the stage at the Amherst-based Yiddish Book Center, the weekend will offer an engaging glimpse of Jewish roots and jazzy soul music through popular Yiddish bands like the Klezmer Conservatory Band, Klezperanto, Margot Leverett & the Klezmer Mountain Boys, and the Yidstock All-Stars. Come early on Friday for a lecture on lost Hebrew musical treasures or learn Yiddish folk dance.
7 Main Street, Charlemont, MA
Schedule: Through Oct. 15
Admission: Varies; family packages available
This summer it may be time to cancel that Netflix account and take advantage of the many outdoor opportunities found at Zoar Outdoor. Zoar offers virtually every option available to the adventurous soul in Western Mass.: kayaking, rock climbing, white-water rafting, canoeing, and ziplining in the trees down a mountain that overlooks the Deerfield River. Zoar offers on-site camping and lodging to those itching to escape the pressures of the city and suburbia. For those inclined to get really close to nature and experience the Berkshires in the trees and on the water, the staff at Zoar also lead overnight rafting and zipping tours into the wilderness.
The Zoo in Forest Park and Education Center
Forest Park, 302 Sumner Ave., Springfield, MA
Schedule: Weekdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; weekends, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Located in Springfield’s historic Forest Park, the Zoo and Education Center offers a number of exhibits and educational programs to the Valley’s animal lovers. Visitors to the zoo can behold the power of an African lion and alligator, or determine for themselves whether the Madagascar hissing cockroach lives up to its name. Children can be especially engaged at the Zoo in Forest Park through Zoo Camp and the Crew in Training volunteer program. End the visit with a train ride through the grounds.