In Frigid Early Spring, Lining Up for a Rite of Summer in Western Massachusetts


The temperature was 25 degrees at 6 a.m. on Tuesday, with wind-whipped flurries in the air, as Gary Soldati pulled his pickup truck into the parking lot at Tanglewood, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s outdoor concert venue in the Berkshires region of Massachusetts.

Four hours remained before tickets for the summer season went on sale. Even in the wintry darkness, Mr. Soldati, 72, of West Stockbridge, could see he was the first one there. Now all he had to do was wait: for the box office to open at 10 — and then for summer to begin.

According to the calendar, it was the first day of spring. But in New England, it would be weeks before the air turned reliably balmy. In the meantime, residents were clinging to signs that the cold would eventually retreat: a stray crocus in the yard. An extra hour of daylight. The annual unlocking of the Tanglewood box office.

Two miles away in downtown Lenox, locals were keenly aware of the day’s significance.

“You start to see a glimmer,” said Monika Pizzichemi, manager at the Wit Gallery and a third-generation Tanglewood enthusiast. “We are on the cusp, and it’s coming.”

By late June, the town of 5,000 will be crowded with visitors from New England and beyond, many of whom could not fathom summer without Tanglewood and its open-air concerts — until the pandemic hit. The season was canceled in 2020 and cut in half in 2021, leading to painful financial losses for a region whose aging, shrinking population relies heavily on the economic boost the two-month festival brings.

The return of the concerts brought relief, with no apparent long-term falloff in attendance. Last year’s summer-long turnout of 292,000 was close to pre-pandemic levels, and program leaders expect a 5 percent increase in ticket sales this year.

The traffic may be infuriating on concert nights, but glimpses of classical music celebrities wandering the town — Leonard Bernstein was a regular, and the cellist Yo-Yo Ma and composer John Williams still are — are among the payoffs. So is the infusion of young people — budding conductors, composers and musicians — who take part in intensive summer training programs.

“To us, a frustrating but temporary traffic jam every once in a while is worth it to know that all those people want to be here and share in our deep affection for this place,” the local newspaper, The Berkshire Eagle, wrote of Tanglewood last summer.

On Tuesday morning, summer’s glory seemed far off as the grounds crew threw down salt on icy pavement and music fans in parkas clutched hot cups of coffee with numb hands. Most of those standing in line to buy tickets were hardy locals from nearby towns; they were quick to remind any complainers that it had been colder last year on the box office’s opening day.

Mr. Soldati, the earliest arrival, waited inside his truck for more than two hours, using the time to rig fishing lures. He emerged only when he saw another early bird plunking down a lawn chair in front of the box office door. A surf fisherman who regularly braves the icy ocean in a wet suit, Mr. Soldati pulled on extra layers before taking the third spot in line just after 8:30 a.m.

“My wife loves Jon Batiste,” he said, explaining his mission. (Mr. Batiste will be one of this season’s first performances, on June 28.)

Many of those who showed up on Tuesday have gravitated to Tanglewood for decades, and feel a deep connection to its pastoral, 500-acre campus, composed of two former Berkshires estates. They return every summer to their favorite spots on the sweeping lawn that encircles the stage, spreading blankets and settling in for a Sunday afternoon in the thrall of Mozart or Mahler.

Leslee Carsewell, an artist from Sheffield, recalled childhood summers at Belvoir Terrace, a nearby camp for girls, where everyone dressed in their uniforms to attend orchestra rehearsals at Tanglewood on Saturday mornings.

“I came at 12 and was smitten,” she said, clutching a long, carefully organized wish list of concert dates and seats against her puffy coat. “This place is in my DNA.”

Bundled into a black fur hood nearby, Doro Lambert of Lenox had a shorter shopping list but equal fervor.

“I go to hear Beethoven’s Ninth every year, and it makes me cry,” she said.

Some showed up at the box office on Tuesday to avoid extra service fees online, or with hopes of scoring better seats in person. Several older people said they prefer to buy at the box office because they fear online scams or stressful computer glitches.

Tanglewood has 5,000 covered seats and space for 13,000 on the lawn; ticket prices on Tuesday ranged from $20 for orchestra rehearsals on the lawn to $249 for the closest covered seats to see the most popular artists.

There was a little grumbling in the line about the lack of tickets for two sold-out concerts on July 3 and 4 by James Taylor — 50 years after his first Tanglewood performance in 1974 — which were scooped up in a pre-sale for orchestra donors. But most buyers emerged happy.

In total, three ticket agents sold 745 tickets in five hours, to 111 in-person patrons, the Boston Symphony said. They amounted to 7 percent of the 20,000 tickets sold on opening day.

Jonathan Cade, a local middle and high school music teacher who recently retired, was among the ticket sellers. He said he was buoyed by the lighthearted summer vibes, but felt a twinge when customers asked for concerts late in the season, when the sumptuous days of summer in the Berkshires would be dwindling.

“People are asking about tickets in August,” he said. “I don’t even want to think about August.”

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