Dottering old age trumped a badly conceived notion that my husband and I would drive back to Acton, MA, after a Mohawk Trails concert in Charlemont, last night, and at the last moment we elected to stay at a motel. Otherwise, we would have missed the spectacular added experience of Shelburne Falls. Summer concerts rightfully should include more than the music itself — by providing opportunities to explore the architecture, the landscape, the cuisine, the social settings, and especially the tranquility and sense of well-being, that so much of New England has to offer in this hospitable season.
But lest we lose our reader’s interest, first the music. We had been considering the trip to the concert, but Steve Ledbetter’s high praise — even before he had submitted his fine review — sealed the decision. Wise one on our part. When has tenor William Hite not moved his listeners? Now we can add some unfamiliar music he treated us to with the Schubert and Schumann lieder, Bach, his Monteverdi’s Apollo, … which we have been fortunate to hear from him. Yes, his diction makes program-note reading unnecessary, and his phrasing and interpretation are often very moving — like the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. And yes, his final pianissimo notes of “Clun,” and the attendant quiet that held for half a minute, are testament to the feeling he brings to his singing. (Ledbetter’s BMInt review here pointed out that the first violinist of the New England Piano Quintet was filling in; could have fooled us. Peggy Spencer and also Kathy Andrew, gray-haired ladies both, are more than proficient fiddlers.)
Towns like Shelburne Falls require time. Our trip involved leaving mid-afternoon for a purely serendipitous pre-concert dinner on the outside deck of the West End Pub. (Also fortuitously, we had reservations.) We faced the now-pedestrian Bridge of Flowers and the vehicular 1890 trestle bridge crossing the Deerfield River. The bar not only could pamper me with a Negrone, but also, the food is excellent. Leaving the restaurant, one heads north and immediately takes the left fork onto North Street, to join Rt. 2, for a long, beautiful five-mile drive beside the river, past single early-19th-century brick houses and large beautiful farms and lush fields, to the Federated Church in Charlemont. (For those who prefer a pre-concert picnic, there’s a perfect site on the river side, with two or three tables, about half-way to the town.)
Cellphone service is non-existent there, so I felt obliged to use the church’s phone for only one call — to a motel I knew right away was wrong for us. Next time it probably will be Red Rose. My alert spouse suggested we bypass breakfast at the restaurant associated with the motel we stayed at, so we headed back into Shelburne Falls.
Eat right in the center of town, at the Foxtown Diner, with the townies and the kayakers, for good food, good service, good prices. Then walk around. A small side street a door or two from the diner leads to a small park overlooking the falls. The river bottom is one enormous ledge, eaten away by water erosion and glacial action. Signs inform visitors of the history of those glacial potholes (some, the largest in the world), and the 1744 treaty between the Indians who salmon fished there. Crossing the river on that impressively planted Bridge of Flowers, one sees a well-maintained full-Victorian church (now, Seventh-Day Adventist). To the left is a hauntingly lonely complex of old brick mill buildings, with an elevated wooden walkway between two of them and a small brick guard house.
Unlike the Peterborough, NH area, which was “discovered” in the last quarter of the 19th century for summer residence by Cambridge intellectuals such as the James family, and has catered to such since, Shelburne Falls’s community is a blend of generations-old families and the influx, in the 1970s, of craftspeople. Local artisans offer blown glass, sculpture,
The main street (Bridge Street) still has many of its 19th-century brick and granite buildings, minimally altered over the years. In fact, after a fire destroyed two abutting buildings, a new one was constructed that is sympathetic – in the best “preservation” mode — to the existing streetscape. For the last few days, scenes for an upcoming movie, Labor Day, starring Kate Winslett, were shot on the street. Two locals told us that period-correct commercial signs were installed to cover the existing ones, including one for S&H Green Stamps. … In an odd twist, much of the movie is being shot in Acton, MA, where we (alone) are summer residents.
Day trips for summer concerts are not impossible. For Sunday afternoon concerts at Monadnock Music, one can pack a nice liquid-fortified picnic to enjoy at the many roadside opportunities in the southern New Hampshire towns where the concerts are being held — usually in picturesque meetinghouses. A few nice restaurants are also on hand. But for summer concert locations like Mohawk Trails, Tanglewood, Cape Cod, Portland (ME), each a two-hour-or-more drive from downtown Boston, it makes sense to spend time to enjoy what the area has to offer. In fact, it is foolhardy to do otherwise.
There are four more concerts scheduled by Mohawk Trails, for each Friday and Saturday night in July. Each will feature music of this season’s composers chosen for relevance to 1862, 1912, 1962— Debussy, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Fritz Kreisler, and John Cage. One concert, at least, should be mandatory, and should include investigating Shelburne Falls. Those who are not facing their octogenarian years can do it all in a day, I suppose.