People Of Color Rocked Tanglewood 2019

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BOOGIE PARADISE: One Lucky kid joined Earth Wind & Fire on stage for their 50th Anniversary tour at Tanglewood in Lenox, Massachusetts (PHOTO BY Toby Rogers)  

Just a Peter Pan Bus Ride From Manhattan's Port Authority to Lenox, Massachusetts, Tanglewood-  the Boston Symphony Orchestra's 592-acre summer home since 1937- nestled in the calming Berkshire Mountains is one of the most unique outdoor music venues in the United States, if not the world.

Yes, there is the amazingly lush 33-acre Stern Grove in San Francisco's Sunset District that is a few years older, cooler in the summer and is always free. New York State has the 2.400-acre Saratoga Performing Arts Center(SPAC) just south of the Adirondacks and Sullivan County's esoteric 800-acre Bethel Woods, site of the original 1969 Woodstock festival. 

But there really is something special about Tanglewood. Unlike the other venues mentioned above, Tanglewood's stage is neither dead center or far off in the distance of their grounds. At Tanglewwod, the flow between entertainment and nature is perfectly balanced. As the sun begins to set, the cool mountain air rushes down while the stars begin to pop much brighter than anywhere in the Tri-state area. The old trees at Tanglewood, like Stern Grove's Eucalyptus and Pines don't look all landscaped.

Over the decades Tanglewood has evolved from all Classical to adding intermediate pop shows throughout the summer. In the 1960's and 70's, Tanglewood went through a revolutionary faze, booking acts like The Who, Santana and an electric-funked out Miles Davis. 

In the last few years, Tanglewwod appeared to be struggling with their musical direction, clinging to older, Whiter acts and drawing older, Whiter people. Of course, there was diversity, but always felt slightly token. 

Not anymore. 

This summer season at Tanglewood was much more diverse than any previous this reporter recalls since covering music at Tanglewwod since 2015. The diversity on stage was also reflected off stage as more people of color came out to support musicians and acts from their communities. The town of Lenox is uber-friendly to communities of color and if you book into one of the many places in town like my personal favorites the Gateways Inn and Restaurant and Garden Gables Inn, you are literary in short walking distance from Tanglewood, a small market-deli, lots of great restaurants with diverse cuisine options, wine and cheese shops and the Peter Pan bus stop going back to NYC. 

The most noticeable difference was Earth Wind and Fire on 6/28/19. Celebrating their 50th anniversary as a group, EWF brought with them the most racially diverse crowd I have witnessed at Tanglewood. With a blistering set loaded with the seven of their top-ten hits, EWF now is a touring machine. With three original members remaining - Philip Bailey, Verdine White and Ralph Johnson- EWF is still a force to be reckoned with.  

On 8/11/19 Cellist Yo-Yo Ma played all six Bach cello suites without sheet music. As part of his "Bach Project" that began in August, 2018 to help "shape a better future," When complete, Mr. Ma will have performed at 36 locations around the world. His performance was remarkable, keeping over sixteen thousand people completely quiet for the entire set with just a cello. The stars beamed brightly as these 300 year old compositions were brought back to life that night. For an encore, Mr. Ma brought out James Taylor to play "Sweet Baby James."

On 8/24/19, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Ave and Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals set the Shed on fire with their double dose of Black fire. With them came a much younger and racially diverse crowd then Tanglewood is used to, but the venue looked more alive with them around then the usual GOP Convention-sea-of-White-hair seen most of the summer. In an unusual flip of the script, Trombone Shorty whipped up the crowd into a frenzy, only to have Mr. Harper cool them down. Sultry R & B singer Jessy Wilson knocked the audience on their ass too with her seductive surprise set. Ms. Wilson may be new to the music scene, but her future will certainly be bright. 

Four days later, Gladys Knight...what can I say, was Gladys Knight. Mrs. Knight has earned her spot in R&B-Royalty and nothing she did at Tanglewood could dispute that.

For the 2020 season, we can only hope Tanglewood will even go Blacker. Drawing in younger, diverse audiences into Tanglewood will only strengthen the classical summer programs. If someone gravitates to let’s say, the original Wailers or Los Lobos, they might just hear about John Williams’ next gig. What about an annual Jazz festival one weekend each summer? It will be the 50th anniversary on Carlos Santana's 1970 concert at Tanglewood. Why not celebrate that and book Santana next summer?

If Tanglewood can handle in 2020 what it could in 1970 that is. 

Special thanks to Emily Cotten. 

Earth, Wind & Fire @ Tanglewood - 6/28/69

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1LJ-RjDw910

Yo-Yo Ma & James Taylor @ Tanglewood- 8/12/19

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UoURkWYiQKc

Ben Harper @ Tanglewood-  8/24/19

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iajqpZ54bhU  

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