Intense storms in Southern Berkshire delay Tanglewood concert


LENOX -- A line of intense thunderstorms with torrential downpours rolled through Southern Berkshire County on Sunday afternoon, disrupting and delaying several scheduled outdoor events, but providing instant relief from a week of torrid heat and humidity.

Hardest hit were West Stockbridge, Stockbridge and Lenox as the first of two storm cells rolled through shortly after 2 p.m., followed by an equally intense batch that hit Sheffield, Great Barrington and points to the east. The rain and wind caused temperatures to plummet from 86 to 72 in a half-hour at Pittsfield Municipal Airport.

Although 1 to 2 inches of rain fell in parts of South Berkshire, only 0.17 inches had been recorded at the airport by 5 p.m., since Pittsfield was on the northern fringe of the thunderstorms.

The severe weather caused a rare rain delay at Tanglewood, where the Boston Symphony activated its storm warning procedures to ensure the safety of its patrons. Several thousand concertgoers on the lawn awaiting the Boston Pops and guest vocalist Vince Gill were ushered into the safety of the Koussevitzky Music Shed, while an estimated 300 more awaited the all-clear from their vehicles in the parking lots.

"Welcome to Tanglewood in all its glory," quipped Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart as he announced what turned out to be a 40-minute delay in the start of the Western-themed program.

The scheduled 25-minute intermission was canceled and several pieces were scrapped as the orchestra and Gill sailed through an 85-minute set, concluding with the traditional "Stars and Stripes Forever" accompanied by the unfurling of a mammoth American flag at the front of the Shed.

Since the 5,100-seat Shed was sold out, lawn ticketholders were invited either to return to the soggy grounds or to exchange their tickets for a future concert. Orchestra manager Ray Wellbaum made the announcement from the stage, telling patrons they could stop by the box office or call the customer service line at 888-266-1200 for details.

Gill, the veteran and widely-honored country star, took the storminess in stride, joking as he came on stage: "OK, I'm moving here."

He performed a seven-song set, including "Whenever You Come Around," dedicated to his wife of 13 years, singer-songwriter Amy Grant, and "Go Rest High on That Mountain," which Gill released in 1995 as a tribute to his older brother Bob, who had succumbed to a heart attack.

Tanglewood's management activated a sophisticated weather-detection system several years ago and designated major structures on the grounds as shelters to protect concertgoers from dangerous electrical storms. The National Weather Service had issued multiple storm warnings for the vicinity around 2 p.m.

Before crossing into the Berkshires, the thunderstorms caused some flooding and downed some trees and electrical lines in eastern Columbia County, N.Y.


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