Rock in the Shed



There is no doubt that the program now known as the Tanglewood Popular Artist Series has presented some of the greatest names in rock, pop and jazz, including The Who, Bob Dylan, Santana and Miles Davis.

There also is no doubt that in the beginning, the program gave Tanglewood administrators some prodigious headaches as they tried to deal with huge crowds, traffic jams, loud music and an audience considerably less sedentary than the music-lovers the BSO was accustomed to.

It began innocently.

In 1968, Tanglewood announced it would host a series of concerts on selected Tuesday evenings that would feature "contemporary music by contemporary groups." The series was called "Tuesday Tanglewood Trends," and Boston Symphony Orchestra music director Erich Leinsdorf said it was "significant and necessary" that the tastes of today's youth be represented at Tanglewood.

Those first three shows, all held in July 1968, were fairly low-key: Judy Collins and the Modern Jazz Quartet on July 17, Ravi Shankar and his Festival from India on July 24, and The Association on July 31. Crowds were, according to Eagle files, "orderly and enthusiastic."

The acts got more diverse in 1969. Janis Joplin opened the series that summer, on July 8, playing to a crowd of about 7,700 and doing two encores. Iron Butterfly was next, before about 7,500. The band's extended version of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" -- which included a 28-minute drum solo -- had the crowd pushing against the stage, making the small contingent of state troopers on hand nervous.

Famed rock ‘n' roll promoter Bill Graham produced the final show that summer.

Graham was the owner and promoter of the Fillmore Ballroom in San Francisco and the Fillmore East in New York City. He called the two-year series of concerts he promoted "The Fillmore at Tanglewood."

According to "The Clock That Went Backwards," a music blog that discussed The Who and other 1970s bands, "much like his approach at the Fillmores, Graham's series presented diverse, handpicked triple bills, but with the added advantage of a beautiful open-air venue and plenty of informal lawn seating."

A good idea on paper. But rock and pop were burgeoning. One show featured The Who, Jefferson Airplane and B.B. King. In addition, Graham brought the psychedelic Joshua Light Show from New York City.

The bill was a knockout, drawing a then-record crowd of 21,250. (The previous mark was 15,000 for a BSO concert in the late 1950s.)

Traffic was jammed, services were overwhelmed, and residents abutting Tanglewood heard The Who blast through their hit rock opera "Tommy." Many were not happy. Before the next summer series, again promoted by Graham, several townspeople approached the selectmen in Lenox and Stockbridge to complain. Eventually, Tanglewood agreed to an attendance cap.

The noise was a different story. The decibel level was high and, to many in the area, disconcerting. A lawsuit was filed in 1976 in an attempt to limit the noise to 90 decibels. This led to a ludicrous scene, as reported by The Eagle, of a Tanglewood employee standing by the mixing board during a 1977 Linda Ron stadt show and constantly ordering the en gineer to "turn the music down." The law suit eventually was settled out of court.

Drugs always were an issue in Tanglewood's early days of rock. But police took a relatively benign approach to them for many years. There usually were a handful of arrests at every show, but the smell of marijuana was always a part of the evening.

Most artists in the early days were accepted despite their issues. Joplin reportedly imbibed half a bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey before going onstage but seemed to be in reasonably good form, according to an Eagle review. Sly and the Family Stone went on hours late but were still enthusiastically received.

In the face of traffic, noise and other complaints, Tanglewood shut the series down after 1971. It returned in 1973, but the artistic lineup was more pop-oriented, with Roberta Flack, John Denver, Seals & Crofts and America as the headliners that year. In subsequent summers, soft-rock notables Barry Manilow, Shaun Cassidy and The Beach Boys headlined.

But the problems didn't go away. A Jackson Browne show in 1977 drew a record crowd of 21,370. The selectmen from Lenox and Stockbridge were still contending with traffic and noise issues until an attendance cap of 18,000 was imposed in the 1990s.

A more coordinated parking and security plan has greatly lessened the impact, although Tanglewood officials regularly warn residents of the so-called "James Taylor effect." The locally based Taylor now performs annually at Tanglewood and inevitably attracts a capacity crowd of 18,000.


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