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90 minutes to reach Tanglewood? Chilly, rainy conditions caused a last-minute traffic jam before Bonnie Raitt show

Bonnie Raitt singing on stage

Bonnie Raitt performs Saturday evening in the Shed at Tanglewood. The chilly, wet conditions and balky ticket scanners conspired to slow some concertgoers' entry to the grounds.

LENOX — What happens when on a cold, rainy night, close to 16,000 concertgoers converge on Tanglewood at the last minute for a 7 p.m. show by Bonnie Raitt?

Inevitably, as Lenox Police Chief Stephen E. O’Brien pointed out on Tuesday, there were significant traffic backups ahead of the show, especially from Richmond on Lenox Mountain Road, the favored route for visitors from New York state.

Typically, he said, on a fair-weather day, ticket holders arrive gradually ahead of the 4 p.m. gate opening with picnickers and patrons keen on close-up lawn spaces.

But with showers and temperatures in the upper 40s, most fans chose to plan their arrival much closer to the scheduled 7 p.m. performance time, O’Brien said.

“Up to 16,000 people showed up at the same time because they didn’t want to be cold and wet, instead of spreading it out from three hours before the event,” O’Brien said.

And to make matters worse, there were ticket scanner issues at the gates, the Boston Symphony’s Tanglewood management stated.

Richmond resident Robert Youdelman told The Eagle he and his wife, Karen, were stuck in “the worst traffic jam by far in 15 years heading to Lenox or Tanglewood events from Richmond” via Lenox Mountain Road.

They were caught in a 90-minute backup in the late afternoon. “It doesn’t bode well for the rest of the Tanglewood season unless some solution is found,” he said.

In a statement, the Boston Symphony Orchestra issued an apology to the patrons “who were delayed by the unfortunate confluence of weather-related traffic and ticket scanner issues that impacted their timely arrival to the Bonnie Raitt concert on Saturday night.”

Tanglewood management is reviewing logistical operations for all future performances “to continue to ensure easy access to the grounds and the best patron experience possible, with special attention given to the inherent challenging circumstances of poor weather conditions,” according to a BSO spokesperson.

The BSO is offering to ticket-holders who missed a significant portion of Saturday evening’s concert a credit toward a future Tanglewood, Boston Pops or Symphony Hall performance (Popular Artist concerts not included) by emailing a request to tickets@bso.org. The deadline for credit requests is Aug. 1.

Looking ahead, fair weather or foul, understaffing of traffic control officers working for the Lenox Police Department and the Berkshire County Sheriff’s Office may be an ongoing challenge this summer, Lenox Police Chief O’Brien pointed out.

Normally, the Lenox PD deploys four officers to help direct traffic bound to and from Tanglewood. “But this summer, we’re fighting to get three,” O’Brien said. “We can’t find people; it’s the lack of people who want to work, like everywhere else in the country where there are staffing problems.”

The traffic control officers are employed part-time by the town’s police department, but they have no police powers except for directing traffic. “Just about anyone can do it,” O’Brien suggested.

As for the two on duty on Saturday starting at 2 p.m., “it was difficult for them, but they worked very hard and diligently, and did the best they could,” he emphasized. “But you can’t manage that, when everybody shows up at the exact same time because they don’t want to be cold and wet.”

“I asked for a sheriff to bail us out, but they can’t get staffing either, same problem,” O’Brien added. While state police provide security inside Tanglewood, they are not involved in traffic control.

Some concertgoers reported a much smoother experience.

Ralph and Lauren Emerson, of Millbury, a town near Worcester, traveled to the show from their Airbnb rental in Williamstown.

“Tanglewood is a very special place for us,” Ralph Emerson said. The normal 45-minute drive took 15 minutes longer because of a typical backup during the final approach down West Street (Route 183) in Lenox.

“We’re big concertgoers, and this was one of the smoothest traffic operations I’ve come across,” he noted. “The police and the concert staff did a fantastic job getting people in.”

Looking ahead, the Lenox police chief cautioned that “on heavy Popular Artists nights, we’re going to have the same traffic we normally have, and it will be stopped for James Taylor [on July 3 and 4].”

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com or on Twitter @BE_cfanto

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