Alan Chartock: Great Barrington community values history


GREAT BARRINGTON -- You’ve got to admit that there are some citizens in our community who really make a difference. Janet and Bart Elsbach are two such people. They took a great deal of their own money, got a mortgage and bought the expansive Great Barrington Fairgrounds for all of us to use. The fairgrounds, which used to present enigmatic horse races and agricultural exhibits, fell into disrepair and the Elsbachs saw an opportunity.

They pushed their plan through the various town boards in Great Barrington, which was no easy task. I doubt that anyone else could have cleared all those hurdles. We’ve already seen success. The Saturday morning Great Barrington Farmers Market was able to move from its cramped headquarters at the foot of the Hill in Great Barrington to this massive space.

Now comes the hard part. The Elsbachs, quite appropriately, want to share the responsibility for keeping the new entity going. The whole idea is to get everyone involved. In order to do that, they are sponsoring a banquet brunch so that those of us who can will support this wonderful work. On Sunday, Sept. 21, at Gedney Farm in New Marlborough, guests will assemble to hear New York Times Food Editor Sam Sifton, Random House Editorial Director of Nonfiction Andy Ward and Jenny Rosenstrach, a popular food author and blogger. In addition, The Easy Ridin’ Papas will entertain.

The idea is to raise enough money to build a pavilion that will provide cover for markets, concerts and other community gatherings. Think of it as an old-fashioned barn raising. The brunch and food talk will cost $125 a person. That isn’t cheap for any of us but the Chartocks will be kicking in because we really want to show our support for this ambitious, wonderful project. In the spirit of the great Mahaiwe reconstruction, it is just another sign of how our community values its history. The fairgrounds are an important part of what Great Barrington used to be and yet another indicator of why we are considered to be the greatest small town in America.

We are fortunate to have a number of people with some money who have proven themselves willing to spend it to help their neighbors. Great Barrington collects a huge amount of tax money. That’s for things like the sewers and chopping down beautiful pear trees and creating havoc by eliminating parking spaces in downtown Great Barrington. But I digress. The point is that in addition to the physical and everyday needs of the town, we must provide for the soul of the town. That includes the sense of sharing with the community and providing for the arts and the environment. All of that and more will be happening at the Great Barrington Fairgrounds and each of us should do what we can to make this happen.

Speaking of which, tonight at another of our region’s essential soul builders, the Guthrie Center, the Berkshire Ramblers will be playing a rare benefit. The last time we did this, a couple of years back, the place was jammed and we got some terrific reviews. To reserve your ticket now, you can call the Guthrie Center at (413) 528-1955. You can purchase tickets at the door but it’s probably best to reserve a space for your fanny.

Not only do we have the Mahaiwe and the fairgrounds and so many other things but the Guthrie Center has become THE folk Mecca in the United States. People who will only play huge venues show up in Great Barrington to honor the late Woody Guthrie and his brilliant son, Arlo.

So be there or be square -- you are sure to have a great time. Every time I think of how wonderful it is to live in the Berkshires, I just give thanks.

Alan Chartock, a Great Barrington resident, is president and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and a professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany.


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