Chan Lowe: Berkshire rituals on parade


PITTSFIELD — My four-year college stint in the Berkshires took place so long ago that the term "first-round draft pick" had an entirely different meaning then than it does today. Accordingly, last week I decided to steep myself in a couple of rituals that would help cement my renewed relationship with the county.

Competitive picnicking

I began by attending a James Taylor concert at Tanglewood. As a work colleague observed, "It's something you have to do at least once."

First, this wasn't the usual Boston Symphony Tanglewood crowd. I was reminded of an Easter church service, where the worshippers rubberneck in awe at a venue they visit but once a year. Indeed it was, in some ways, a holy place. There was a Eucharistic quality to the "competitive picnicking" for which Tanglewood is renowned — gourmet smorgasbords arrayed upon white linen tablecloths and china, one setup even boasting a silver candelabrum and a wine chiller that could have doubled as a chalice.

James delivered as expected, dispensing some of the classic oldies that used to waft across the campus from open windows back in the vinyl days, but with some refreshing new arrangements that prevented us geezers from becoming mired in a sticky swamp of nostalgia.

Then came The Song — you know which one I mean. We'd all been waiting for it, and the excitement level in the crowd spiked with the first chords. "Sweet Baby James" has become an anthem for the Berkshires, and JT sang it as though only for the tenth time, rather than the millionth. He had slowed the tempo, caressing every word as he delivered his paean to the audience and the place.

When the moment came, it was almost a responsive prayer. As he crooned the line, "So was the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston," the roar swelled across the lawn, immediately dissipating into reverential silence to make way for the sacred words, "The Berkshires seemed dreamlike on account of that frosting." It reminded us all why we lived in, or loved to visit, this place.

A proud peace had descended upon the multitude, which lingered even unto the parking areas as departing motorists displayed uncharacteristic courtesy during the exit stampede.

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No rain on this parade

The next morning I went to the Pittsfield Fourth of July parade. This spectacle, an opportunity for the town and the surrounding multi-state area to strut their stuff, reaffirms regional solidarity and indulges in some honest, inclusive patriotism. Having marched in the parade last year, I wanted to experience it from the sidelines.

Our tree on South Street sheltered a motley gathering — a few seniors in lounge chairs; some young people displaying more ink than the parchment of the Declaration of Independence. Two women wearing hijabs and ankle-length overcoats somehow managed to withstand the punishing heat.

As always, serving and veteran military personnel took pride of place at the parade's vanguard. The Italian American War Veterans float passed. "YAYYYY!!!" yelled the crowd. Then came a gaggle of "Your Elected Officials," as proclaimed on the banner. "Yay," said a lone voice. State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli glided by in a convertible with the word "Smitty" helpfully written in script on the side.

There were a couple of helium balloons like the big parades have, although the inflatable F-16 fighter's wings had to be bent down to get past the lampposts. We didn't really need them, though, because the crowd's appreciation for the shiny fire trucks and marching bands was already cranked up to the max.

For me, the event had several high points. Some guy walked the whole parade route (I assume) wearing a pair of drywall stilts and there was a float that looked like it was made entirely of colored Post-It notes depicting a pair of oxen hauling a cannon — presumably commemorating Henry Knox' long march during the War of Independence. Most meaningful of all, though, were the innocence and purity of an event that took place in raucous defiance of all the forces that were working to split our nation apart. There were no Trumpkins in the crowd; no "libtards." Just Americans.

By the time the state police car with its flashing lights brought up the rear, spectators — their patriotism dampened by the heat — had already folded up their chairs and begun their own long march back to their cars. I, for one, was satisfied. In the space of less than 24 hours, I had been thoroughly Berkshirized.

Chan Lowe is the deputy editorial page editor of The Eagle and a syndicated editorial cartoonist.


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