New Guthrie Center grant improves church ahead of summer music season

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GREAT BARRINGTON — The nights of busing tables in the rain are over.

The outdoor walkway between the Guthrie Center's kitchen and the concert hall now has a ceiling, new deck and an attached wheelchair ramp for side door access.

And this makes George Laye, the center's director, very happy. Apart from an end to holding umbrellas while trying to get dinner to patrons during shows, it's also a relief from some backbreaking work.

"I've spent nearly 18 years shoveling snow off the deck," he said. "It also came down from the roof."

The latest upgrades to the nonprofit music and community support center were funded by a $150,000 grant from The Kaman Foundation.

Carpenters were busy on Tuesday putting the finishing touches on the work, after falling two weeks behind schedule because of all the recent rain. The work must be complete by Friday; center founder Arlo Guthrie will kick off the summer season with sold-out concerts this weekend.

Volunteers were carrying in cases of beer and trying to get organized for the weekend amid a mess of things stored in the entry because the kitchen is being painted.

The center, known around South County as "Arlo's Church," continues making improvements.

The 250-year-old former Trinity Church at the corner of Division Street and Van Deusenville Road is the musical home for Guthrie, his family and other folk music regulars and new talent.

It is also featured in Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant" song and film.

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The center holds interfaith services the first Sunday of every month, and free community services that include meals, legal counsel, tutoring and yoga.

This summer, Laye is starting a free musical instrument library for anyone who can't afford to buy one, or who wants to try out a variety before they decide to commit.

"We've got a Martin guitar, a Stella mandolin, banjos," he said of the donations. "See that harp over there? It's mint."

The center has received sizable grants in recent years. A state grant gave it a new roof, and a gift from the local Fitzpatrick Foundation insulated it.

It is also awash in volunteers. There is a pool of over 100 people who work the shows, sometimes doing dishes until midnight.

Last year, a local artist fixed the rose stained-glass window for free — a $42,000 job. A man who installs lightning protection systems put in a lightning rod, an $8,000 gift.

"He wanted to give back," Laye said.

There are volunteers who for years have been making the menu staple of homemade chili and cast-iron pan cornbread, even though center chef Rachel O'Rourke is on staff.

Patrons' favorite dish? Laye says it's all good, but that people seem to love the cold sesame roasted peanut noodles.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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