Reunion helps raise funds for Music Inn online archive

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PITTSFIELD -- In June 1970, a crowd of residents appeared at the regular Monday night Stockbridge selectmen's meeting to express concerns that a local musical venue would draw "hordes of hippies" and create a "new Woodstock" in town.

The Music Inn, which since 1950 had been hosting legendary jazz and blues concerts on the former Wheatleigh estate, was planning to expand its offerings to include pop and rock.

Under the guidance of David Rothstein, who bought the Music Inn in 1969, the venue would host concerts by some of the biggest acts in rock and roll, including Bruce Springsteen, Bob Marley and The Band.

With the high-profile acts came traffic jams, illegal camping and noise complaints from angry abutters, many of whom had relocated to bucolic Stockbridge for a little peace and quiet.

But while some of neighbors' fears were realized, the shows were generally huge critical and financial successes.

"Oh, we never had any trouble," Rothstein quipped. "Did we?"

The venue closed in 1979, but it left behind a vast musical legacy that continues to grow online. On Sunday afternoon, former employees and concert-goers gathered for a Music Inn reunion at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield. The free reunion was followed by a concert by Jay and the Americans, which will help raise money for the expansion and upkeep of the Music Inn Archives, a free website where memories of the storied venue burn brightly.

"The proceeds will go to continue the development of the website and to manage and keep up to date with the continuous flow of inquiries, information, images, memorabilia, stories and more that come in pretty regularly," said Lynette Lucy Najimy, one of the coordinators of the event.

"One of the reasons we have this archive is that everyone has different recollections of that era," said Rothstein. "It was an interesting time, and people remember it differently."

In addition to a detailed history of the Music Inn, there is a photo archive loaded with pictures from the 1950s to the ‘70s by a host of the area's best photographers.

There are links to memorabilia, merchandise, a Music Inn documentary and a video of the three-part series on the Inn that was filmed by WorkshopLive TV and features interviews with Rothstein, jazz pianist Dr. Billy Taylor and photographer Lee Everett.

There is a page on the website inviting former patrons of the Inn to recount their experiences, a calendar of events for upcoming Music Inn-related events and a link to stories written about the Inn.

Among the more interesting pages are links to some of the performances in the 1970s, as well as a link to Wolfgang's Vault, a website of shows produced by West Coast promoter Bill Graham, who also produced shows at the Music Inn.

Performers available to be heard include Bob Marley, Burning Spear, John Prine, Joan Baez, Taj Mahal and Randy Newman, as well as other artists.

At the reunion, cuts from some of those shows were playing as people browsed the scrapbooks and memorabelia in the lobby of the Colonial.

"It was all special," said Maureen Osier of Pittsfield. Osier is the younger sister of the late David Carron, who played for Shenandoah, one of the bands who played the Inn. "Was it cool to see David onstage playing?" said Osier. "Yes. It was very cool. It was all a lot of fun."

Finally, the website also has a list of the performers from the rock ‘n' roll years of the 1970s, when just about everyone from Kiki Dee to Springsteen to Muddy Waters to Fats Domino graced the stage of the Inn.

"Music Inn brought many fine performers to the area," wrote Eagle reviewer Jay McInerney in 1978. "The conerts were always well produced. The basic problem .. is that summer is always too short."

The archives can be accessed at www.musicinn.org.

Thanks for the memories

The rock ‘n' roll portion of the Music Inn's history began in 1970 when Arlo Guthrie, 20 years after his iconic father, Woody Guthrie played there in 1950, took the stage to kick off that summer.

On Sunday, the lobby of the Colonial Theatre was filled with people checking out the memorabilia and swapping stories. Two of the biggest story-swappers were former owner David Rothstein and the man who sold the Inn to him, Monroe "Mo" England of Pittsfield, who owned the Inn with his partner, Don Soviero in the 1960s, when it was still a jazz venue. Here are a few of their stories.

England and Louis Armstrong:

"Before David built the famous amphitheater, we had a performance space next to the Potting Shed, which was at that time an Italian restaurant. The venue only seated about 1,000 people. At five bucks a head, we didn't generate a lot of money. So when we had a chance to get Louis Armstrong, I had to ask him to take less than his usual fee. But he was great. He said fine."

England on Ray Charles:

"When Ray Charles performed, my main job was keeping Ray Charles happy. I'd send him over a bottle of champagne, a fruit basket, whatever he wanted. Why? He was Ray Charles."

Rothstein on Bruce Springsteen:

"We were so lucky to get Bruce Springsteen when we did. He was here in August of 1975. Two weeks later, he played the Bottom Line in New York City, and the rest is history."

Another Springsteen memory:

"Springsteen played for three hours that night, and at the end of the set, not too many people wanted to leave. They were mesmerized. I was going around the lawn afterward, waving my hand in front of peoples' faces to snap them out of it."

Rothstein on The Band:

"One of the shows The Band played, we had to get the sound truck down to the stage. So we, incredibly, cleared an area for the truck to get down the hill. Well, the brakes were shot, and it started to slide down the hill. I was dying, because I was afraid the truck was going to take the whole stage out. Fortunately, it didn't."

Rothstein on Bob Marley:

"One of the greatest concerts we had. Bob was scheduled to play the year before, but he didn't for some reason. The expectations were so high when he finally played. In fact, about 2,000 Rastafarians came up from New York City to see him. They were dressed in their Sunday best. And they got here and there were all these hippies lying around. So they stayed at the top of the lawn. And Bob saw that and he played a number of songs he wouldn't ordinarily have played, for them."


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