How to make your Tanglewood experience top-notch and worry-free
Photo by Stu Rosner
New, or infrequent, visitors to Tanglewood often wonder what they should bring, how they should dress, and what is “acceptable” behavior at this outdoor venue. When concerts began in the 1930s, it was like any concert hall where formal attire was expected: gentlemen in coats and ties, ladies in evening wear. It was soon evident that Tanglewood was different; an open-sided hall in the woods with thousands munching away on food just a few feet away from the next concertgoer. One critic said: “When music moved out onto the lawn, it invited all kinds of nuisances in. The smallest was the mosquito.” But Tanglewood has set the standard for outdoor music, and it is successful partly because there are so few rules beyond common courtesy and consideration for others.
Here is our simple guide:
Tanglewood is a 500-acre campus with more than 100 buildings, two “Berkshire Cottages,” and manicured grounds. You will find the greensward in pristine condition even if you arrive for a Saturday-morning rehearsal following a large event the previous night. For that to happen, a 14-person cleanup crew starts at daybreak and labors for hours combing and even vacuuming every square inch of the place. Much of the 250 tons of trash collected each year is recycled.
Conduct and Dress
Tanglewood is one of the most civilized places you will ever attend a concert. Even on the lawn, potato-chip bags are put away and you can hear a pin drop when the baton is raised. Shirts and shoes are required inside the concert halls. Dress can otherwise be informal. Bring a sweater, light jacket, or other warm clothing for surprisingly chilly summer evenings.
Bring tote bags and keep track of your belongings. The cleanup crew regularly finds jackets, umbrellas, folding chairs, eyeglasses, jewelry, even smart-phones. “Lost and Found” in the Tappan House reunites about 95 percent of these items with their owners.
Unlike many venues with captive audiences, Tanglewood allows food, drinks, and coolers on the lawn.
Your picnic can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it. Bring folding chairs, wheeled carts, and/or small tables. You will want a blanket and a tarp to protect against the damp ground.Fancy tablecloths and cande-l-abra are optional. Food of various types is avail-able for purchase. You can rent chairs just inside the Main Gate if you prefer.
Parking is free; just follow the directions of police and attendants. Take note of where you are parked and remember that it will look different after dark. Some visitors complain about the long walk from the lots, but the greatest distance is little more than a quarter-mile. An attendant will arrange a jitney ride if you need it. Be patient with traffic on the narrow roads. Remember, if they built an expressway from Lenox, it wouldn’t be Tanglewood anymore.
Little ones five and under are not permitted inside concert halls, but the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) encourages family attendance by offering free lawn tickets to those under age 17. Sports activities are restricted, but nobody seems to object to play in outlying areas.
Only a few lawn areas provide clear views inside the Shed, but at evening concerts, two large screens on the roof project images of the performers that are visible from most of the lawn. Trees and umbrellas provide shade at daytime concerts. Sunday afternoon events have a leisurely atmosphere, and even the departing traffic seems calmer, as many linger to explore the grounds. Find Ozawa Hall, the hedge maze, the sundial, the Lions Gate, and the glass-house gift shop, delightful for children of all ages. Enjoy long-distance vistas of this unspoiled area with nary a strip mall in sight and views unchanged in 100 years. It is a serene and peaceful place even when 15,000 people converge here.
Lawn tickets remain a bargain, especially on discount-Friday nights. Student discounts, season passes, and the annual Berkshire night for residents are other ways to save. You can hear Sunday’s concerts at Saturday-morning rehearsals at reduced prices. Many enjoy Tanglewood Music Center concerts, featuring the student orchestra, at lower prices and with smaller crowds.
Check out the refurbished exterior of Ozawa Hall, the newly paved areas near the Main Gate to ensure safer walking, the added fleet of jitneys providing rides, along with the much-improved signage and lighting. Safety remains a high priority, and Tanglewood tracks storms in the area daily.
Go to bso.org for details.
BUTI’S BIRTHDAY The Boston University Tanglewood Institute (BUTI) celebrates its 50th anniversary season this summer, and a special August 6 concert in Ozawa Hall is planned, Not so widely known but truly spectacular is the free faculty recital series beginning June 20 at Trinity Church in Lenox.