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There’s Still Room At The Inn

The spirit of the 1960s endured at Lenox’s Music Inn.

By Jeremy D. Goodwin

The goings-on at the late, great Music Inn surely provided lots of good (though perhaps hazy) memories for folks who attended concerts and other events there. David Rothstein, the third in a series of owners, has long served as the steward of the legacy of that onetime countercultural bastion sitting next door to Tanglewood.

But soon, he says, the Music Inn—or at least, an incarnation of its spirit—may be ready to help people make some new memories.

In a free presentation at Bascom Lodge on August 24, Rothstein will talk about the history of the place he took over in 1970 and ran through the summer of 1979, before the funky oasis was felled by some combination of the worsening economy, competition from Boston-based music promoters and Tanglewood itself, and resistance from the neighbors in Lenox and Stockbridge. (A gate-crashing incident at an Allman Brothers concert is said to have been the last straw.)

Rothstein’s gaze is directed at the future as well as the past. He’s drafting plans to start promoting concerts at other, existing venues as Music Inn events. He hopes to announce the first concert in this series on Sunday at Bascom Lodge, pending finalization of the details.

“The Music Inn name seems to be alive and well in the Berkshires,” he says.

Van Morrison (at right) offstage during a visit to The Music Inn. Photo by Nanette Sanson.

The point was driven home for him earlier this month, when he was heading out of a Tanglewood concert featuring Yo-Yo Ma. He mentioned the Music Inn after striking up an idle conversation with a man directing traffic, who immediately offered a list of the acts he’d seen there himself. “Maybe I’m loony, but I think it would be fun to do,” he says of the concert series. “Saying that the Music Inn never really stopped. We just took a little break.”

New York City public relations professionals Stephanie and Phillip Barber started the Music Inn in 1950, when they bought some of the outbuildings on the grounds of the Wheatleigh manor. They scheduled jazz and folk concerts with the likes of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, plus groundbreaking musical roundtables where academics sat alongside artists and unpacked the recent history of music.

The Barbers’ little operation blossomed into the first-ever school of jazz (for four summers), and a pioneering concert series that anticipated the (slightly) later jazz festival at Newport. Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong and Ornette Coleman are among the many jazz greats who taught, studied or played there. (Miles Davis arrived late and missed his one scheduled gig, but legend holds that he played a few songs for the kitchen staff out in the field.)

Richie Havens. Photo by Nanette Sanson.

After an intervening owner shifted the focus toward pop and rock acts in the 1960s, the place sat idle for three years before Rothstein and partners took the helm. During this third act of the historic venue’s history—the era best remembered by Music Inn “alumni” kicking around today—acts like the Byrds, Bruce Springsteen, Lou Reed, Van Morrison, the Kinks, and Bob Marley and the Wailers came to town.

But wait, there was more.

“It wasn’t just concerts,” Rothstein says,” we had a theatre company, a movie house, restaurants, poetry, chamber music. It was whatever was happening. So I just want to fill in some blanks so that people see it in a bigger context.”

There’s been renewed interest in this history lately, with the creation of an online archive of Music Inn photos and stories, plus a couple reunion events featuring live music and memorabilia. (There’ll be another this fall.)

Photo by Nanette Sanson.

“It’s a little amazing to see how long the memories last. People just come out of the woodwork, off the street,” Rothstein says, “and talk about it. They seem to remember more about it than I do, maybe. It really was a time that doesn’t compare in any way to more recent times.”

Though these memories are preserved mainly in photographs (and an unreleased documentary about the Music Inn’s early days), the physical evidence of this remarkable episode in the Berkshires’ cultural history has not faded entirely from view.

Near the site of the venue’s old supper club, on land that is now occupied by the White Pines condo development, there’s a plaque listing the artists who played the Music Inn, sitting inconspicuously on a tree.

“The History of the Music Inn” with David Rothstein
In the lobby of Bascom Lodge atop Mount Greylock
Adams, MA at 6 p.m., free
413-743-1591

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 08/19/14 at 12:55 AM • Permalink