Monday, July 15, 2024

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The Inn that grooved the Berkshires

For a brief shining moment, rock and roll was HERE. In the Berkshires. Stockbridge of all places, across the street from Tanglewood.

At the less-than numerically exciting 48th anniversary of the Music Inn, there were plenty of remembrances, and a beautiful performance by Guthrie sisters Sarah Lee and Annie.

And then there was the recording of Lou Reed playing live, in his prime, at the Music Inn.

Dinky Dawson running sound for John McLaughlin at Music Inn. Photo: Nancy Dawson

There’s no way you can listen to this recording and not feel that you’re right there, on the field, at the Music Inn,” said Dinky Dawson, once soundman for the Byrds, convinced by co-owner David Rothstein to stick around and run the soundboard here in the Berkshire Hills. And run the soundboard he did. And lucky for us, he’s still got some of those tapes.

More on that in a minute. A lot more. Including … those tapes.

There were many things that made the Music Inn special. Born in 1970, it rocked with benign abandon until 1979 when disco, cocaine, Reagan, an emerging yuppie culture and a boatload of realities conspired to wreck the buzz.

That’s STOCKBRIDGE ROAD! Photo courtesy Music Inn Archives

But for that brief, shining moment, rock and roll was HERE. In the Berkshires. Stockbridge of all places, across the street from Tanglewood. WTF!

The epitome of buttoned-up culture in an era when the barbarian counterculture was at the gates—or just down the road from the Lion’s Gate—smoking weed, romping on the grass in barely controlled mayhem, dancing to intense grooves totally high, a state of mind that many well know magnifies the awesomeness of tunes played live—here in the BERKSHIRES!—all afternoon and evening long.

The Music Inn coincided with the Age of Arlo. Image courtesy Music Inn Archives

Imagine the top bands of the era making their pilgrimage to Stockbridge, home of Obie the Cop, Arlo the Litterer, Alice the Restaurant, and Norman Rockwell, the brilliant-but-somewhat-conventional illustrator who turned his brush from the cute to the topical, from themes of innocence to themes of importance—like racism.

Amid all this, a man named David Rothstein had a vision, sort of, of bringing music to his shabby-chic Inn, previous home of the previous Music Inn, its first incarnation, as the hepcat jazz and folk showcase showcasing the jazz and beatnik undergrounds with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Satchmo and Ella Fitzgerald.

Stockbridge’s Smokies and the Gentle Bandit Captain Dave Rothstein, second from right. Photo courtesy Music Inn Archives

“I didn’t start with an idea,” said Rothstein, now owner of Sheffield’s similarly shabby-chic Race Brook Lodge. “I figured we’d just have some concerts in the courtyard. I’m not really a music person. I’m an architect. I built a venue. And they came.”

Van Morrison chillin’ in Stockbridge. Photo courtesy Music Inn Archives

And come they did. By the thousands. Stockbridge turned into a mini-Woodstock weekend after weekend. Joan Baez. The Byrds. Hot Tuna. Van Morrison. Bruce Springsteen! New Riders of the Purple Sage. Sha Na Na (hah!). Ike and Tina Turner. The ALLMAN BROTHERS. The Band (Robbie Robertson, Levon Helms!) … And BOB MARLEY! And then there were the 17,000 youngsters who knocked down the fence and swarmed the property to rock out to the Kinks. “There was a fence at the gate booth,” said Rothstein. “But everybody knew there wasn’t really a fence.”

Fence? What fence? Photo courtesy Music Inn Archive

Tickets were four dollars. Until Pete Seeger was pissed off by the “exorbitant” fee. Music should be free! Or at least just three dollars.

And then there was Lou Reed. He spent two weeks with his band at the Music Inn, practicing for their upcoming European tour. And what’s a rock band to do in Stockbridge for two weeks? Ask Vera Lecocq, at the front desk, for a ride to bars in town. “They didn’t have cars,” Lecocq recalled. She was one of the “Potting Shed girls” who lived on the property, beside the restaurant, among them Nancy Fitzpatrick, once married to Rothstein and who still lives in the old Potting Shed. I mean, can you imagine Lou Reed sopping it up in Stockbridge and Lee and Lenox? I’ve always pined for a night out like that around these parts but have usually had to settle with a reasonable evening at the Prairie Whale.

Concertgoers purchase tickets at Music Inn. photo courtesy Music Inn Archives

At the Music Inn, it was the sound that was the thing, brought to you by Dinky Dawson, the guy who knows what all those dozens and dozens of knobs and tens of thousands of pulsating watts do—and can do—when properly tamed like wild palominos.

If you don’t believe me, check out this tunage below. Imagine hanging on a lawn just like Tanglewood, surrounded by youth, sweet youth, the youth of the ‘60s, passing spleefs, some tripping on acid, sprawled in the sunshine, unable to believe their luck. Dinky took the soundboard-direct recording and mixed it with mics that he had in the field for the ultimate plastic fantastic sound of being there. At the time, he wasn’t just spinning dials: He was keeping an eye on the wind, wondering if he was going to drown out Tanglewood’s pristine classical music next door.

Youth glorious youth. Photo courtesy Music Inn Archives

If this doesn’t bring a smile to your face in the midst of an overcast autumn day, then maybe some medical marijuana might help. Turn it up. LOUD. On good speakers. Dance at your desk. Or in your living room. Get your groove on. And experience, for a short magnificent moment, what it must have been like, to be within an ecstatic moment in rock and roll history. Here in Stockbridge. I don’t care if you think you don’t like Lou Reed. You’re going to like this. The flawlessly imperfect voice that could only be Lou Reed. A young Lou Reed. The thrumming rhythm guitar. The increasingly present lead guitar. That moment (04:13) when percussion becomes a cowbell signaling so much more—a gentle groove that builds to a crescendo of guitar, backup vocals, ramming lead guitar—for total jamming celebration of rock and roll, youth and abandon.

Jenny said, when she was just five years old
There was nothin’ happening at all
Every time she puts on the radio
There was nothin’ goin’ down at all, not at all
Then, one fine mornin’, she puts on a New York station
You know, she couldn’t believe what she heard at all
She started shakin’ to that fine, fine music
You know, her life was saved by rock’n’roll

Despite all the imputations
You know, you could just go out
And dance to a rock’n’roll station
And it was all right, hey baby,
You know, it was all right

Lou Reed’s “Rock and Roll,” September 1973, the Rock and Roll Animal Tour

A memory etched in analog. And we have the most unlikely of venues, Dave Rothstein’s Music Inn—Tanglewood’s least favorite neighbor ever—to thank for it.

And it was all right, hey baby,
You know, it was all right…

Nothing short of genius. Image courtesy Music Inn Archives

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