Editor’s note: This article also appears in our print Berkshires Calendar Magazine, which every November includes a special wedding section. You can find a hard copy of this magazine at about 140 locations in Berkshire County, Litchfield County, Columbia county and the Shires of Vermont. Please see also our online wedding directory of some 300 vendors and venues available to help you plan your “perfect Berkshire wedding.”
Boasting convenient proximity and a rural sophistication, Berkshire County has been registering on the destination-wedding radar for over a decade, vying with nearby posh hot spots Newport and the Hamptons. These days, the rarefied patchwork of big-time culture and small-town charm—dotted with paddleboard-ready lakes, hiking trails, bike paths, you-pick orchards, and ski resorts—is resonating especially with millennials, aka the “experiential generation.”
The recent spate of “best places to visit” write-ups is even beckoning couples from as far afield as California, Colorado (Aspen no less), Texas, and Wisconsin. Some newlyweds have a pre-existing connection to the region (namely parents with second homes), others are rookies to the region.
Then there’s the area’s ability to meet “betrotheds” where they are at. “The Berkshires is booming with weddings right now—we can handle that endless-budget stylized event, but we are friendly to smaller, more affordable ceremonies, too,” says Rebecca Daly, founder of Whitlock & Cooper Events. She is already booked through 2022—an anomaly, given peak engagement season coincides with the holidays. (Fear not: Other planners and many venues are still available for 2022, though the general advice is to book asap—and consider weekdays, or the shoulder season, to improve your options.)
The recent blip in betrothals is hardly unique to area code 413. Industry research firm The Wedding Report projects the number of weddings to reach 2.5 million in 2022 (up from 2.1 million in 2019)—a number not seen since the high-flying 1980s. At the same time, couples are reportedly spending more on weddings, up some $3,000 over 2020.
That influx of tourist dollars reverberates beyond the wedding sector to help fuel other local economies. “We bring in hundreds of guests who stay in nearby hotels and eat at restaurants and visit museums,” Daly says. “We generate a significant chunk of revenue for school bus companies and keep them going right through summer and into fall. Even local couples bring in a lot of out-of-towners.”
And for all those visitors, basking in the glow of a whimsical weekend, the Berkshires will become that enchanted place they’ll want to share with their own friends and family, and so on. Once bitten, forever smitten!
THE PANDEMIC EFFECT
The seismic impact of COVID-19 on the wedding landscape is a well-known tale by now. Before the shutdown, 2020 promised to be a banner year for weddings in the Berkshires, and most couples pushed out their dates so they could realize their dream wedding. All those postponed events and a spike in pandemic-era engagements created a jam-packed 2021.
“It has been wonderful to see family and friends together celebrating and it has been busy!” says Kelsi Polk, wedding coordinator at The Mount. That popular venue was host to twice as many weddings this past season, and even held a few mid-week, after-hour ceremonies. (“And there is a lot of interest in 2022 and 2023. Dates are going fast!”)
What’s also telling is the small percentage of couples who bucked the trend and decided to downscale and even honor their original date (it often held special significance)—and thereby lend the intimate wedding more intentionality by not allowing even a global pandemic to stand in their way of exchanging vows.
“We found that a lot of people never wanted the big weddings, their parents did. So COVID has paved the way for couples to do their own thing,” says Jessy Turner, who runs Berkshire Elopements (co-founded by photographer Jocelyn Vassos), Bird House Events, and Ice House Hill Farm, a wedding venue in Richmond, Mass. (Amazingly she also finds the time and energy to be the on-site wedding coordinator for the Norman Rockwell Museum.) Her biggest wedding of 2021 had about 150 guests, and she continues to hear from couples who are planning elopements and micro weddings for 2022.
Daly observed a similar mind reset: “The pandemic made people realize what is important. You don’t have to invite every person you’ve ever said hello to. Smaller weddings can be just as much work, but they felt loving and great.”
MICRO WEDDINGS GO MACRO
“Micro weddings,” quietly gaining ground before the pandemic, have undergone a total brand update and are now part of the regular lexicon. Town & Country Magazine defines them as having up to 50 guests, while local planners and venues tend to have a cap of around 25. Couples are embracing these curtailed gatherings with the same gusto as larger bashes—often with no expense spared.
Indeed, according to a 2019 industry study, even though the average guest count was on a downward slope, the average cost per guest was up. So scaling back to 25 guests, instead of 125, might mean you can afford to coddle your invitees—say, by blocking off an entire inn or splurging on the rehearsal dinner, or treating everyone to a spa day at Canyon Ranch.
Couples are also planting their elopement flag these days—only these are not quickie Las Vegas elopements, but a planned-out ceremony, with or without a few guests, and at least some of the traditional trappings.
Such is the model for Berkshire Elopements, whose standard package starts at $3,000 and includes an hour of photography, the officiant (Turner does the honors), and a meal. “Ultimately this is for people who love each other and don’t want to deal with the drama of families, or the stress of planning. It also speaks to cost savings,” Turner says. She will often drive couples up to the top of Mount Greylock, or go to Ashintully Gardens where you don’t have to pay a fee. “So that can save you thousands of dollars.”
Of course, the blowout wedding is still de rigueur for many couples—even more so after a drawn-out shutdown. “People are definitely ready to party,” says Magdalena Mieczkowska of Magdalena Events, who had a record 2021 season and has twelve weddings (her max) on the calendar for 2022, each with approximately 200 guests. “The couples seem to have more budget and want them to be even bigger than ever before.”
A SPACE FOR EVERY STYLE, SIZE, AND BUDGET
No matter which lane—er, aisle—you pick, the Berkshires is chockablock with singular places that can suit any ceremony. Even big-wedding bastions like Tanglewood, Blantyre and The Mount have created pricing tiers for lower guest counts. For example, at Blantyre you can have up to 250 guests on the Upper Lawn (starting at $10,000 for site rental), up to 70 guests in the Conservatory ($13,500), or two to 10 guests in the Dom Perignon Salon (for $2,000). (As a full-service venue, pricing can bundle the cost of food, drink, cake, and other details as desired.)
Mass MoCA offers an all-inclusive micro wedding package for up to 25 guests (or 35 for an additional fee of $120 per person). Also available is a short-and-sweet elopement package for up to four guests, which includes a photography session. “Once events were possible again, I started thinking of ways to do them in a smaller fashion,” says Chris Handschuh, Tenant Operations and Events Coordinator for Mass MoCA. “We are still getting inquiries for micro weddings despite not having any capacity limits.”
Beyond these familiar forums, the Berkshires has a bounty of quaint inns, retro-chic motels (cue Tourists), summer camps, and everything in between (think Greylock Works). You can also get hitched at gilded age mansions (Chesterwood among them), cultural outposts, and pastoral farms—Gedney Farm, for one, has 50 acres and two Normandy-style barns to accommodate up to 250 people.
The Berkshires is also home to modern-day “banquet halls” like Crissey Farm, which charges a $1,000 site fee and different dining packages starting at $85 per person. In the north county, the rental rate for a one-day event at 75-acre Bloom Meadows is $10,000 (or $8,500 during the off season); the weekend event rate, which comes with a two-night stay in the Silo suite and Sunday brunch, runs $16,000.
Want a non-denominational church wedding? Check out St. James Place, a circa-1857 Episcopal chapel that has been restored into a secular (but sacred!) performance space in downtown Great Barrington, with the original limestone façade, triumphal arches, and handcrafted stained glass intact.
For elopements, the sky’s the limit—waterfalls, ski slopes, private homes, public parks, charming main streets, you name it.
ONE-STOP SHOPPING FOR VENDORS
What’s more, the Berkshires sports an exhaustive retinue of vendors to handle every aspect of a wedding—from planners and photographers to florists, caterers and cake designers, light and sound specialists, tent and furniture rentals, and DJs and live musicians.
As of July, there’s even an upscale bridal-gown salon—Kismet, which is by reservation only—smack dab in the heart of downtown Pittsfield. Here out-of-town brides can pick out their dress while scouting venues, and local brides can stay local.
The farm-to-fork ethos is, of course, an important part of the Berkshires’ story and can add nuance to any wedding reception, with roving food trucks, pop-up pizza ovens, and even old-school cooking over an open fire by the likes of Heirloom Fire and The Swell Party rounding out top-tier catering companies. (Or consider having one of the above for a welcome party.)
“It’s about reimagining spaces,” says Tom Ellis, founder of The Swell Party. “The first thing most clients say is they don’t want what everyone else has done—they want their own unique experience and to use the venue in a brand new way. We make it work, moving things so normal paths are thrown out the window.”
That above-and-beyond ethos is pretty much the calling card of the local industry—”and clients seem to appreciate the authentic vibe here,” says Danielle Pellerin, founder of 5 Senses Events & Design. “We put our blood, sweat, and tears into these little businesses and it shows. And you are not compromising on anything—we can produce at the same quality as vendors from the city. Plus, you have this beautiful backdrop. I cry at every wedding; we really care about our couples.”
She and other planners are open to collaborating with outside vendors, too—it’s all about accommodating the couple on their big day.
That said, Turner has made it a mission to work with only Berkshire vendors “and I have to say, it’s been pretty magical!”