Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 30, 2022

On the Road: Thoughts from the Tanglewood Lawn

Celebration of Stephen Sondheim Music
August 18, 2022
by Erica Schutz

Upon arrival to Tanglewood's grounds, the parking attendants were warm and kind with big smiles. Getting out of my car, we observed many people serving a kind of tailgate picnic. Others were walking in quite early, as I was. It's rare to experience an all-Stephen Sondheim concert.

Walking straight to the tix booth for directions I observed the press porch. The young attendants pointed the way and made me, what I would call a “hall pass” to bring until I got the real thing. The porch was actually an old grey house surrounded by lovely little hills of grass. Also, the Pepperidge Farm cookies were welcome goodies.

I noticed a father and small son playing frisbee in a large section of the lawns that was unoccupied. They were in matching shirts and having a great time. This is not unusual, as generations mix in joyful activities, pre-concert.

Many parties had set up their lawn seating areas further away from the larger group at the front. Some had basic picnic blanket arrangements, others dined elegantly, defining their areas as if the lawn created small living rooms complete with coffee table, throw pillows, flowers, and candelabra. Everyone appeared well prepared to be comfortable in their own ways.

I chose a central spot on the green closer to the shed and set up my own space. The people around welcomed me and offered to share snacks and wine. I declined but was glad to feel part of the group. I've heard that Tanglewood audience members are a pleasant and generous group. It's true.

I settled in to enjoy my picnic that I had brought and review the lengthy playbill. I was about an hour early, but it seemed as if little time had passed before the bell rang to announce the concert was about to begin. The weather cooperated, and the camaraderie of concert goers was evident. The lights dimmed and the digital screens stopped looping the commercial ads. The live feed of the stage filled the screen, and the applause began for the entering musicians. Even though we couldn’t see the actual stage, the lawn audience, which included me, behaves as if we were in the shed.

Photo courtesy of BSO.ORG/TANGLEWOOD

The music began. It became clear that most people around me were huge fans of Sondheim. Many heads bobbed along to the rhythm and a few danced in their seats. Partway through the first section of the program, an older gent next to me commented to his group that he didn’t know any of the music that he just heard. However, when intermission came, he began humming and singing "A Weekend in the Country" over and over. Apparently, he had been caught by a Sondheim earworm for sure! This lasted through intermission. 

Children of all ages were snuggled on laps, had seats of their own, and I noticed a few had little camp beds set up in wagons, or strollers. There were a few small playpens, too. To my surprise, I never heard crying or fussing the entire night.

The concert was amazing, as to be expected. The audience on the lawn stayed to applaud until the last moment. I was right there with them. We made for the gates together, but there was room for all and only a short wait to cross the street to reach the parking lots.   The environs had a different feeling that night. It could be I was just paying more attention. It was a joyous energy. I found myself singing as I drove, thinking about all the friendly people I had met and the experience we shared together listening to Sondheim.