'Tent City' Raises Safety, Sanitation Concerns
The Board of Health heard concerns about the tent city planned for Noel Field this June. At the table are secretary Dianne Hein, Health Inspector Manual Serrano and Chairman David Polumbo, Brendon Bullett and John Moresi.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Board of Health will decide on the limits of a "tent city" planned at Noel Field Athletic Complex to house Wilco fans despite protests from local campgrounds.
A public hearing on the so-called Solid Ground on Wednesday night drew only a few people who expressed concern over health and safety issues. The board said it would take their comments under consideration but insisted that it would set the final conditions.
The city is proposing up to 300 tent sites on the soccer field to house concertgoers to the Solid Sound Festival this June 24-26 at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. Solid Ground was prompted in large part by the dearth of hotel rooms and overflowing campgrounds at last year's August event.
Steve Daniels, co-owner of Shady Pines Campground in Savoy, continued to express his concern over sanitation and state guidelines related to the site. Daniels and other campground owners had protested Solid Ground last month at a meeting with Mayor Richard Alcombright and Charles Kaniecki, district health officer for the state Department of Public Health.
Daniels sent a large package to the board outlining concerns and referring to the state's housing guidelines in relation to information provided by Kaniecki. But health officials said the material didn't apply in this case.
"Ninety percent of what you gave us was about housing, about rented apartments, living space ... this is not permanent living space," said Chairman David Polumbo.
Health Inspector Manual J. Serrano said the temporary housing fell under the auspices of the Board of Health, which can set the number of tent sites and sanitation requirements.
"If we didn't have the temporary housing capabilities in the housing code, you wouldn't have carnivals, you wouldn't have circuses, you wouldn't even have the Big E ... that all falls under temporary housing," he said.
"I believe it is unsafe and I'm still protesting this situation," said Daniels.
The camping is being operated by the ROPES program, which is staffed by volunteers almost entirely from local police, fire and ambulance departments. Police Lt. David Sacco, representing ROPES at the meeting, said the group's purpose was to facilitate whatever whatever was asked. "If you want 12 portapotties down there we'll put in 12, if you want 24, we'll put in 24."
Local business owner Jennifer Barbeau said she hoped it was successful but wondered if the scale of the event was too much for an all-volunteer group. She suggested using Windsor Lake and History Valley Campground for overflow.
Robert M. Moulton Jr. said he was concerned that there would too many people at the site and about the damage to the field.
"Potentially, maybe a 100 tents could be posted there, where we have showers already in place and system in place," she said.
Robert M. Moulton Jr., also a local businessman and a former city councilor, also objected to the scale, noting up to 1,200 people could potentially be on the field damaging it. "I'd like to see how this goes," he said, but added, "I think it's going to hurt businesses ... I think there's more of a downside than an upside."
Any profits from the tent city will used first to repair any damage to the field, city officials have said.
Ernest Gamache, who operates a used-car dealership abutting the field, said he was concerned about policing and restrooms.
"I'm in favor of the whole idea because I know what this can do for the city," said Gamache. "But I've got a big investment and that's what I'm worried about."
"Our intention is to increase the visibility of police down there, Ernie," responded Sacco, who said there will be a regular police presence and command center in addition to the volunteers. "We are cognizant of your business ... we'll keep an extra eye on it."
About 140 tent sites, with a maximum of four people, have been reserved so far through the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art; Historic Valley is filled and has a waiting list.
Palombo said the board will issue its decision at a later date. That will likely be next week when it also hears a request for a temporary housing permit for Northern Berkshire Relay for Life, which annually hosts hundreds of Relay team members for 24 hours at Noel Field.
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Wilco Setting 'Solid Ground' at Noel Field
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — What's now a field of snow will bloom with tents in June as music lovers descend on the city for the Solid Sound 2 Festival.
The city is teaming with Solid Sound host Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts and the local ROPES program to organize and operate the temporary camping area, dubbed "Solid Ground." Up to 300 tent campsites and 10 recreational vehicle spots will be marked out at the Noel Field Athletic Complex between Steele and Disanti fields behind the former Modern Liquors for June 24, 25 and 26.
Commissioner Mark Vadnais points out where 'Solid Ground' will be situated to the Parks and Recreation Commission.
More than 5,000 people attended last August's festival — curated by band Wilco — filling inns and hotels and packing into the Historic Valley Campground. Noel Field was suggested last year as a possible camping site; this year, the city's being proactive in placing Wilco fans within walking distance of MoCA and the downtown.
Half the tent sites and all but one of the RV lots have been reserved as of Friday, said Chiara Morrison at MoCA's box office.
The Parks and Recreation Commission last Wednesday reviewed preliminary plans for usage of the fields and where the tents will be located. Portable showers and toilets will be placed at the field and Paul Markland, public works director, said his department would mark out the sites with lime. Open fires will be prohibited. Golf carts will be used to shuttle campers and equipment from the parking areas and ROPES will provide an element of security and a concession.
"I went to ROPES because they have a solid support in place," said Mayor Richard Alcombright. "A good majority of them either were or are involved in law enforcement. ... It puts some form of security automatically in place."
ROPES, or Respecting Other People, Encouraging Self-esteem, is an annual summer day camp for kids that the North Adams Police Department has been operating for years. Many of its volunteer staff are local emergency responders.
"They just needed an organization willing to take on this event," said police Lt. David Sacco, one of ROPES' founders. "Because it is a city-based organization, it's kind of a win-win for the city."
Campers are being charged $80 for a 15-by-18-foot, single tent site for the weekend. An RV spot is $100. The MoCA box office is handling reservations and notifications and will get a small slice of the fee; the rest will be shared between the city and ROPES after costs, such as field repair or portable conveniences.
The Parks Commission expressed concern over damage to the field but the mayor said he expected the costs to be covered by the fees.
"Unless we have a really, really soggy weekend, I don't see a problem," he said. "Basically we committed to the fact that any repairs will come out of the proceeds."
Sacco said he didn't also see an issue with security at the site, based on last year's family-friendly, laidback crowd.
"I have never ever seen a more well-behaved crowd," said Sacco. "We're not anticipating any problems."
The dates will bump the annual LaFesta Baseball Exchange to July.
For more information on Solid Ground, click here.
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MoCA Director: No Reason Not to Bring Wilco Back
iBerkshires caught up with Mass MoCA Executive Director Joseph Thompson on Sunday afternoon while he was watching Jeff Tweedy's solo performance at Joe's Field:
What were the final attendance totals?
We were just north of 5,000 for the peak [on Saturday], and there's about 3,500 here today [Sunday]. We had some strong crowds.
Did the festival meet your expectations?
It was a beautiful event, and it flowed. The music was lovely, and people moved with great ease through the museum, the galleries, the various outdoor venues. My sense overwhelmingly was that people had a great time. At least I did.
Were you at all surprised by the ages of audience members?
It's a great audience. This is a 30s to 50s crowd, and there were a lots of kids here. There were more strollers in the galleries this weekend than we've had in a long, long time.
Did you find time to enjoy the festival yourself?
I had a great time. I heard most of the music. Much of it was new to me, and I loved it. There were beautiful melodies, close harmonies, walls of sound. ...Great, great dynamic and range, which is what's at the very heart of Wilco.
Anything stand out as your favorite act(s) of the weekend?
I had never heard Mountain Man, and I thought they were lovely. The Books continue to just get more and more precise and beautiful. I had this great moment going from The Autumn Defense, which is kind of alt-country, roots type of music -- out to the Nels Cline Singers, who had these amazing, warped waves and waves of intensity, and just the way it sounded washing over those brick walls. To realize that those guys can somehow play in the same band is just startling and beautiful.
Although diverse in sound, what did the musical acts have in common?
You look for artists who share your mission, your dreams and fears.
Will Wilco and the Solid Sound Festival return next year?
Jeff [Tweedy] and I talked this morning, and we had a hard time coming up with any reasons not to do it.
What would you change or add, if anything, to next year's event?
The beauty of this is Mass MoCA is a great platform, and having a very strong point of view -- in this case, Wilco's point of view -- it's a hard formula to beat. It will be really fun to put together a program and what can go in the galleries.
You know, it's a valuable, expandable idea which is what I think is quite beautiful about it. I love its focus. I'm not a festival-goer because they sometimes they feel to me like a lot of work, just a barrage. They're kind of like variety shows, and I've never been one for variety shows. What I like about this one is that concordant hum that somehow flows through it. That comes from having very smart people and a passionate audience, and Wilco having their hand on the throttle. I'd be loath to mess around with that.
What did the festival bring to North Adams outside the confines of Mass MoCA?
I heard the stories that people were hanging out [Saturday] night. I heard that there was a full spectrum of activity, from The Mohawk to the Holiday Inn Bar, to the bands on the street at 1:30 in the morning. It was kind of a hum [throughout the city], and these things build over time.
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Solid Sound Festival Comes to an End
Exceptional live music was around every corner Sunday on the third and final day of the Solid Sound Festival at Mass MoCA. The Nels Kline Singers wowed fans with a thrashing set; Avi Buffalo left one satisfied concert-goer exiting the Hunter Center saying, "That's the best guitar playing I've seen this weekend."; and, of course, Jeff Tweedy and Wilco dropped the curtain.
Tweedy played a solo acoustic set at Joe's Field, then invited guest performers to join the stage, including Sir Richard Bishop, The Books' Nick Zammuto, Avi Buffalo, The Baseball Project's Scott McCaughey. The last few tunes were played by all of the members of Wilco, minus drummer Glenn Kotche.
Rain started falling during the last hour of Tweedy's performance, but that didn't keep fans from dancing and clapping along.
MoCA Executive Director Joe Thompson was in attendance during Tweedy's "Plus One" set, so check back later tonight for a full transcript of iBerkshires.com's interview with Thompson. He said that more than 5,000 fans attended Saturday's festivities, while more than 3,000 came back Sunday.
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Light Attraction for Wilco Fans & Residents
Main Street looked like a small-town version of the City of Lights on Saturday night as the downtown did its best to attract at least the fringe of the 5,000 or so expected at the Solid Sound Festival at MoCA. (What's Solid Sound? It's right here.)
Some 1,000 feet of twinkle lights criss-crossed over the sidewalk on the sunny side of the street, augmented by theater lights shining on two of the city's more elegant structures, the Dowlin Block and the Hoosac Bank Building. Matthew Adelson, lighting designer at both the Mahaiwe and the Williams College '62 Center, set up the display.
The evening, much like the Wilco-curated festival, was a laidback affair, although there was brisk business at many of the local eateries and steady draw into the galleries, if not much art being purchased.
The theater lights were a nice touch.
"We smoked! This morning we had a line at the door ... This was just amazing," Mark Petrino, owner of Petrino's Cafe, told us in the wee hours of Sunday morning after a marathon day. The cafe started with a waiting line for breakfast; it was ending past 1 a.m., with a dozen or so patrons chilling to the sounds of 8 Foot River, a Great Barrington band.
There was music up and down Main Street and on Eagle. The night was mild, the sidewalks busy but not packed, and people clustered around the street musicians, sat on the new benches or strolled into open galleries. Not everyone stayed open to the advertised 2 a.m., but most kept their doors open to at least midnight.
Keith Bona, owner of Creations and a city councilor, said it wasn't a record day, but a very good day. He didn't get the sales predicted by Jonathan Secor of MCLA Gallery 51, who'd bet him $20, but he must of been close. Neither would state the figure, but Secor said he'd considered spending $100 "to get his dignity and his $20 back."
We hear the galleries didn't sell much on Saturday, but didn't really expect to. Brian Handspicker at the Berkshire Arts Colony did note a significant increase in foot traffic into the gallery at 107 Main St. on both Friday and Saturday. When we wandered over about 9:30 on Saturday night, there were a half-dozen people in the gallery — all local. Handspicker said quite a few city residents had stopped by on Saturday evening, while out-of-towners had visited during the day.
This festival crowd was mostly middle-aged, and many brought their children along. Joe Thompson, MoCA's executive director, described them as "rock daddies," with a strong streak of social responsibility. "They don't like waste," he told us last week. "They don't like to see overflowing trash cans." That's why we think the Smart Car we saw with a New York plate on Main Street belonged to Wilco fan; we don't see too many of those models around here.
These fans are also pretty hungry, if Saturday was any indication.
Seriously Supreme Pizza salesmen
Over on Marshall Street, the guys of Guys and Dogs were crowded with customers. Jack's Hot Dog Stand at the other end of Main Street was open to midnight and reportedly packed most of the night; another street vendor on the other side of Marshall had a waiting line, too. We also heard The Hub, which closed by 11, did a boffo 400 covers on Saturday. Supreme Pizza was covering both ends of the street, with a pair of fast-talking salesmen reinforced with Red Bull wheeling and dealing on single slices near the old Moulton's General Store.
Supreme's general manager Spencer Leonard said the proof was in the piled and empty pizza boxes behind their table. "We couldn't keep up with them," he said.
Vinnie Melito and David Lewis of Guys and Dogs, said they'd spoken to people from as far away as California and the feedback had been positive about the city and the Berkshires. "One guy said 'this place is jewel,'" said Lewis.
It wasn't just the out-of-towners impressed on Saturday. We met a young resident named Paul Oparowski who was chatting up pretty much anyone to find out where they were from and what they thought. "Everyone's been so friendly," he said, adding he hoped more events like this would continue. "It was awesome."
Our reporter Patrick on the job at MoCA
For all the focus on Solid Sound, the real drivers of the early evening were people from right here. They were on the street and in the shops and resaturants. "It proved we could do it ourselves," said Secor.
We know lots of other places were open — Christo's, Village, Red Sauce and the Richmond Grille among them — but didn't make it that far. There was a farmers' market on Eagle Street in the morning we missed because we were busy chasing some great deals at the townwide tag sale in Adams. If any readers have info on how other venues did, tell us about them.
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