Where Do We Go From Here
By: Charles Giuliano - Aug 17, 2010
Following the Wilco weekend long curated Solid Sound Festival at Mass MoCA there has been a lot of buzz. The mega event went remarkably smoothly particularly for a first time event on this scale.
In the months leading up to the festival there was intensive planning and what may have been an overreaction to the anticipated throng descending on the city.
There were issues of traffic, security, housing, feeding and of course, entertaining what proved to be the 5,000 who bought weekend passes for $95 for the event. This is the figure provided by Mass MoCA.
For three days of music and access to one of the largest and finest contemporary art museums in North America that may seem dirt cheap. Even inside the food and beer concessions had reasonable prices. The emphasis was on artistic quality rather than squeezing visitors of every last cent.
But for most citizens, from artists to workers, even that bargain price for admission was more than many could afford. For some, who have never warmed to the museum and sorely miss the good old days of the former Sprague Electric there was a sense of exclusion and a siege mentality of being invaded by all those visitors.
There were efforts to brighten up the city and put out the welcome matt. The plan was to extend liquor licenses to stay open until 2 A.M. A first for the working stiff city. But the permits were botched. The party on Saturday night went on anyway with spontaneous music and folks sitting on those new benches down town. The former mayor was phobic about prohibiting them. On Saturday morning there was a Farmer’s Market and Craft Fair on Eagle Street. Again something the former administration opposed but is now taking root.
While the city braced it for the throng attending the festival it has been observed than Sprague had some 4,000 workers. Those who recall those days describe down town as like Times Square on New Year’s Eve when shifts changed. North Adams was a lively mix of shops, bars, and movie houses. It was a vibrant community. This past weekend offered a glimpse of what was and what might be.
As a world class band Wilco will be difficult to pin down to specific dates if the festival is to repeat next summer. This year, as Jeff Tweedy told me, the band had taken time off from constant touring. Other than North Adams there had been just one other gig in South Bend, Indiana.
Joe Thompson, the director of Mass MoCA, denied to me that there is a five year contract with Wilco. But given the enormous, first time, start up plans it is unlikely that there are not contingencies in the contracts. It works both ways. If Wilco is not available what would prevent Mass MoCA from curating its own festival? Now that we have seen the potential it opens up many possibilities. Not just for another Solid Sound Festival but other and more varied events on different scales. What about blues, jazz, folk, country, world as musical themes for festivals. And not just music. How about other aspects of the performing arts from theatre to dance and film? The recent festival has opened a wide spectrum of possibilities.
But that is also a lot of stress on Mass MoCA with its limited staff and resources. By the end of this past weekend the staff which had been on duty flat out was visibly exhausted. This event was just added on to all of their other duties and responsibilities.
To make this happen again will requires seeking out many allies and business partners. But given the great success of this initial event it is likely that many and varied entrepreneurs and organizations will seek meetings with the museum and its remarkable creative staff.
What do you think? Did you attend the festival? Will you come next year? Do you have any thoughts and ideas?
Yesterday I put out an e mail question to the community asking for feedback. These are some of the responses and we encourage more.
Dick Alcombright, the Mayor of North Adams was quick to respond.
Hi Charles....was able to take a day off and spending it away with Mrs. A. - I have not read your accounts but will tonight or tomorrow..
With respect to your questions...I did attend all of the festivities of Saturday beginning with the pancake breakfast, to the farmers, crafters, artists market, to the downtown, then over to MoCA to see the "setup" - came back to MoCA around 7:00 p.m. and just walked the campus with my wife till around 9:30 - I certainly don’t remember an atmosphere in the city quite like it ever..possibly there has never been one "quite like it" - my congratulations to Joe, Blair....and ALL at MoCA for creating the opportunity - My thanks to our Public Safety Department and our Public Services Department - Safety made the crowd and traffic control look like they have been doing it for years and the Public Services (DPW) had the downtown corridor manicured and looking great for visitors - Also, the contribution of the DNA group and the merchants in being very proactive with establishing late hours in a very warm and inviting downtown
Was this good for N.A.? - one would have to convince me that it wasn’t GREAT for N.A. - I was thinking all week that this is our stepping out if you will with respect to being able to handle an event like this - While we will be looking at everything over the next several days, I would have to think that our downtown did quite well with an overall successful economic impact in North Adams - We will be measuring and creating lists of what went well and not so well - I am certain the "went well" list will be much longer - It is VERY important though to be certain we learn from the experience
As for how can we be of more help...the city...I think that there are certain things we can look at proactively even before planning another event...how can we keep our downtown vibrant and lit without a Wilco concert?? - How do we build on this momentum?? - How do we ease the processes?? - there is much we can do and we just need to stay out in front of it - we cannot let this momentum slow
I look forward to the next couple of weeks as we discuss this major event and finding ways to further capitalize on its success
Thanks Charles for the opportunity to send in these quick notes...
We asked Mass MoCA for attendance numbers and plans for the future.
About 5000 attendees.
No totals on revenue or costs to share at this point.
Nothing to report at this time about the future plans, but everything went swimmingly. Band was delighted, patrons were delighted. Mayor’s Office and city officials did an amazing job with all services, local citizens were super helpful too. We have had nothing but positive feedback.
Director of Marketing & PR
MASS MoCA .
1040 MASS MoCA Way . North Adams, MA 01247
Brian Miksic of Develop North Adams disagreed with our assessment of promoting activities beyond the MoCA campus.
Comment: Some clarifications on the promotion and business aspects of the weekend.
Develop North Adams, and DownStreet Art manned tables at the festival for most of the weekend.
On Friday night, we handed out over 1,000 flyers to direct people to Downtown North Adams on Saturday, for both a morning arts and farmers market and a late night event after the show. Also handed out were nearly 1,000 DownStreet Art brochure/maps as well as a special \"Where to eat and drink map\".
The Saturday morning went very well, and was well attended, and did what it was supposed to do: Draw people downtown. My wife's store, Shima, made more money before noon on Saturday than on any day ever. They made more nearly 2 weeks revenue over the weekend. Petrino's and the Hub have never served more meals in a day as they did on Saturday.
Saturday at the morning event as well as at the show, we handed out the better part of 2,500 of the aforementioned 'fans' that advertised the evening event (as well as the Fall Foliage Parade). DSA again handed out thousands of maps.
As people were exiting after the concert on Saturday, MASS MoCA staff was also telling people of the downtown event.
The music and lighting throughout downtown on Saturday, was planned by, and paid for Develop North Adams to make for an enjoyable experience for all (which I think we succeeded at).
Not only did we want to draw as many people as possible downtown to help businesses, we also simply wanted to show people a good time... so that they return to the city (or, even better, move here).
Overall a great success. If anyone has ideas of what we can do next year to make it even better... please post on the Ideas forum at www.developnorthadams.com
Develop North Adams (DNA)
The artist Eric Rudd has been a leader and visionary for the city over several decades. He developed the abandoned Beaver Mill as well as the artist lofts in the Eclipse Mill. He maintains a site specific work Chapel for Humanity as well as a small gallery on Eagle Street.
After Wilco. Do I want more to happen? Of course, i'd like to see this again and again and again; next week, next month, and each week next summer. Who wouldn't? Wilco was a great success for the town-- nothing but benefits.
Imagine if the Mohawk became one of the stages for this type of festival. Then the entire downtown would be the campus for people to walk around. Obviously, the museum would want to keep it all within their complex to maximize income, but from the town's perspective, having it expand into the downtown would be the best option. But that is a future worth working for.
Having said that, there's nothing wrong with the way MoCA presented this festival. They did a lot of infrastructure work that will pay off by using it again and again. The people who came were respective and excited about not only the festival, but the town. For example, I met a threesome who had a great time (and visited A Chapel for Humanity after a recommendation and went back to the store's owner to thank them for mentioning it). The threesome came from Austin, Texas for the festival, stayed until Monday afternoon, stayed in a motel in Pittsfield because it was the closest place they could fine online-- and loved North Adams (OK- the weather helped). They would come back.
After the concert on Saturday was another memorable moment-- seeing people (on the sidewalk!) and activity on a Saturday night in North Adams. Yes, memorable to us, but really, just a normal street for most cities. There were performers on the sidewalk--and people having a great time.
Crafty Creations had a great Saturday in sales. One art gallery didn't but most on Main Street had crowds; the gallery that didn't sell did at least have 172 people by late Saturday night-- inside their space! When does that ever happen outside of an opening? Perhaps people didn't come to buy art- they came to hear music, and perhaps sample some food or small gifts outside the museum complex. The Eagle Street Market on Saturday morning was a great success for almost all-- i hope they continue that for the rest of the season to give it a real test. I'm not sure why they cancelled the trolley tours for this weekend; the tours should have been expanded instead. Perhaps that was just an example of the town getting too nervous; i know it's better to be over-prepared than under-prepared-- but it wasn't necessary to close off streets. However, a lesson learned for the future, I'm sure. Remember, when Sprague used to operate, they had 4,000 employees enter and leave the complex every day! And the streets were full of eateries and markets to accommodate them. This is not really different-- it's just been too long of a dry spell since we've had what i call a "normal town."
Artistically, the music was great most times, with some not-so-great performances. But to sit on the field Saturday night, was just a magical moment. I compare it to the summer when MASS MoCA first opened, and out in the courtyard under the stars, they showed Charlie Chaplin's 'Gold Rush' while a full orchestra (in tux) played. You could have pinched yourself then, and you could have pinched yourself last Saturday to see if this was really North Adams.
But once a year is not nearly enough. There are many types of audiences out there, and many more than have already visited. I think North Adams has to be marketed just as much as the museum. What about a North Adams festival?
Artist and Entrepreneur
Jeremy Goodwin who covers rock music for the Berkshire Eagle had some thoughts on my fuzzy math as reported below.
“As of Sunday night it was estimated that there were just over 5,000 on Saturday and another 3,500 on Sunday. On Friday night Joe Thompson, Mass MoCA's director, told me that as of 9 PM the head count was 1,600. So give or take the festival drew 10,000 for the weekend.”
Hi Charles. Not sure if you realize this, but the *only* tickets sold for this event were full, three-day passes. So the paid attendance is a very clear number, whatever it is, and those per-day numbers you cite are all from the same pool of people.
Jeremy D. Goodwin
This reader offered a critical assessment on our reporting.
It is ridiculous to suggest that downtown North Adams should erect a stage and host performances for a local audience during the next iteration (if it happens) of the sound festival. The sound festival was as much a local event as a national one and it would be wise for North Adams to support the hard work and creativity generated by MassMoCA, not compete with it. You are perpetuating a discourse of opposition through conjecture and hyperbole by stating that locals mostly stayed home and “hunkered down.”
Feedback from an artist/ resident of the Eclipse Mill.
After the Solid Sound Festival wound down, a posse of Wilco followers from various parts of the country got together downtown for an impromptu reunion. They descended first on the Richmond Grill, wanting food and drink, but one of the group of friends said, "They yelled at us over there. I think we scared them." They were about twenty strong. "They told us to write down our own order on a piece of paper. We can be a little overwhelming, I guess." The crowd of music-lovers, including Mike Mills of R.E.M. and Joshua Loring of Brenda (both also part of The Baseball Project) decided to cross the street to Taylor's Fine Dining. Mills pulled out his guitar and sang happy birthday to an awestruck twenty-two year old.
Several in the group expressed how much they enjoyed North Adams. "We love your town! We've felt so welcomed here." Loring raved about the picturesque quality of the mill town with its steeples, nestled in the Hoosic Valley. He said it reminded him of Portland, Maine, his home town. When Taylor's closed, the group headed over to The Artery Lounge to prolong their time together and to spread the wealth. Sean Taylor, after closing up his family's own establishment, magnanimously led the way.
Kate Schilling at The Hub expressed her dismay over the fact that the city had reneged, two days before the festival, on a promise to extend the hours that North Adams establishments would be permitted to serve alcohol for the weekend. She and others had been assured that they would be allowed to do business until 2 a.m. That didn't happen. Businesses have been encouraged to seek licensing on an individual basis for future events, but the disappointment in city government was palpable Saturday evening. It has been rumored that The Hub did set some new records for business, but that has not been confirmed.
An artist answered our e mail questions.
1. Did you attend? yes
2. What did you like? having so many people in north adams! a fun cultural event that didn't take itself so seriously. a fairly high standard of quality.
3. What did you not like? I wish there had been a discounted rate for people associated with local cultural or non-profit organizations. The ticket price was prohibitive for many local people, making it seem like the event was "trying to keep locals out." I knew a lot of people who would have attended if they could have afforded to do so.
4. Was this good for North Adams? Yes
5. How can it be better next year? see 3.
6. What can you do to help as a politician, merchant, artist, citizen?
Attend and have fun!
The response of City Councilor Alan L. Marden
1. Did you attend? Yes!!!
2. What did you like? I must have asked at least 50 persons...all ages if they had ever heard of Wilco. Not one...including me. I am now an absolute fan...ordered a cd today...but more importantly, totally impressed with the organization of the event and the enthusiasm of the attendees. I loved the integration of the performing and visual arts offered by the venue and Wilco and their selected performers.
3. What did you not like? what's not to like?
4. Was this good for North Adams? Absolutely....such a positive beginning...it will grow, albeit a controlled growth and as you note, with an appropriate maximum attendance figure. No reason Joe's field and the Moca campus can't be used for other performing artists and events...
5. How can it be better next year? good start but we need to do a better job of integrating with downtown. A continual challenge.
6. What can you do to help as a politician, merchant, artist, citizen? As a city councilor, I was very proud of the the good advance and on-site work (as well as the clean up) done by our police, fire, public works and administrative folks did. A major first.
Alan L. Marden
North Adams, Mass.
From a jazz fan and entrepreneur.
Did not attend, but we did have three house guests who went on Saturday and Sunday. I can say this. Although Wilco is not my genre, it seemed like a well-organized event and is a credit to all involved. I believe it was good for North Adams and good for the Berkshires. I have never seen a more hyped event; was it worth all that? I'm not qualified to say. But it certainly represented creative programming. Well-conceived and well-executed. Bravo.
The Teen Scene
Personally I think that the thing at Mass MoCA is dumb!! I mean near the brace well park it was $20.00 for parking in a FREE parking place!!! It's there for the park!!! People shouldn't have to pay money to park in a free parking spot!!!! Not right!! If you really want people to like living here then there needs to be changes!! Like stuff for KIDS to DO!!!!! There is nothing in this town for kids to have fun!! Instead this town is full of Art places all downtown and thats dumb!! That's what Mass MoCA is for!!! Not every other place in town too!! Get some arcades or something cmon let kids actually have fun!!!!! I'm a teenager and teens and kids are always complaining of how boring this town is and I totally AGREE!!! It's boring!!! And the prices for stuff is rediculous!!!!!!