BECKET — On a November evening in 1975, Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, and Rob Stoner sat down for dinner at a roadhouse in the Berkshires. The Rolling Thunder Revue — Dylan’s ramshackle caravan tour which dipped into small venues on short notice — had just played Springfield. Over chicken and potatoes, Stoner, the tour’s bassist, and bandleader, reviewed the show.
“We were sort of having a business lunch there, where we were not only dining, but discussing what we could do to take care of whatever their complaints were from the previous night, and improve upon them in future shows,” recalled Stoner.
You don’t have to be a member of Dylan’s band to have experienced the uniqueness of the Dream Away Lodge. Those who make the trek up the side of a winding mountain road in Becket are rewarded with the first glance of the glowing sign atop a white country house, tires crunching the dirt road below. A campfire crackles over the brook. Behind the house, a meandering wildflower garden invites further wandering, and for a time, a labyrinth sprawled through the greenery.
Inside, across tilted floorboards, nothing matches: not the dinnerware, nor the decor, a cluttered mishmash of antique camp. Yet it all makes perfect sense. There are cocktails in glittering glasses from the rainbow-illuminated bar, and dinner, featuring local ingredients. In the evenings, music curls around the dinner area from the performance space, inviting diners to gather and listen.
A photo of the aforementioned summit hangs on the wall, adding a literal layer of texture to a long history both seen and unseen, and revered by the lodge’s devoted guests and performers. It was once owned by “Mamma” Maria Frasca and her daughters, and for the last 30 years, Daniel Osman. In 2020, Osman announced it would close, and many feared its history would end there. But a new team of owners will keep the lodge alive, and this spring, it has begun a phased reopening.
The team includes Pete’s Candy Store owner Andy McDowell, and lifelong Berkshire summer visitor Scott Levy, along with Levy’s wife, Sheryl, all New Yorkers.
Like many who visit the Dream Away, Levy connected with the lodge immediately.
“When I walked in and felt the warmth, and was kind of taken by all of the history that’s on the walls and the objects of the space,” he said, “it’s like walking through time. And you’re part of it, because maybe you’re a music fan, or maybe you’re a food fan, or maybe, you like being with people. And this is a place where it all comes together.”
For regulars, especially those in remote places, the closure of a well-loved establishment can be an anxious moment. Will a home away from home become something completely different? Longtime performers whose tours allow them to observe a national landscape of venues say the Dream Away is of a dying breed. And even among strange and beloved places, it stands alone.
“We see the world becoming more and more homogenized with the same chain restaurants and box stores and everything kind of looking the same everywhere you go,” said Ruth Ungar, half of the duo The Mammals, who played the Dream Away’s closing party and recent reopening. “You start to really appreciate those more one-of-a-kind spots, like the Dream Away, that aren’t replicated and really couldn’t be.”
Performers from other nearby arts scenes — Tanglewood and Jacob’s Pillow are nearby — have been known to trickle in after their own shows, too, generating the feeling of a creative commune as the evening passes.
“It’s like driving into a place that you always wish existed, but never did. And every mile you get closer, you’re like, is it really going to be as good as I think it is? And then you’re like, oh, yeah, it is,” mused Elisabeth Fuschia, a Maine-based musician who performs periodically there.
“You feel like you could be in New Orleans, you feel like you could be in Belgium,” said musician Johnny Irion, who relocated to Becket full time in 2006, and who has performed at the lodge since his first visit in 1999. “You’re in another dimension.”
“It’s not just, like, a place to lay down and a place to have a great audience and get to meet new people and feel a sense of community,” said Mike Merenda, also of The Mammals. “It’s like somewhere between a living museum or a living work of art, and a church. … It’s also simultaneously completely unpretentious. Like when you drive up upon it, it’s just a white house in a cleared forest. But then you step inside, and it’s completely audacious.”
While change is inevitable, the new team says it intends to honor and preserve the Dream Away’s experience.
“We would never tamper with perfection,” said Levy. Instead, the team hopes to improve elements that will be enjoyed by guests, yet perhaps not obviously noticed, such as subtle and well-integrated upgrades to the sound system.
Through its spring soft opening, which has employed a mobile chef unit to service the dining area while the team searches for a permanent culinary team, McDowell has dug into the Dream Away’s history to bring back prior musical guests.
The new owners acknowledge that so many who have visited through the years feel a sense of collective ownership: many describe it as a place that feels like home. McDowell and Levy said they listened carefully to community input along the way, as they navigate the tricky but playful business of carrying on such a thick legacy.
“We did as much as we could to meet people here, and everybody is incredibly welcoming … helpful and volunteering, and they kind of put their arm around you and tell you how happy they are that the place is being reopened,” said McDowell. “And they’ll really talk about the glory of their memories at the Dream Away, but they like to finish their conversation with, ‘So don’t screw it up.’”
There are at least four generations living who have patronized the lodge, said McDowell.
“If you’re like, I discovered the Dream Away, people feel like they’re a part of it,” he said. “And they are. All these people who are welcoming us — the Dream Away is theirs, essentially … And we’re like, caretakers.”
McDowell said it could be that discovery and belonging often go hand in hand. “When people discover something secret, they feel like they have some ownership of it.”
Even if the lodge may feel like a secret, it’s one that its fans want to share.
“You almost can’t escape the history of the Dream Away at a certain point because it connects so many people across so many planes,” said Levy.
Often, it is an existing regular who helps spread the word. “Our local country host, Arlo Guthrie, said, you have to see this place,” said Stoner, of his 1975 visit. The Rolling Thunder Revue cavalcade arrived, greeted by then-owner Mamma Frasca.
The tour, whose crew included playwright Sam Shepherd, intended to film scenes for what would become “Renaldo and Clara,” the tour film that director Martin Scorsese would later carve up for his Netflix pseudo-documentary.
Stoner said the visit was “a total aberration” compared to most of the tour, which was marked by hurried load-ins and uncomfortable accommodations. When the team set eyes on the Dream Away’s illuminated bar, the site would be more than a watering hole, but a movie set. Shepherd set to work scripting what became the Dylan and Joan Baez scene about love, truth, and marriage.
“When you walk in, you see that bar,” said Stoner. “And the bar is so quaint and colorful. It’s just not like most bars. Really old school. So right away, we’re thinking, oh, yeah, this is the Bob and Joan scene right here.”
The crew also filmed a brothel scene in the restaurant, perhaps a nod to the rumor that it was such an establishment during the Depression; Stoner said the bawdy decor fit the bill. Mamma Frasca led Baez upstairs where Baez tried on Frasca’s wedding gown; Stoner described a surreal scene, Ginsberg in the background while multi-instrumentalist David Mansfield donned a pair of angel wings.
It was an uncommon scene, but not for the Dream Away. Musicians report sublimely intimate performances, then moonlit convenings on the lawn, and sometimes, sunrises, among like-minded cohorts. That isn’t accidental; the Dream Away’s keeper for three decades has been Osman, under whose direction the lodge has continued to foster this carefully-tended culture of spontaneity and warmth.
“It’s a place where if you’re a playwright, or a plumber, you’re still gonna find some common ground there,” said Irion. “You turn around and then there’s some famous actor and then you turn around and then there’s, you know, the tax clerk from the town… I’ve seen Arlo [Guthrie, Irion’s former father-in-law] up there have conversations with the fireman.”
Musicians affectionately describe Osman directing traffic in the parking lot while clad in a unicorn suit, and charmingly suggesting the tip jar to audiences before sets.
Osman himself said the Dream Away has “a whole cosmic envelope around it.”
“It’s fine that people think that it is somebody’s party — they just have to know that, in fact, it is somebody’s party, and that that person cares tremendously about what kind of party they’re throwing.”
That person, of course, has been Osman, as self-described ringmaster. He is the host stand’s familiar face, in addition to running the rest of the operation. If it seems he has a flair for the theatrical, he credits an early personal history in theater.
“My friends in the theater say that I never left it,” he said. “I just opened my own where I kind of stage manage a different show every night.”
“It’s not a beige-walled, white tablecloth restaurant that you walk into with your head down, and sit down at the table and have dinner and get up and leave,” he explained. “If you don’t interact with the environment, you have missed the whole opportunity. From the fire outside, to the gardens to the labyrinth to the music, it’s a visceral overall experience.”
Merenda described April’s soft opening party as a success, describing a vibrant and diverse crowd, slurping oysters by East Dennis Oyster Farm, with visitors 8 to 85 years old. The Mammals performed, and Merenda described what felt like a magical evening, the mountain ensconced in fog.
“There was . . . an unspoken reverence that I think we both were feeling, just walking around and just feeling so lucky… When it closed, there was a thought: will I never wander around the forest again?”
Now, Osman will help shepherd the transition through the spring’s soft opening and into the summer.
“It’s an ongoing discussion about preservation,” he said. “What needs to stay . . . what maybe has to change. And, it’s a lot of letting go.”
That’s where the emotions kick in.
“I kinda have to give myself a little pat on the back,” he said. “Because as an artist who essentially failed at my first couple of careers . . . I guess I stumbled on the piece I was supposed to be working on. And I guess it was pretty successful. People really connected to it. . . . And what artist could hope for anything more than to have people really connect to his creation?”
The Dream Away Lodge has reopened with a spring schedule; expanded hours for summer begin June 7. 1342 County Road. Becket. www.thedreamawaylodge.com