For almost 80 years, the Boston Symphony Orchestra has ditched the city in July and headed out to the Berkshires for a season at Tanglewood. The audience, while they have listened to world-renowned music and musicians, also have over the years raised picnicking to an art form. From candelabras flickering in the night to custom cocktails made with artisanal local liquor, the picnic scene at a concert in Lenox is something to behold.
Author and Berkshires transplant Gina Hyams, who became smitten with the Tanglewood picnic scene when she moved to the area 10 years ago from San Francisco, looks at the history and traditions of that unique part of the concert experience in her new book, “The Tanglewood Picnic: Music and Outdoor Feasts in the Berkshires” (Muddy Puppy Media, 112 pp., illustrated, $19.95. The book is available at Tanglewood and at several gift shops, bookstores, and inns in the Berkshires. It is also available at Amazon.com).
As Hyams worked on the book, she came to realize that the picnics weren’t just picnics. “I asked everyone who submitted photos, recipes, and picnic strategy tips to answer the question: ‘What do you love about Tanglewood picnics?,’ ” Hyams says. “More often than not, the answer was that Tanglewood picnics are ‘magic’ and I made it my goal to articulate and illustrate all the picnic elements that add up to be greater than the sum of their parts.”
The book includes 150 photos pulled from all sorts of sources, from the BSO archives to audience members’ scrapbooks, and is sprinkled with anecdotes throughout. Hyams also compiled a comprehensive supply list and a dozen favorite recipes from longtime picnickers.
A few of the more interesting items in her “Ultimate Tanglewood Picnic Checklist” (which is several pages long) include: candles (unscented — with the exception of citronella bug-deterring ones — because your favorite scent may not be to your fellow picnickers’ taste); aluminum foil or pie tin (to place under your candles, so the wax doesn’t burn a spot in the lawn); decorations (pink flamingos, balloons, solar lanterns to hang from a tree, etc.); flowers (and a vase and water); board games (chess, checkers, backgammon, etc.); and musical instruments.
Lest anyone feel intimidated by the list, Hyams notes, “There is no wrong way to picnic at Tanglewood. It’s perfectly acceptable to show up with nothing, rent lawn chairs, and seat cushions, and pick up grab-and-go sandwiches and salads from the food vendors there. Serious Tanglewood picnickers, however, come prepared . . . seriously prepared! Some go fancy with lace tablecloths, candelabras, and crystal goblets and others embrace a more casual approach with paper napkins, finger food, and backyard bouquets.”
At its heart though, beyond all the culinary trappings, Hyams says, “People think picnics there are so special because the tradition is passed down through generations like a beloved family heirloom. I spoke to countless people who had first visited Tanglewood as children, who then brought their own children and grandchildren there.”
Kim Foley MacKinnon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.