The Briary

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A musical interlude…

Friday September 2, 2011

The Briarcliff Motel

The last violin string pings, the last tenor trills his last note, YoYo Ma grins his final, widest grin of the season, and the curtain falls on a blustery Tanglewood for 2011. The Berkshires heads for ten months of drowsy, musical slumber. Or does it?

Of course not! Or why blog about it? This area is rich in music year round with a ton of venues featuring talented local musicians and open mic nights. Local music will crop up often in our blogs, so here’s an introduction.

We discovered The Dreamaway over a decade ago – a place so remote that the owner, Daniel, makes a virtue of it not showing up on GDS systems. Choose your favorite legend about this funky old roadhouse: Marilyn Monroe visited/it used to be a flophouse/part of Bob Dylan's Renaldo and Clara was filmed here. Arlo Guthrie was in there last time we visited. My story is of going to their Wednesday open mic night, guitar in hand to join the tight circle of wannabees. First rule: keep it simple; second rule: don’t get drunk.

That night, a monopolistic 20-something was working his way through the Bruce Springsteen songbook and by the time my turn finally came I was in a whisky-induced stupor and went into an old blues song with a lot of chord changes. I realized half way through that I was singing and playing okay – just not at the same time. Through my whisky haze I figured I’d be okay if I brought the singing and playing back together by the end. I think I got away with it. Although whenever I turn up there now I feel like Kay in the closing scene of Godfather #1. You know, that moment when she peeps through the door and meets Michael’s gaze with the final realization that he’s a chip off the old block? The door shuts quietly in her face, leaving her, forever, on the outside. I know how you feel, love.

You can hang out with the drunken hopeless on Wednesdays at The Dreamaway or watch named local acts at the weekend.  

Elsewhere, my guitar teacher, Steve, is a Big Cheese local guitarist and plays all over the region. He’s one of those annoying types that can play many styles, but his band the BTUs (pictured) mixes up blues, jazz and funk. Catch them in Great Barrington at the Castle Street Café, the lively Gypsy Joynt and The Brick House Pub in Housatonic, where new owners are booking acts from further afield: upstate New York and New England.

Going north, The Red Lion Inn is a Berkshires landmark and its basement bar, The Lion’s Den, has long been a cozy winter haven for locals to eat meatloaf and watch blokes with beards strumming acoustic guitars. But we hear that they’ve been stepping it up lately and as it’s right on our doorstep, we’ll find out more and let you know what’s on offer during the fall.

Our final stop-off for today is The Mission in Pittsfield. This cool tapas bar mixes up Iberian wine, Spanish-inspired food and live music. Last Monday a quartet of enthusiastic kids cranked out some decent cool jazz. But come in expecting to give yourself over to the music – a quiet conversation will be out of the question.

Do you have a pool?

Wednesday August 17, 2011

The Briarcliff Motel

...a question we've been asked a fair few times on the phone this summer. At first we would apologise for lacking this essential amenity but then we thought, hang on a minute, why would you come to an area so blessed with hills, lakes and ponds, and then opt to stay somewhere that yes, has a pool, but entails swimming alongside a major road, downwind of a fast food restaurant and a filling station?

The Berkshires IS The Great Outdoors: cabin life, hiking, cycling and swimming amidst beautiful scenery. So now we say, yes, we do have a pool - it's Benedict Pond, around seven minutes’ drive from here. (Three-and-a-half minutes if Clare’s at the wheel.) It’s in the forest, the setting is amazing and the water temperature’s in the 70s at this time of year. There's a swimming beach and changing rooms. You can even buy a bundle of firewood so you can really get back to the pioneering spirit.

If you don’t like getting wet, it's a great place to take out a kayak instead, as no motor boats are allowed.

Just a little further is Lake Mansfield, which is passionately preserved by the locals and where you can take your kids for swimming classes.

And when winter comes, be it in August or December, you can swim with the locals at our community center pool, just two minutes down the road. Ask us about it and we’ll set it up for you.