Blanketing the landscape

Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops return to the Esplanade for the annual July Fourth celebration. Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops return to the Esplanade for the annual July Fourth celebration. (Winslow Townson/Associated Press/File)
By Louise Kennedy
Globe Staff / July 3, 2009
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It’s one of those postcard moments we all carry around in our heads: the checkered blanket spread across the grass, the wicker basket, the cheese and fruit and artful salad, the sparkling bottle, and somewhere in the distance an orchestra, or a dance troupe, or a stage set, or Fred Astaire . . .

It’s the outdoor arts event and picnic, and in the fleeting paradise that is a New England summer, it’s one of our most cherished pleasures. The Lawn at Tanglewood, which opens for the season this weekend, is the epitome; July Fourth with the Pops on the Esplanade has its charms, too: a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and 4 million screaming children. (OK, kidding about the wine. As with many of these venues, the Esplanade is an alcohol-free zone.)

More recently, Shakespeare on the Common has brought the pleasures of art al fresco even closer to the city’s heart. And for more Shakespeare this summer, Orfeo Group is filling in for the Publick Theatre at Christian Herter Park with outdoor performances preceded by a “Bard-B-Q’’: You supply the food, they’ll supply the grill.

Smaller towns around New England also find ways to encourage outdoor entertainment. If there’s a bandstand, or even just a village green, anywhere near you, there’s probably a concert series, too; just check the town website (or town hall bulletin board) for details. And don’t forget to check for outdoor movies - they’re not just for drive-ins anymore.

What follows is just a small sampling of the smorgasbord that awaits you outdoors. So pack that basket. Summer doesn’t last forever, you know. Especially around here.


TANGLEWOOD: The lawn party that started it all, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer home in the Berkshires has every element required for aesthetic nirvana. The lawn! The trees! The view! The food! Oh, yeah, and the music! In tonight’s opening concert, James Levine conducts an all-Tchaikovsky program; tomorrow’s July Fourth concert features jazz singer Diana Krall, and Sunday brings Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring’’ and the Brahms Violin Concerto. Other highlights this summer include Beethoven’s complete sonatas for violin and piano, the Mark Morris Dance Group, a Mozart and Mahler program, and Film Night. The season runs through Aug. 30, with the Jazz Festival scheduled for Sept. 4-6. 617-266-1492,

BOSTON POPS: Meanwhile, back at the ranch . . . what would July Fourth in Boston be without the Boston Pops on the Esplanade? Don’t even think about it. Fortunately, you don’t have to, because once again Keith Lockhart and his merry band will be served up on the Hatch Shell. Neil Diamond is this year’s celebrity crooner. There’s also a rumor floating around that Tchaikovsky’s “1812’’ Overture is on the program. But here’s a real tip: The preview program, tonight, is often less crowded and just as dazzling, except for those sparkly things in the sky overhead. For those, you’ll need to brave tomorrow’s crowds. 617-266-1492,

LATIN SERIES: The Tito Puente Latin Music Series marks its fifth year with concerts on Thursday evenings in July. Sponsored by the City of Boston’s ParkARTS, along with Berklee College of Music and Villa Victoria Center for the Arts, the concerts bring Berklee faculty, students, and guest artists to Boston audiences. The first concert, July 9, takes place in Mozart Park, 10 Mozart St., Jamaica Plain; the next three happen at O’Day Park, next to Villa Victoria, 85 West Newton St. in the South End. 617-927-1717,

PARKS ’N’ ARTS: ParkARTS is also sponsoring other concerts in Boston city parks; check for details. The Boston Landmarks Orchestra performs at the Hatch Shell and other public parks (617-520-2200 , And the Berklee calendar ( has notable events as well, including “HarborWalk Sounds’’ at the Institute of Contemporary Art. That’s just one of several museum concert series around the area. Others include live music on the Sculpture Terrace at the DeCordova Museum, Lincoln, on Friday nights in July (781-259-8355,, and Concerts in the Courtyard at the Museum of Fine Arts, Wednesday evenings through Aug. 26 (617-369-3306,

FRUITLANDS SERIES: For a truly transcendental experience - or at least a Transcendentalist one - there’s the Fruitlands Summer Concert Series in Harvard. The museum, which features exhibits of Native American, Shaker, and American art in addition to commemorating an original site of the Transcendentalist movement (you know, Ralph Waldo and the boys), presents concerts every Wednesday through August - or Thursday if it rains. Genres include jazz, bluegrass, swing, and blues, and the events are particularly picnic-friendly: Grounds open at 6 for picnickers, charged by the carload, and the music starts at 7:30. 978-456-3924,

CASTLE HILL CONCERTS: In Ipswich, Castle Hill Summer Picnic Concerts are in full swing each Thursday through Sept. 3. The former Crane estate, overlooking Crane Beach, is the site for folk, reggae, zydeco, big band, and other offerings. And Castle Hill, now owned by the Trustees of Reservations, even offers links on its website to a couple of local places that will pack a picnic for you, so you can leave the bologna at home. 978-356-4351 x4015,

JAZZ AT SUNSET: The EcoTarium, Worcester’s unique indoor/outdoor nature museum, presents this series on Fridays through July. Cosponsored by WICN public radio, the series includes big band, zydeco, and other styles, all on the museum’s Sundial Plaza (or under a tent in case of rain). You can reserve a cabaret table for four or bring your own chairs and blanket. The EcoTarium serves light dinners, snacks, and beverages, including beer and wine; you’re also welcome to bring your own picnic - but not, by state law, your own alcohol. 508-929-2700,

LOWELL SUMMER MUSIC SERIES: Celebrating its 20th summer, this series is already underway and continues through Sept. 18. Besides the bounteous and popular Lowell Folk Festival, July 24-26, this year’s offerings include Los Lonely Boys (July 10), Joan Baez (July 30), Dar Williams (Aug. 7), Jakob Dylan and the Wallflowers (Aug. 14), and many more. Children 12 and under free and everyone is free to buy food on site. 978-970-5200,

OUTDOOR KARAOKE: Unless it rains - again - the Museum of Fine Arts’ evening of free outdoor karaoke, originally scheduled for July 1, will take place July 8 in front of the museum on Huntington Avenue. Bring your best Madonna impersonation, because the whole thing is the MFA’s “Look Ma, we’re hip! No, really!’’ way of promoting its latest show, which includes “Queen (A Portrait of Madonna)’’ by video artist Candice Breitz. The museum is posting all about it on Facebook and Twitter, too. No! Really! We’re like totally hip!

NATIVE MUSIC FESTIVAL: The New Bedford Rod & Gun Club sponsors this festival in Dartmouth, now in its 18th year. This year’s event, running all day July 25, features the women’s group Wolf Cry Singers, Wampanoag waterdrummer Jonathan Perry, Abenaki storyteller Willow, and more. Refreshments are available, but bring your own chair or blanket. 508-994-5659,,


SHAKESPEARE ON THE COMMON: After its very public split with the Citi Performing Arts Center last year, Commonwealth Shakespeare Company returns to its independent roots. For its 14th annual free production, artistic director Steven Maler has chosen “The Comedy of Errors,’’ which will run July 31-Aug. 16 at the Parkman Bandstand on Boston Common. The cast includes comic virtuosi Remo Airaldi, Larry Coen, and Fred Sullivan Jr., with other local favorites and a few newcomers. Throughout August, the company will also bring a family-friendly show, “Shakespeare on Love,’’ to Boston and Quincy parks.

SHAKESPEARE UNDER THE STARS: That’s the name of the Hampshire Shakespeare Company’s annual program in Hadley, and it’s just what it sounds like: outdoor performances of the Bard’s works, on the grounds of the Hartsbrook School. This season’s first show, “Henry IV, Part I,’’ wraps up July 5; “Twelfth Night’’ runs July 9-26, and the Young Company production of “Twelfth Night’’ takes place July 31-Aug. 2.


MOVIES BY MOONLIGHT: The Boston Harbor Hotel’s Intrigue Cafe screens a range of more or less kid-friendly flicks on Friday nights, now through Sept. 4. What do we mean by “range’’? Well, tonight’s selection is “Dark Victory,’’ and then after a hiatus next week (Sail Boston, don’tcha know), July 17 brings “The Long, Long Trailer.’’ Isn’t it a pity that Bette Davis and Lucille Ball never shared the screen? Anyhoo, movies start at sunset, and you might be better off sampling chef Daniel Bruce’s cuisine than packing your own. If, by the way, harborside movies don’t appeal, you might still want to check out the hotel for its music offerings on other summer nights: soul music Tuesdays, “timeless tunes’’ Wednesday, and blues Thursday. 617-439-7000,

MOVIES ON THE NECKLACE: This seductively named Jamaica Pond series retains an air of mystery. Perhaps for copyright reasons, the website of the sponsoring organization does not reveal the titles of the movies to be shown, or indeed any information about them at all. Because they’re preceded by children’s activities at 6 p.m., however, you’re probably safe bringing the kids - and Grandma, even if she is more shockable than most modern children. So, what the heck, just show up at the Sugar Bowl around sundown on July 22 or July 29, and see what’s on.

RADIO NIGHTS: For more than 20 years, WBZ has sponsored “Free Friday Flicks’’ at the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade. Nothing tonight, of course (see Pops, above), but next week is “Kung Fu Panda,’’ and the family-friendly fun continues through Aug. 28 with “Mamma Mia,’’ “Iron Man,’’ and more. Not to be outdone, Magic 106.7 presents a “Family Film Festival’’ at the Prudential Center, Saturdays July 25-Aug. 29: “Hotel for Dogs,’’ “Wall-E,’’ et al. Free Friday Flicks: 617-787-7200,; “Family Fun Festival,’’

MOVIES UNDER THE STARS: Falmouth joins the outdoor-movie bandwagon with its own showings at Peg Noonan Park, Wednesdays through Aug. 26. From “Beverly Hills Chihuaha’’ to “E.T.’’ to “Finding Nemo,’’ there’s something for everyone here - particularly if “everyone’’ in your family includes small children who love endearing creatures. 508-540-7724,


SALSA AND MORE: The Elma Lewis Playhouse in the Park, sponsored by the Franklin Park Coalition, presents a full summer of free dance performances, music, and more, at the Valley Gates near the rear entrance of the Franklin Park Zoo. Children, summer camps, and elder groups are welcome for the Tuesday morning shows; Tuesday evenings at 6 are for everyone. Salsa, rhythm & blues, and much more will be presented every Tuesday through Aug. 18. 617-442-4141,

INSIDE/OUT: This free outdoor performance stage is one of the treasures of Jacob’s Pillow, Becket’s dance institution. Performances this season will include a wealth of professional companies and student dancers, from Soul Steps tonight right on through to TAKE Dance on Aug. 29. 413-243-0745,

FOLK DANCING BY THE FOUNTAIN: Every Tuesday evening through Aug. 25, the Folk Arts Center of New England sponsors free participatory folk dancing in Copley Square. No experience required - and, let’s face it, you’ll be much more entertaining for those of us who prefer just to watch if you have no experience, aptitude, or even basic coordination. Of course, the seasoned dancers and instructors may feel differently. Bring an extra sandwich or so to soothe their spirits. And don’t feel you have to find a partner first; singles are always welcome. 781-662-7476,


LANTERN FESTIVAL: Don’t let the location scare you off. This annual event at the Forest Hills Cemetery, drawing on the traditional Japanese Bon Festival, invites visitors to write messages to their departed loved ones on small paper lanterns, which are then set gently afloat on Lake Hibiscus at sunset. A multicultural program of music and dance rounds out the evening. This year’s festival, the 11th annual, starts at 6 p.m. July 16, with the all-too-necessary rain date set for July 23.

A DIFFERENT SPIN: This would be a juggling show, followed by an outdoor screening of an unnamed family-friendly film. It’s at 6:30 p.m. July 16 in the Centanni Courtyard, on Cambridge Street between 2nd and 3rd streets, and it’s one of many free, family-friendly events sponsored this summer by the Cambridge Arts Council. 617-349-4380,

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE! Still not satisfied? Then you, my friend, are the target audience for Johnny’s List of Weird Boston Events, which is exactly what it sounds like. Just check the headline on this week’s offering: “Civil War/Lincoln reenactment, Powwow, Jell-O Wrestling, Hawks, Comedy Music & Teen Angst.’’ If you can’t find something to satisfy your outdoor performance cravings, well, you’re on your own.

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