Mountain Park: What a Wonderful Addition to Local Music!

The lawn on the hill at Mountain Park, Holyoke, MA
The lawn on the hill at Mountain Park in Holyoke.

Eric Suher had that same happy look on his face when he greeted me last night at Mountain Park, same as that first night two years ago when he opened this lovely outdoor venue with his first show. I think this venue is one that makes him smile since it’s the culmination of a long dream to have a big outdoor music amphitheatre on a hill where he once skied as a kid.

It was a balmy summer night, and people were streaming in to see The Decemberists. I had been at Tanglewood earlier in the week, so I told him I hoped his lawn on the bank of Mt. Tom was as nice as the splendid greenery of Lenox. “Way better!” he joked. When I asked to take his photo, Suher demurred, asking me to shoot the lawn instead.

Mountain Park is indeed looking damn good, with beautiful green grass covering the hill and the long approach to the venue a carpet of green crisp looking cement sidewalks, and carefully placed trees. Last year the large metal building fell victim to the winter’s big snows, and was carted away as scrap. Suher said he plans to put in permanent structures, real bathrooms, and make it even better. There are 2500 car parking spaces, and that’s the only thing holding him back from his idea of weekly free shows up there. Time will tell, but I am sure next season will be much busier.

It’s been an up and down year at this, the largest of IHEG’s many venues, partly due to the market for talent. Just seven shows are on this summer’s schedule, a few of the bands they had targeted played the revitalized Newport Jazz Festival instead, others just slipped out of reach money-wise.

One band that’s been a highlight for Mountain Park ticket sales is Bon Iver, with a pre-sell that’s been huge. Last night the Decemberists returned to the stage and their frontman Colin Meloy commented on how nice the grass looked, contrasted with two years ago, when it was mostly dirt. A young crowd filled up the area in front of the stage, standing, and the hill was full of people in chairs. Many of the people I ran into had never seen this venue before, and were impressed.

Walking up to the venue, all you see is green. Nice!

The faithful were close to the front, loving the tunes from this Oregon-based band, buying their tee shirts and singing every lyric. I found myself a bit annoyed at a self-indulgent period at the shows end in which guitarist Meloy took over at drums and they messed around playing guitars over their heads. With so many great songs, why waste our time with too much talking and antics–just play the damn songs!