Music fest highlights efforts to spread cultural tourism dollars around

For cities and towns that successfully attract big-name cultural institutions and events, the quest for a resulting economic boost is only beginning. As it prepares for a music festival that will temporarily increase its population by more than fifty percent, the Berkshire city of North Adams is aiming to be sure it doesn’t miss its opportunity. 

Museums, music festivals and other leaders in the creative economy bring tourist dollars to their host towns, but the challenge of getting some of those dollars beyond restaurants and hotels still remains. 

Since MASS MoCA opened in a converted North Adams factory complex in 1999, it’s been a long process to figure out how to move fans of cutting-edge art into the rest of the city, according to Jonathan Secor, director of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts’ Berkshire Cultural Resource Center.

“So the hope that suddenly, you know, people would wake up and the 70 percent of the stores that were empty would be filled again wasn’t felt. And it could be the museum, it could be Tanglewood, it could be Jacob’s Pillow—insert great cultural institution name here—what brings them from there onto your main streets?” 

The Solid Sound Festival is a three-day, multi-band music and art event at Mass MoCA centered around the popular rock band Wilco. That’s a festival-wide sing-along to Wilco’s set in 2011, from a fan video available on YouTube. When the festival opens on June 21st, about eight thousand fans will swell the city of thirteen thousand residents.  To attract some of those fans from the festival grounds, locals are planning a farmers’ market, late-night hours for shops and nightspots downtown, and even a street concert the night before. The museum is encouraging locals to rent rooms to festival-goers through the Airbnb online service, since conventional inns and hotels are fully booked. 

The city wants to make it as easy as possible for visitors to find what they’re looking for, so it’ll launch its Talk to a Townie program that weekend, according to Veronica Bosley, the city’s director of tourism and community events.

“We actually will put people in large events happening in North Adams, identity them in some way like in an obnoxiously colored t-shirt or something, and have them sort of act as mobile information booths. And they’l leave a graphic on the back of the t-shirt that says ‘I’m a townie, ask me anything,’ or something along those lines.” 

This will be the third Solid Sound Festival. More volunteers for the Talk to a Townie program are still wanted.