There are a lot of summer traditions in which I indulge – the Hadley flea market, trying to get in a bit of fishing at Beaver Lake in Ware, enjoying locally grown vegetables, especially our glorious butter and sugar corn and smoking a cigar on my deck in the cool of an evening.
The concerts at Stearns Square are another of those traditions and while the free music is still happening the atmosphere has changed.
My wife and I started going to the concerts when they first started during the Albano administration, the mayor closed part of Main Street as a pedestrian mall as an experiment. Weekly concerts that featured a lot of great blues artists were scheduled there.
Businesses complained and the pedestrian mall concept didn’t work. Perhaps it was the wrong space at the wrong time, but the free summer concerts did work and were subsequently moved to Stearns Square.
At this location, they have flourished and we’ve seen some great acts there along with thousands of other people.
One could easily say that in a city that takes a lot of hits for sins both real and imagined, the Stearns Square concerts were a consistent bright spot. People from around the region gather almost in the heart of downtown to enjoy some tunes, some food and an adult beverage. The concerts disproved that downtown Springfield was a scary place.
Everyone goes to those concerts: big time radio personalities, City Council members, real estate developers and many more. I never know whom I’m going to see. That’s part of the event’s charm.
Part of that experience was the motorcycle riders who would make the concert a destination. There were bikers of all stripes there and incidences of bad behavior were at an absolute minimum. I never felt anything but safe there despite the presence of a handful of guys wearing their colors. They never bothered me.
I don’t ride but I enjoyed walking up and down the street admiring the bikes, wishing that I did ride.
So imagine my surprise when I went to the first concert of the season this year and saw no bikes. I initially thought I had the wrong day.
I didn’t. Worthington Street had been sealed off to vehicular traffic and the bikers were told to park elsewhere. Some of the lots were charging as much as $8 and many bikers took to Facebook saying they wouldn’t be back.
Wow. Clearly I didn’t get the memo – or the press release.
The second concert I couldn’t help but notice the attendance was down despite the fact the music was just what Stearns Square concert attendees love. Of course the threat of rain may have had something to do with it.
The reason for this switch is to undertake an experiment to see if a pedestrian mall on Worthington Street is a good idea. Since that street is in the city’s “Innovation District” the plan is to create a venue for a greater number of downtown street events in the future.
The problem is this concept was not adequately communicated to the bikers who, by the way, spend a fair amount of dough at bars and restaurants on the night of the concert. Many bikers assumed it was a strategy to keep them away. I’ve been told it’s not.
So the big question is whether or not the concerts can attract enough non-bikers to take up the slack in the revenue the bikers provided as this test of a pedestrian mall unfolds this summer. The concert nights are a boost for some businesses downtown, but they may not provide as much of a hike this year.
Many bikers are now going to a series of Bike Nights that started two weeks ago at Indian Motorcycles in Westfield. These events shift location from week to week.
While I understand the pedestrian mall concept is a long-range one in many ways, I hope the city hasn’t shot itself in the foot in the short run by not effectively telling a key demographic for its iconic summer event that they are still welcome.
You know that old New England bit of wisdom: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Agree? Disagree? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. As always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.