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United Shoe Machinery Company bandThe summer months affords an opportunity to attend cultural and events in different settings. There are outdoor concerts, plays, and musical performances of all kinds during the day or under the stars. Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston "Pops" is one of the most prominent examples. The Bank of America Pavilion on the Boston waterfront and the Comcast Center in Mansfield are other examples and bring to mind the old "Concerts on the Common" series hosted by the city of Boston during the 1980's.

Band stand, Reading, Mass.But aside from these established venues with big name acts, the local area abounds with many smaller, community-supported summer series and events. Many cities and towns host events aimed at both their residents and tourists, including concerts by the local symphony or classical ensemble, acappella groups or brass bands. Local band stands may stand idle for much of the year, but provide the perfect venue for these summer musical events, an ideal setting for a picnic and a centerpiece for a community gathering. Massachusetts is considered the "birthplace of summer stock theater" and is the home of the first exclusively summer theater in the country, the Cape Cod Playhouse in Dennis. The state still boasts a large array of summer theaters. Many of these, such as the Williamstown Theater Festival, are well known and often cast big stars. Many others are smaller and, sometimes, experimental in nature.

North Shore Music Theatre, Beverly, Mass.When the North Shore Music Tent opened in 1954, it was an open "an open-air summer-stock theater, bringing Broadway glamour to a former gravel pit off Route 128." During the 1960's permanent walls were constructed along with heating and air conditioning allowing the theater to operate year round. At this time the seating was increased significantly. The North Shore Music Theater has long had an outstanding reputation for its musical theater. The largest non-profit theater in New England, the 1800-seat arena theater has long been a beacon of quality theater on the North Shore, with up to 350,000 people attending one of its seven musicals per year. The theater produced Broadway hits and also supported new works by lesser known artists. The production of a Christmas Carol was an annual rite for schoolchildren as well as adults. In 2005, the theater suffered a serious fire and the cost of renovations created a large debt. When continuing financial difficulties forced the theater into bankruptcy in 2009, it closed it doors, much to the chagrin of its patrons. Fortunately, in July 2010, the theater regained its financial footing reopenedwith a performance of Gypsy. The holiday season will see the return of the ever-popular, "A Christmas Carol."

Poster for the Elks' Funfest, Wakefield, Mass., 1930Summer also has traditionally been the season for traveling carnivals and trips to amusement parks. Traveling carnivals still draw large crowds and are often part of larger summer celebrations, such as the annual "Old Home Week," significant civic anniversaries, or religious festivals, such as St. Peter's Fiesta in Gloucester.

Entrance to Pleasure Island, Wakefield, Mass.A trip to the amusement park is a much anticipated summer adventure. Today, amusement parks in Massachusetts are few and far between, consisting of just three: Edaville Railroad (Carver), The Willows (Salem) and Six Flags (Agawam). Six Flags is the largest of the three, while the Edaville Railroad is a smaller, more specialized park. The Salem Willows now has just a few rides along with some traditional arcades. At one time, though, Massachusetts had a number of storied parks. In fact, one of the earliest amusement parks in the U.S., was built in Massachusetts in 1840. Gallup's Grove, near Springfield, Mass., was a picnic and recreation area on the Connecticut River. It later became known as Riverside Grove and featured boat rides, a large swimming pool and a huge ballroom. By the time it became Riverside Park, there were four roller coasters among is array of rides and other amusements. Riverside Park is now known as Six Flags. Other popular Massachusetts amusement parks included that are now long-gone, but fondly remembered include:

  • Whalom Park, Lunenburg (1893-2000)
  • Lincoln Park, Worcester (1894-1961)
  • White City, Shrewsbury (1905-1960)
  • Nantasket Beach in Hull (1905-1984)
  • King's Castle Land, Whitman (1968-1993)
  • Pleasure Island, Wakefield (1959-1969)

View of Clipper Cove at Pleasure Island, Wakefield, Mass.Though its life span was among the shortest, Pleasure Island holds a special place in the hearts of many local residents. Pleasure Island opened on June 22, 1959 to much excitement. The 80-acre, 4 million dollar operation was considered the "East Coast's answer to Disneyland" and was, in fact, designed by the same person. Pleasure Island featured cowboys and pirates, stagecoaches and whaleboats among a variety of rides and attractions. It also staged shows featuring popular television stars, including the Three Stooges and Lassie. Pleasure Island also produced concerts, including a significant Jazz Festival in 1960, with Oscar Peterson, Dinah Washington, Nina Simone, and Duke Ellington among others. Despite its popularity, Pleasure Island faced financial difficulties throughout its history due, primarily, to the short operating season. It was forced into foreclosure and closed in 1969. See a musical postcard of Pleasure Island.

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