Summer Festivals Offer Outdoor Arts

There's nothing like feeling a summer breeze on your skin at the same time it ruffles the robes of an actor delivering Shakespeare's lines, or watching leaves dance in the wind accompanied by Tchaikovsky.

Such is the experience of the arts out of doors. Earth and sky are part of the backdrop, summer storms can add real drama to classic tragedies, an errant fly or bee can add a manic element to comedies.

Enjoying a concert or dance or theatrical performance out of doors is an entirely different experience than one in a traditional auditorium. And many dance, music and theater groups have summer residences.

The New York City Ballet performs at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Sarasota Springs in upstate New York. The Boston Symphony Orchestra's summer home is at Tanglewood in Lenox, Mass.

Other groups and troupes are devoted to the outdoors, such as Wisconsin's American Players Theatre, outside of Spring Green and not far from the state capital of Madison, and the annual Idaho Shakespeare Festival in Boise.

In the South, there's Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, S.C., includes opera, musical theater, drama and dance, and the Wildwood Festival of Music and the Arts, an opera festival in Wildwood Park outside of Little Rock, Ark. (Both festivals have finished for this year, but Wildwood is the site for other musical events throughout the summer).

Ski Resorts, Too

Increasingly, you can also find great music, theater and dance at ski resorts, many of which serve up an admirable mix of the arts, from classical music and dance to bluegrass. Some of these run throughout all or much of the summer, such as the 53-year-old Aspen Music Festival, and Vail's Bravo!Vail Valley Music Festival, both of which feature classical music.

Other gatherings are weekend events, such as Keystone, Colo.'s Sixth Annual River Run Bluegrass and Beer Festival, Aug. 9 through 11, and its Fifth Annual River Run Wine, Jazz and Art Festival, Aug. 23-25.

Durango Mountain Resort in Colorado is winding up a summer that includes CelticFest, with Irish music and crafts and its Music in the Mountains Classical Music series with its first Wildflower Festival over Labor Day weekend, that will feature Arlo Guthrie and Judy Collins.

Farther west there's Santa Barbara, Calif.'s eight-week Music Academy of the West, which features concerts through Aug. 17 and is in its 56th season. The Santa Fe Opera performs throughout the season in an airy outdoor adobe theater in the high desert of northern New Mexico.

Bring Your Own

Most venues are built with picnic space, so it's BYO food and wine and even candles, if you want. It's a relaxed setting, a low-key way to enjoy the classics for veterans and novices alike.

And almost all these venues are set in the middle of an outdoor enthusiast's playground. Saratoga Springs is at the doorstep of the 6 million-acre Adirondack State Park, with its hiking, fishing, biking and boating.

Similarly, Tanglewood is in the heart of the Berkshires. Wildwood is as much about the beauty of nature as it is about the performing arts. Santa Barbara is a city with its toes in the sand and its head in the mountains. The recreational opportunities at mountain resorts are almost limitless, including hiking, biking, fly fishing, rock climbing and sailing.

To find a summer festival near you, check out the Web site of Sigma Alpha Iota at the University School of Music at Ann Arbor, Mich. ( or visit the Web site of the visitors' bureau of destinations you plan to visit.

Please note that phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to change.