And Then What Happened?: The flight of the young’uns




For the Recorder

Published: 06-09-2024 11:53 AM

Did y’all miss me?
There I was, back in February, writing my regular column, pointing out all the ill effects the month of February has on people, and suddenly, Jazz Fest kicked in. I was in New Orleans at the time, working my job as head of the art department for the Jazz & Heritage Festival there.

I started working on that festival in 1985 and if you were to add up all the work of my previous 39 festivals and stack that up next to how much work we had for my 40th, this year’s mountain would shadow all the previous ones by 4 feet, and I am not kidding. Between all the design, building and production that was needed for The Rolling Stones and a few other big-namers, a bunch of new sponsors and several bonus playgrounds for VIPs, March 1 roared in like a lion driving a tank. I never had a moment to think about anything beyond making every single person out there as happy as I could possibly make them in the world of how their stage, tent or hospitality area looked, while still handwriting more than 3,000 signs.

But I am not complaining — I love that kind of challenge and we did it. I just didn’t have time to do anything else.

But I’m back now, here in Ashfield, where the sun and the birds poke one another at 4:30 every morning, daring each other to see who can wake all the people up first. They do that in the south, too, but in New Orleans even the sun sleeps in until 6 and the birds have to try to shout over all the noise of the street, so that the Louisiana crows’ caws aren’t nearly as contrasting as Ashfield’s birds’ little tweets are.

It is great to be home.

Remember when kids would grow up and leave the family farm to go seek their fortunes in the big cities of the world? Remember in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, when all the cool hipsters lived in New York, Boston and New Orleans, and we created our natty own worlds where anything was possible. We’d say, “You won’t believe what we did last night!” Remember those days?

Well, in the single week I’ve been back in Ashfield, I’ve run into three young’uns and their worldly significant-others who, last time I saw them, were all headed off to New York, Boston and the big cities of Europe. Now, just a few years later, these six 20-somethings have all kicked those cities to the curb and are moving, not just back to Massachusetts, but back to Ashfield, population about 1,701 with them back home. They are done with the complicated, expensive, overstimulated life, and have come back to the cows in the fields and the ice cream at the hardware store. And these kids aren’t displaced farmers; they’re artists, musicians and business majors.

I see your face — you’re saying, “Yeah, they just wanna move back in with their parents.” In fact, they’re all getting their own housing, living on their own, ready to take on a world that they can afford and one that appreciates them as individuals and contributing members of the community, something they missed in the cities.

And if this is happening in Ashfield, I’m certain kids are coming back to their hometowns to roost all over western Massachusetts.

Do you know what that means? The movement is reversing. The cool places to live are here and the once-hip cities will just have to find someone else to entertain.

Something similar happened once before. Back in the 1960s and ’70s, a gaggle of hippies, all from Away, wandered into Ashfield, attracted by the back-to-the-land goodness of the area and the very cheap land up in these hills. Most of them live here still, contributing to one of the town’s most noteworthy statistics, that about 35% of Ashfield’s population is now over 60 years of age — fun for all of us who have friends of our own eras to hang out with, but not necessarily productive for the long-term future of the place. Now, with the energetic and constructive young’uns appreciating real food, clean air and non-plastified water, it’s looking to me as though the town has something serious to look forward to.

Welcome home, all of us! I believe I speak for us all when I say we are mighty happy to be back.

Nan Parati lives and works in Ashfield, where she found home and community following Hurricane Katrina. She can be reached at