SOUTH ROYALTON, Vt. -- This is a two-gazebo village. Both stand on the town green , close to a white-steepled church and a red-bricked row of small businesses.
One gazebo is high, green, and appears almost to be standing on stilts. Built in the 1880s, its steps lead to a second level that offers a view of the memorials and benches in the pristine little park.
The other gazebo is newer, larger, and more heavily used. Its summer sounds fill the green on those Thursday nights when octogenarian Dick Ellis leads the community band in a Sousa march or some other rousing number. This gazebo, dedicated in 2004, is officially known as the Richard W. Ellis Bandstand, an appropriate honor for the man who studied at the New England Conservatory and has been conducting community musicians here for 60 years.
The music draws townspeople to the green, just a block from the White River and the campus of Vermont Law School . While the band plays in one gazebo, listeners sit in the other.
``They draw the community together," said John Dumville , a selectman.
From the green of South Royalton to the coast of Maine, where a gazebo by the rocky shore at the Sebasco Harbor Resort has seen its share of weddings over the years, the beloved outdoor structures are as much a part of New England summers as a stroll down Main Street with a melting ice cream cone. They offer a slice of life, a blend of tradition, the arts, and Yankee functionality.
Watch children play by the bandstand during an Old Home Day celebration. Bring the lawn chairs or a blanket and don't forget the picnic basket. Pass the hat during a break in the concert . Take in the sound of strings and brass , a capella voices, or a banjo.
The gazebo is a place for morning coffee or a lunch break for town workers. Young lovers sneak a kiss there, and mature couples hold hands in the shade. Flowers grow around them. Parades go past. Townspeople assemble nearby to remember their war dead.
Watch the fireworks. Listen to a storyteller. Around small-town gazebos, you can take the pulse of a community. They can be located near mountains, lakes, or the ocean. You find them in tiny, rural towns or in elegant spots like the manicured lawn of Roger Williams Park in Providence, which boasts an ornate waterside bandstand with Corinthian columns. In coastal Connecticut, there is music to fish by as anglers try their luck near the gazebo in Howard T. Brown Park at the Marina at American Wharf in Norwich.
Gazebos aren't strictly for warm - weather months. Strap on some skates while sitting on the gazebo steps before taking a glide around the town skating rink, like the one on the mall in Brunswick, Maine. The sight of a balsam fir wrapped with red ribbon in a gazebo is familiar and festive .
``For someone coming from Boston or New York, I think the gazebo is very different from their way of life," said Gloria Friedman , who owns the Applegate Inn in Lee. In that Berkshire s town, the riverside gazebo just off Main Street -- sandwiched between a car wash and the town garage -- is the site of a weekly farmers market in the summer .
The music was there at the start . According to Mike Hathaway of Madison, N.H., a bandleader for 30 years and an amateur historian who has played on his fair share of outdoor bandstands, musicians who played in militia bands during the Civil War wanted a place to continue to perform when their military service ended. Bandstands were built, and the outdoor venues were where townspeople went for entertainment in the summer.
``I feel like we are going back in time when I direct an old-fashioned community band," said Hathaway. ``There is a certain ambience . You can almost put yourself back 100 years or so with all the sights and sounds."
While gazebos offer a link to the past, that doesn't mean they can't be updated beyond an occasional coat of fresh paint. At Sebasco Harbor Resort in Sebasco Estates, Maine, the gazebo offers views of both fresh - and salt water. In summer, a volleyball net is nearby, and the whack of croquet mallets against wooden balls can frequently be heard. It is a place for family get-togethers, reunions, and other important moments in life -- particularly weddings. Stretch limousines sometimes are on the scene. The gazebo's charm endures, whatever the trappings .
At Sebasco, the gazebo is also a place to surf the Internet , since it's a Wi-Fi hot spot.
``You can sit out there with your laptop if you must, and some people must," said Leslie Hunter, the resort's marketing director .
For most, the bandstand is a sure sign of summer vacation. Second-home owners open their country places and head into town to mix with the locals for an evening concert.
There they might see someone like Jonathan Goodwin, a Conway, N.H., business owner who plays clarinet in a number of bands in the area. Performing with the Mount Washington Valley Band at the gazebo on Main Street in North Conway, he has mountain views ahead and behind.
``I like to look up at Cranmore and see the weather coming in," Goodwin said. ``The wind can come along and blow the sheet music off the stand or the rain comes in and you play until you get soaked. But that is all part of it."
So is being on the edge of Lake Winnipesaukee in Wolfeboro, N.H., with the Cate Park Band in the town's bandshell in a picture-perfect park. Boat owners dock at the wharf to enjoy a prime listening spot. When the M/S Mount Washington leaves for a cruise around the lake, it sounds its horn, and the band . Winter dreams of summer are fulfilled.
``That is what the whole thing is about : tradition," said Goodwin. ``There is live music, a summer night, and you get to be outside."
Contact Marty Basch, a freelance writer in New Hampshire, at email@example.com.