There are plenty of local concerts that make headlines, but not because of the music. The Saratoga Performing Arts Center is host to many of those shows.
There are the troubles that usually follow a sold-out Dave Matthews Band two-nighter or a Phish three-nighter: congestion, litter, arrests and inebriation.
But those who’ve been around for a while say that some shows are great for the music and the electricity. They’re the ones that have gone down in SPAC lore. The ones your parents still talk about.
Also of interest
SPAC remains vigilant against alcohol. Click HERE.
“Chairs were flying around. There was a lot of mayhem going on. A lot of rock ’n’ roll mayhem,” said Greg Haymes as he recalled his all-time favorite SPAC show.
At a glance
Some of SPAC’s biggest shows:
The Grateful Dead (1985) 40,231
The Who (1971) 33,652
The Beach Boys (1976) 32,000
REO Speedwagon (1981) 31,400
Bruce Springsteen (1984) 30,000
Pat Benatar (1981) 28,000
Source: Daily Gazette archives
It was Aug. 6, 1988 and Aerosmith was headlining its Permanent Vacation Tour. The one thing Haymes, a senior editor for Nippertown whose band Blotto has played at the Saratoga venue, remembers vividly from that night was that opener Guns N Roses completely upstaged the Steven Tyler-led rock band.
“Aerosmith was fabulous, but Guns N Roses just completely blew them off the stage,” said Haymes. “As I recall, (then-SPAC president) Herb Chesbrough had to come out on stage after Guns N Roses to quiet the crowd. There was serious palpable electricity in the air when they were playing. It was unbelievable.”
What’s your top SPAC show?
What’s your all-time favorite SPAC show? Email us at [email protected] or comment at the bottom of this story.
Just three years earlier, though, it was the Grateful Dead that people were buzzing about. In fact, many still do.
On June 27, 1985 a massive crush of people converged onto the sloping lawn and woods behind the amphitheater; they heard The Dead play a set full of rapid-fire transitions that many would describe years later as electric, surreal and other-worldly.
It was the show that drew SPAC’s largest crowd to date, possibly in part because of the attendance cap that was later put in place. With 40,231 Deadheads jamming, the concert has gone down in SPAC lore. There were makeshift tents, lots of weed, hitchhikers and even one audience member hanging off the balcony. Bobby Weir asked him to get down, at which point he fell, got up and was seemingly fine.
The Dead were banned from SPAC for three years.
Of course, there are other notables. The Doors performed in 1968, just a year after the first non-classical concert (Harry Belafonte) was performed at the amphitheater — to help pay for orchestra residencies.
But before The Dead would break records, The Who was setting them in 1971 with a record attendance on Aug. 2 of 33,652 people. It had shattered a previous record of 22,647 set by Chicago.
The Post-Star described it well in an article published the next day: “The crowd was everywhere, in the seats, on the lawn, on the stage, in the aisles and even on the steel girders on the side of the theater. The latter, fortunately, was only temporary until the police ordered the dozen young people down.”
For the younger set, the legendary classic rock band sets were before their time. Dave Matthews Band is a popular and habitually sold-out show for many current young rockers, while, some 30-plus-year-olds enjoy the memories of their first music festival from the ’90s.
That was the H.O.R.D.E. Festival in 1997 for Kyle Leach. As a 17-year-old senior in high school at the time, the thrill was not just that it was his first unsupervised concert, but that there were so many headlining bands — Beck, Ben Folds Five, Blues Traveler.
“One of my girlfriends let me borrow her wristband and I got to go down into the pit when the Barenaked Ladies went on,” said Leach, now 32. “It was the largest group of headliners I’d ever seen in one place. We were all there to see Neil Young, though.”
Other SPAC favorites culled from unofficial surveys include: Peter Gabriel at the 1993 W.O.M.A.D. Festival, Bob Dylan at the 2008 Saratoga Music Festival, Pink Floyd in 1973, Bruce Springsteen in 1984, Lollapalooza in 1992.
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