Saratoga County

Annual festival draws familiar faces for ‘huge weekend’ of jazz

Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival will take place June 30 and July 1 at the Saratoga Performing Art

When the out-of-town diners at Hattie’s Chicken Shack start toasting each other across the room in their annual reunion of sorts, restaurant staffers get teary-eyed.

That happens every year on the Friday night before Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival, which takes place June 30 and July 1 at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

“Inevitably, my entire dining room knows each other,” said Beth Alexander, co-owner of Hattie’s. She expects the restaurant will serve 300 people for dinner throughout the evening of Friday, June 29. “It’s a huge weekend for us.”

At a glance

What: 35th Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival

When: June 30-July 1

Where: Saratoga Performing Arts Center

How much: $80-$55 for adults for one day; two-day passes are available; children attend for free on the lawn

Who’s performing: Diana Krall, Chris Botti, Esperanza Spalding, Trombone Shorty, Hiromi Trio Project and others

It’s also one of the few weekends when Hattie’s accepts reservations. And this year the restaurant is starting brunches on Saturday and Sunday that may also be popular.

The homey Southern cooking at Hattie’s appeals to the jazz festival crowd, many of whom are well-educated African Americans from the New York City boroughs, North Carolina, Chicago and Baltimore, said Shane Williams-Ness, director of marketing and development at SPAC.

Sixty-five percent of the 12,000 people at the jazz festival come from out of town, Williams-Ness said, and they’ll fill local hotels. The Saratoga Hilton expects to be busy that weekend, mostly because of the festival.

“Jazz festival weekend is a great demand generator for us,” said Darryl Leggieri, director of sales and marketing for the Saratoga Hilton.

The weekend is one of the “no-vacancy” weekends at local hotels, said Cindy Hollowood, general manager of the Holiday Inn in Saratoga Springs. The patrons also eat at local restaurants and shop at local stores, then visit those same stores online for more buying after they get home, she said.

Some of those restaurants and stores will offer jazz-themed food, drinks and merchandise next weekend, said Todd Shimkus, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce.

At a preview event Wednesday afternoon at the Saratoga Springs Visitor Center, Mayor Scott Johnson proclaimed June as Jazz Month in the city.

“I even wore my jazzy tie for the event,” he joked.

SPAC advertises the jazz festival differently than it does, say, the New York City Ballet and Philadelphia Orchestra, which attract a more local crowd.

“We try to do as much advertising in the New York City market for this one as possible,” Williams-Ness said.

Although its advertising budget has been cut, SPAC tries to advertise in the New York Times and contracts with a public relations group that specializes in jazz to reach other publications in the city.

SPAC also advertises in jazz publications such as Hot House Jazz, JazzTimes and Blue Note, she said.

Still, most of the people who come, even the out-of-towners, hear of the festival through word of mouth.

“They’ve been coming year after year,” Williams-Ness said.

That’s one of the charms of the festival and the crowd that fills the Hattie’s dining room Friday night, Alexander said.

“It’s nice, because I hear from them every year, the regulars.”

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