Saratoga County

Saratoga Springs braces for a Phish phan phrenzy

Three nights of the jam band Phish at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center is going to make for a “cr

Three nights of the jam band Phish at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center is going to make for a “crazy weekend.”

Will Pouch, who co-owns Esperanto on Caroline Street, is expecting big things from the three performances, which kick off at 7:30 p.m today and conclude Sunday night. The city has been taken over by big concerts at SPAC in the past, with downtown becoming a big after-party and highways converted into parking lots.

But Pouch said this will be bigger. The atmosphere at SPAC, the state park and the city, will “eclipse” the excitement ginned up when Dave Matthews Band comes to town, he predicted.

Simply based on length, he is already right. Phish’s three-day stand is longer than the two days DMB usually does. The only shows that typically run longer at SPAC are the New York City Ballet and Philadelphia Orchestra.

Ever since Phish announced that they would be returning to Saratoga Springs, having skipped last summer, local businesses have anticipated an influx of spending. Hotels, motels and campgrounds, in particular, are benefiting from the large crowds, which are expected to easily top 20,000 each night, said Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President Todd Shimkus.

“I heard from hotels early,” he said. “When Dave Matthews Band and Phish announced, the phones started ringing. … It’s almost an automatic with these types of crowds.”

At the Robin Hood Motel in Milton, a manager said they’ve been getting busy because of the summer attractions, but this weekend they are completely sold out.

This is a familiar refrain, said Shimkus, who cited Phish as part of an amazing concert lineup at SPAC that has been attracting thousands to Saratoga County: “They’re driving people here before the race meet ever begins.”

With the big crowds, local police are bracing for some problems with drugs and alcohol.

Saratoga Springs Police Department spokesman Lt. John Catone said, “We’ve got a plan for the next three days.”

Additionally, police are concerned about traffic buildup on routes 50 and 9 and an increase in medical emergencies due to the anticipated extreme heat.

There will be a larger presence of city police surrounding the park, which falls under the state park police’s purview, and at Saratoga Lake, where thousands of concertgoers are expected to camp.

Acknowledging all of the different demands, Catone was confident they could do a good job.

“It worked very well during the Dave Matthews Band concert,” he said.

Downtown Saratoga Springs is likely to attract many people after the shows, as a 4 a.m. last call time at bars will give people plenty of time to mosey on over from SPAC.

Pouch said many of the Phish fans will be drawn downtown by attractions such as the bar Putnam Den, where after-parties will be held each night.

He added that Esperanto, which also has a vendor spot at SPAC, will be selling a lot of food this weekend.

This sentiment was echoed by Stewart’s Shops spokesman Tom Mailey, who said the chain of convenience stores always braces for higher demand during big concerts at SPAC. In particular, its locations on Route 9, Route 50 and near Saratoga Lake are expected to be very busy, with the first two locations getting swamped with customers prior to the recent DMB concerts.

Mailey said they were selling lots of beverages, ice, prepared food and a variety of coolers, including a cardboard model they unveiled in the past year. He added that people shouldn’t worry about items running out, as the company works hard to anticipate the increased demand.

Part of the reason why Stewart’s is so popular is the demand from campers who fill nearby campgrounds, such as Moreau Lake State Park in Gansevoort and Lee’s Park Campground near Saratoga Lake.

The concert is one of the big events that fills up Lee’s, which has 20 acres of open tenting. Moreau Lake is only seeing a 2 percentage point bump in its occupancy this weekend compared to the same period last year: It is 100 percent full now.

Not everyone will be camping out, though, as first-time Phish concertgoer Melissa Skevington, 24, will be staying at her parents’ home in Saratoga Springs. She was visiting friends and family for the Independence Day holiday and has decided to take in her first show.

“I’ve heard they’re great live,” she said.

Her plan is to follow the normal SPAC pre-show routine of some light partying in the state park, which she has been doing for years.

She won’t be the only one, as Skevington stressed that the park is a very popular gathering spot for people, even with its zero tolerance policy for alcohol.

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