Saratoga Springs

SPAC president: Lawn looks ‘pretty good’ after concerts, rain

Venue put down 75,000 square feet of sod in 2015
The lawn at SPAC in Saratoga Springs on Monday.
The lawn at SPAC in Saratoga Springs on Monday.

Editor’s note: This story was corrected on Aug. 2, 2018. A previous version included an incorrect cost for the 2015 effort to lay down 75,000 square feet of sod on the lawn. The cost of that effort was not disclosed.

After a weekend of steady foot traffic from fans of Dave Matthews, O.A.R. and Train — and rain — the lawn at Saratoga Performing Arts Center is less green and lush than when the concert season began in May. 

But it was green enough, and dry enough, as Dead & Co. prepared to take the stage Tuesday night, according to SPAC President and CEO Elizabeth Sobol. She expects the lawn to hold up throughout the busy season of concerts, graduation ceremonies, concerts, ballet performances and more.

“We have had an incredibly soggy spring, but the good news is I was just over on the lawn myself and it looks pretty good to me,” she said Tuesday afternoon. “It’s dried out, so tonight, with a fairly big turnout … the audience isn’t going to be standing there in muck and rain. They’re going to be standing there on dry turf.”

Sobol is in her first year as SPAC’s leader, and she admitted she doesn’t have any summers of seeing the lawn firsthand to compare this one to — but she’s also done her research. 

“I knew this was an issue coming into the job here,” she said. “I’ve done a lot of research on my own and talked to a lot of specialists in the field. I do know that this team has the absolute best protocol for maintaining turf that’s out there, and they do an amazing job.”

She added, “I’m very confident that we have the best protocol possible given all the circumstances,” such as SPAC’s steady flow of patrons, unpredictable weather and the steep grade of the grassy area also called the bowl.

The lawn sits behind the venue’s seats and gives concertgoers a place to stretch out, enjoy a picnic, see the stars and more — all with a clear line of sight to the stage. 

In the fall of 2015, after years of intense wear and tear caused by plodding concertgoers and rainstorms, SPAC officials decided to put down 75,000 square feet of sod on the lawn, the first such effort since 1965 when SPAC was being built. This is the second season the new sod has been in place, and while Sobol said it’s in good shape, she also said she’s “looking into other long-term approaches.”

She declined to get into specifics, saying the research process is “still evolving.”

“There’s never a 100 percent solution when you’re talking about Mother Nature, but there may be some longer-term approaches we can take that might ease some of the gravity of the confluence of issues that we face.”

Barring any “cataclysmic Mother Nature events,” Sobol said, she is “very hopeful” that the lawn will survive the summer lineup of concerts and be green when the New York City Ballet comes to town in July — especially considering that SPAC will not be hosting Phish for three days straight.

“I’m sorry not to have Phish here,” she said. “I think Phish is a great part of the usual summer lineup, but in terms of the lawn itself, that will probably help us.”

Sobol said maintaining the lawn is an elaborate process that requires many hands and minds.

“Every day, our ops team is looking at the lawn, and if there are things that can be done — if it’s dry, then watering, if it’s not dry, then reseeding. It’s literally a daily process.”

She said she is doing everything she can to “improve what’s there, but I can’t fight against Mother Nature.”

“This has to be really studied carefully in order to make some major changes over time,” she said. “Everybody who comes to SPAC, I want them to have a great experience, and it’s not just about the music that gets played but the aesthetic experience that they have here.”

Categories: -News-, Schenectady County

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