Saratoga Springs

Special SPAC shows: Readers offer all-time Top 3

Many favorites at Saratoga Performing Arts Center reach back 40-50 years
Lead singer Chris Martin and guitarist Jonny Buckland perform with British group Coldplay during their concert at SPAC in 2009.
Lead singer Chris Martin and guitarist Jonny Buckland perform with British group Coldplay during their concert at SPAC in 2009.

On May 18, SPAC officials announced that the 2020 classical season featuring the New York City Ballet and Philadelphia Orchestra was canceled over concerns about the potential spread of the coronavirus. Over the course of several weeks, popular music concerts were canceled as well. 

So while we await the return of our favorite performers to Saratoga Springs in 2021, it seemed a good time to ask fans to reflect on their favorite concerts or dance performances since they’ve been attending the summer venue.

We asked only for your initials (some also providing where they live). Many favorite shows reach back to SPAC’s early years. Some are more recent. Some fans offered fun anecdotes. We appreciate all of your contributions, which follow:

Eric Clapton, Aug 1992 — a blistering set list opening with “White Room.”
Elton John, July 1989. “Sacrifice” was a strong song.
Rush, June 2013. Their last and maybe best performance at SPAC. Set was well into 3 hours. Incredible!
— J.S., Schenectady

Pink Floyd, Dark Side of The Moon Tour, 1973. This is my favorite concert of all time (and I went to Woodstock!). Listening to Pink Floyd play live with a group of my friends was like no other.
— R.B.

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers with The Black Crowes, 2005
The Allman Bros., 2006
Crosby Stills & Nash, 2013
— V.N.

Simon & Garfunkel, 1968.
It was my first rock concert. My parents were classical music fans and early donors to SPAC, so we had premier access to tickets, and our seats for this show were front and center. We went as a family — six in all — dressed up for the occasion like it was church.

I’ll never forget the thrill of standing to cheer the first encore (of several), which was the song “Richard Cory.” I’d never heard it before and thought it was the greatest thing ever. I was 10 years old.

Pink Floyd, 1973.
It was possible back then for non-drivers to take a shuttle bus from Colonie Center to the concert. I had just turned 15 and was on my own with a ticket for an inside seat, so I took the shuttle. Once settled in, “older” (college-aged) girls sitting in my row passed a joint.

Floyd played the entire “Dark Side of the Moon” album, in swirling quadrophonic sound through massive speaker towers placed on the stage and at the back of the auditorium.

Special effects included a big rocket that streaked (on a wire, apparently) over our heads and exploded spectacularly behind the band. For the time, the technology was incredible, and the music was as great as you would imagine it.

Santana with opening act Jeff Beck, 1995.
I’ve seen Santana five times altogether, four of them at SPAC (and once at the Palace). Every time they were fantastic — truly one of the best live bands in history. Other lead-off acts included Rusted Root and the Doobie Bros. (last year); the 1973 Santana tour featuring John McLaughlin onstage with Carlos for the whole show was also unforgettable. But Jeff Beck, featuring Terry Bozzio on drums, was simply outrageous — followed by an (as always) first-rate Santana concert, making this the best double bill of all.
— D. B., Albany

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
Pearl Jam (double set)
Multiple Def Leppard shows!
— J.R.

James Taylor, 1995
KISS, 1981 or 82
Heart, 1989
 — L.M., Rotterdam

Coldplay with warmup band Elbow, 2009
The Police and Elvis Costello was the opener, 2008
REO Speedwagon and Chicago, 2018 
— S.N., Niskayuna

Absolutely number one is The Who, 1970, right after the release of the album “Who’s Next”
Earth, Wind & Fire and Chicago playing together
Mahavishnu Orchestra and John McLaughlin with Carlos Santana, 1973
— R. I., Niskayuna

Philadelphia Orchestra, final concert, August 1980
Eugene Ormandy Retirement after more than 40 years! For his farewell performance — Mr. Ormandy chose Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. I was a member and sang with the Saratoga Potsdam Chorus ( bass section). There was a lot of excitement at SPAC that evening. A very special momeent in time to be remembered. At the conclusion of the concert, I was asble to meet Mr. Ormandy backstage and he very kindly autographed my vocal score — I still have this vocal score — it is a great treasure! 
— R.D., Clifton Park

Linda Ronstadt opening for James Taylor, 1974 or 75
Santana and Eric Clapton together, 1975
America, 1975
— E.H., Slingerlands

Korn/Alice in Chains
Breaking Benjamin

Beck/Cage the Elephant
— D. R. 

Saratoga Music Festival, 2008. Levon Helm was stunning with a large Band. Outplayed headliner Bob Dylan.
Crosby, Stills and Nash with Tom Petty, 2010.
Steve Winwood and Eric Clapton, early 1980s.
HM — Bonnie Raitt opening for Neil Young, 1985 or 86.
— S.W., Ballston Spa

Charles Aznavour and Jane Olivor, two great vocalists, around 1979.
The Moody Blues, with opening act Bruce Hornsby, 1988?
The Beach Boys, mid-to-late 1970s
— M.C., Ballston Lake

New York City Ballet’s James Fayette’s retirement performance, July 14, 2005.
The unassuming and humble NYCB principal dancer James Fayette planned to  retire from the company without fanfare.  He told a few of us before the event that he and his wife, principal dancer Jennifer Ringer, would dance together twice: a surprise unannounced first performance that left the audience confused when Albert Evans and Darci Kistler swapped places with Fayette and Ringer for the second movement of Peter Martins’ Barber Violin Concerto and in the planned finale, George Balanchine’s Brahms Schoenberg Quartet, thanks to the graciousness of principal dancer Miranda Weese, who stepped back as the lead to give Ringer one last chance to dance with her husband. A quiet final performance was not in the cards as the skies darkened then erupted with thunder and a torrential downpour drenched the audience, performers and orchestra pit.  During a brief power outage, the orchestra continued playing while Ringer and Fayette, soaked and seemingly oblivious to the mayhem around them, continued to dance fixated on each other.  It was a performance of a lifetime with the audience and nature applauding loudly for a dancer that was one of the company’s best partners, a true gentleman and leader. 

New York City Ballet’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, July 7, 2004.
We saved the ballet!!! This night was the triumphant culmination of a grassroots effort to thwart the decision of the SPAC board to end the residency of the beloved company upon which the arts center was built (along with the Philadelphia Orchestra).  Throngs of balletomanes and families filled the amphitheater and lawn. When the fairies appeared on stage, magic happened as the audience became human fireflies. Their miniature hand-held flashlights illuminated the night sky giving a message to the dancers, orchestra and staff that we will always support the New York City Ballet’s residency at SPAC, their summer home. 

America and Chicago, Sept. 1, 1970.
It was the end of my freshman year at John A. Coleman Catholic High School in Kingston, and my very first concert ever.  I remember my parents driving my friends and me in our wood-sided station wagon up the Northway. Growing up in a small town, I had never seen so many people in one place in my life. Vinyl records were my entertainment back then and, being a huge Chicago fan, I knew the words to every song and shamelessly belted them out during their set. It was a night I will never forget. I have returned to SPAC many times over the past 50 years to see the band that started it all perform.
— M.A.   

Pat Benatar
The New York City Ballet
Luke Bryan

— T. W.

Allman Brothers
The Doobie Brothers

— K. N.

Grateful Dead setting attendance record of 37,801 on June 24, 1984
— J. H.

Sting and Cowboy Junkies, 1996. They were absolutely fantastic. The music was great, but the skies opened. I had lawn seats. Lesson learned.
Tori Amos opening for Alanis Morissette, 1999.
The Philadelphia Orchestra “The Planets — An HD Odyssey,” 2018
— L. W. K., Troy

James Taylor, 200?
Joe Jackson and Marshall Crenshaw, 198?
The Fifth Dimension, 1973
— W. B, Glenville

America with opening act McGuinn, Clark & Hillman, 1979
Jackson Browne, playing much of the “Hold Out” album, 1983?
Neil Young, in the late 1970s?
— A.T., Clifton Park

John Mayer, with opening act One Republic, 2008, terrific show. One Republic lead singer Ryan Tedder autographed our CD
Zac Brown Band, 2013
Dave Matthews Band, 2016
— J. S, Halfmoon

Categories: Entertainment, Life & Arts

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