Saratoga Springs

Now called Saratoga New Year’s Fest, revamped celebration brings in several national, regional acts

Cowboy Junkies will perform at 9 p.m. on New Year's Eve in the Saratoga City Center Ballroom.  (Heather Pollock photo)

Cowboy Junkies will perform at 9 p.m. on New Year's Eve in the Saratoga City Center Ballroom.  (Heather Pollock photo)

For more than 25 years, Saratoga Springs has hosted First Night.

But this year, the one-night event will become a weekend spectacle called Saratoga New Year’s Fest with national touring bands, 11 different venues, a 5K road race, fireworks, and even folk and swing dances guided by Dance Flurry callers.

“I came from Saratoga Springs and knew First Night,” said Robert Millis of The 398 Group. “But I’d gotten bored after retiring from the software business so I got into the music business and started putting on shows. Four years ago I began music festivals.”

Then two years ago the pandemic happened. Saratoga Arts withdrew its support in planning the event, and organizers such as Discover Saratoga, the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce and the Saratoga Springs City Center weren’t able to schedule a 2021 First Night. That’s when Millis got involved.

“I wanted to save it,” he said. “Before, it had all been local bands or cover bands that played songs by someone else. I wanted original acts — bands that write their own music with songs that you hear on the radio or see on TV or read about in Rolling Stone.”

Working with the city of Saratoga Springs, the City Center, the chamber and Discover Saratoga and with a budget of up to $140,000, Millis was successful in getting 30 bands, of which one-third will be national bands, one-third will be regional and one-third will be from the 518 area code.

Among those bands include the three headliners: Toronto’s Cowboy Junkies (country/blues), Seattle’s Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio (jazz) and Denver’s The Samples (indie/alternative rock); as well as Jeffrey Gaines, the George Fletcher Blues Band, 18 Strings of Trouble, Maggies Clan, the Maple Run Band and Cait Devin.

“They’ll be flying in that day and costing me an arm and a leg,” Millis said laughing.

Millis also decided to cancel what had been the First Night franchise, which Saratoga Springs’ event had originally been part of. Because the franchise required venues to be non-alcoholic, the venues could not have a bar.

“The franchise had started in Boston with 240 cities, but it’s faded out,” he said. “I decided to not renew it and stipulated that all local bands who wanted to participate had to up the ante.”

He found 11 venues, each of which will have a focus, such as a blues room, country room, jam band, or jazz and there will be one comedy room.

Those venues are all within four blocks of each other and include: Universal Preservation Hall, Saratoga Music Hall, Bailey’s, The Wine Bar, Putnam Place,The Ice House, City Center Blues Joint, the Parting Glass, City Center Country Room and City Center Ballroom. The Hampton Inn & Suites will feature the one comedy room with the Moody McCarthy Show.

The event also spotlights some new features, some for the first time: a mini-Dance Flurry at the Saratoga City Music Hall will begin at noon on Saturday and run all day and night (masks required); fireworks will begin at 6 p.m. Saturday from the rooftop of the Lake Avenue side of the City Center; the Congress Park Carousel will be open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, free of charge; Congress Park will host a skating rink for public skating.

There is also a pre-fest celebration on Friday at Putnam Place with the High Peaks Band, starting at 8 p.m., and the Mighty Mystic at 10 p.m. The show is included as part of the event’s package but can be a sole purchase for $15. The Dance Flurry event is also available for $10. The 5K race begins at 11 a.m. on Sunday with a $30 entry fee.

For access to all scheduled events, purchase of a badge is required: $25 or $20 (advance). Kids 16 and under are free. There are limited VIP packages.

See for information.

Millis said he expected up to 6,000 people to get the badges for what he hopes will prove to be a really exciting holiday weekend.

“This is year one of a three-year plan to make this event a major early winter attraction for the northeast United States. This first edition is just a start,” he said.

Saratoga New Year’s Fest schedule

FRIDAY, Dec. 30
Putnam Place
8 p.m. — High Peaks Band
10 p.m. — Mighty Mystic
Ellsworth Jones Plaza
5 p.m. — Ragged Company Duo
6 p.m. — Fireworks
City Center: Ballroom
7 p.m. — The Samples
9 p.m. — Cowboy Junkies
11 p.m. — Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio
Parting Glass (Celtic pub)
7 p.m. — Triskele
10 p.m. — Maggies Clan
City Center (country party)
7 p.m. — Kevin Richards Line Dance
8 p.m. — Grit n Whisky
9 p.m. — Kevin Richards Line Dance
10 p.m. — Jenny Grace Band
Ice House (classic rock tent)
7 p.m. — 18 Strings Goes Crazy Horse
9 p.m. — Son of a Gun
Wine Bar, lower (piano solo)
8 p.m. — Andy Iorio
Bailey’s Cafe
7:30 p.m. — Keanan & Kribs
Putnam Place (the Dead Zone)
6:30 p.m. — Clare Maloney
& Great Adventure
8 p.m. — Halfstep
10 p.m. — Deadgrass & Friends
City Center (blues joint)
8 p.m. — George Fletcher Blues Band
9:30 p.m. — Peter Parcek Band
Universal Preservation Hall
7 p.m. — Keith Pray Quartet
8:15 p.m. — Cate Devin
9:15 p.m. — Jeffrey Gaines
Hampton Inn (comedy room)
7 p.m. — Moody McCarthy Show #1
8 p.m. — Moody McCarthy Show #2
9 p.m. — Moody McCarthy Show #3
Whitman Brewing (roots cellar)
7 p.m. — Bob Stump Tree-Oh
9:30 p.m. — Maple Run Band
Saratoga Music Hall: Mini-Flurry
Noon — All day & night
SUNDAY, Jan. 1
11 a.m. — 5k road race

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts, Life and Arts, Saratoga Springs

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