Rock performers capable of drawing crowds like Dave Matthews draws to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center every year are few and far between — which is certainly a good thing as far as the people who have to manage such crowds are concerned, and probably for most other people in the region, too.
The Saratoga Spa State Park, on whose grounds SPAC is located, simply isn’t designed for 25,000 people — and that’s a conservative estimate for how many showed up at each concert last weekend, given that some never even made it through the turnstiles. Then there’s the fact that much of the crowd was there to party — spending a good part of the afternoon in the park before the show, drinking and smoking marijuana.
Park police charged with keeping the peace during these illegal parties aren’t delighted with the arrangement, and who can blame them? They’re grossly outnumbered, but have to at least try to uphold the law, which prohibits drinking or smoking marijuana in the park. Some people cooperate when asked to pour out their beer, but others have been known to resist, and some officers have been involved in scuffles.
Leaders of the state park police union last week asked for permission to carry stun guns to help keep the peace, but this seems like asking for trouble. The crowds may not be the best behaved, but they’re generally peaceful. Naturally, when there are this many people, and alcohol is involved, there are exceptions; but a better way to deal with the issue would be to augment the police contingent and hope their presence acts as a visual deterrent. The Saratoga Springs Police Department already helps out, as does the county sheriff’s department, but the total law enforcement contingent is still no match for the huge numbers of party animals.
SPAC makes upwards of $1 million a year, depending on ticket sales, from its contract with rock producer Live Nation. The region’s merchants also profit handsomely from the business the crowds generate, and sales tax receipts swell. In other words, it’s too good a business deal for SPAC and the community not to grin and bear the few days of inconvenience that are created.
And rather than limit the crowds (as the park police union also wants to do) or risk alienating them, or popular bands like Matthews’, with a stun gun incident, the cops should simply be given a larger presence — even if it costs an extra few thousand in overtime.