The rock concerts that have been a summer staple at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) since it opened are indeed a mixed blessing — both for the venue as well as the Saratoga region.
They attract as many as 25,000 people per show, helping subsidize the money-losing classical events that take place during the summer and augmenting sales for area restaurants, hotels and merchants.
But large numbers of the typical SPAC rock crowd are ill-behaved — turning the concerts into all-day affairs that start with several hours of alcohol- and drug-fueled parties in the adjacent Saratoga Spa State Park, then continue inside the venue, where all manners of alcohol are sold.
While booze and drugs are prohibited in the park, enforcement has been problematic for its hugely outnumbered police force. Last year, the frustrated park police union asked for permission to use stun guns on uncooperative or unruly patrons, as well as a total ban on inside alcohol sales — unrealistic solutions that went nowhere.
Fortunately, department officials are trying other ways to deal with the problem. Last week, they held a day-long training session for cops, designed to improve their confidence and enforcement procedures with party animals. Indeed, part of the problem identified by a consultant from the New Hampshire Liquor Enforcement Bureau is attitude: The cops need to strengthen their resolve to keep booze out of the park.
But before it even gets there, they need to do a better job letting the kids know that it won’t be tolerated. Toward that end, the consultant’s suggestion to broadcast warnings via TV, radio and highway signs makes sense. Forcing people visibly carrying beer on their way into the park to pour it out, or confiscating it, is also appropriate, though impounding the cars of minors caught with alcohol seems unnecessarily extreme — as long as they haven’t been drinking while behind the wheel.
It’s not helpful, for after-show crowd control, anyway, that rock patrons this summer will be allowed to bring alcohol to their seats. But the high prices set by the Live Nation vendor will presumably have some mitigating effect on sales.
The real problem at SPAC is what goes on in the park and parking lots before the gates open. Beefing up park police numbers to the extent possible, and increasing cops’ resolve to be less tolerant of abuses, seems like the best approach for now.