Phish returned to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center for the first of two shows on Saturday, and fans — “Phish heads” who came from far and wide — couldn’t be happier.
Scores of “phans” started to descend on SPAC and Saratoga Spa State Park lots during the mid-afternoon, building up to thousands by early evening.
In the west parking lot across from the main entrance on Route 50, most soaked up the warm sunshine, played Frisbee, barbecued or were tailgating right after the gates opened at 3:30 p.m.
And there was plenty of alcohol flowing, mostly beer, visible to an observer in the parking lots, along with the smell of marijuana wafting in the air.
Despite the police crackdown on alcohol and drug consumption on park grounds at the Dave Matthews Band concerts earlier this month and a warning police would do likewise for Phish, most fans said they had no issues with the police or their presence.
But Bob, who said he was a bartender in Saratoga Springs and didn’t want to give his full name, described the police patrols as “militant.” He said his car was stopped at several checkpoints on the Avenue of the Pines before he drove over to the west lot and added that they were “hassling everyone” who was driving through. Bob said he told police he didn’t have any alcohol in his car, though he pulled out a 12 pack of beer after he parked. He said he feared police were going to “ruin the venue for every concert if they keep going like this.
“I think they should let their presence be known,” he continued, “but they shouldn’t do anything unless someone is way out of line.”
He said he may stop going to concerts at SPAC: “I’m going to see how tonight goes,” he added.
Parked next to Bob were four fans who made the drive from Paramus, N.J. One complained of the police presence, saying they were giving fans “the Hitler treatment, as least compared to other venues.” The man, who did not give his name but said he was attending his 61st Phish concert, said the only other venue with comparable police patrols was Jones Beach, which he noted is another state park. However, the fan said no matter how heavy-handed the police were, he would continue to come to Phish concerts at SPAC.
“It’s the music. Every time, it’s something new. They do something completely different from the last show,” he said.
Another fan, who only gave her name as Karen, came all the way from Missouri, via New York City. She is a relatively new Phish fan; she said the SPAC shows would be the sixth and seventh times she’s see the band perform. She had also gone to the Phish concert in Hartford, Conn., on Friday night.
“It’s fun, it’s great music,” she said.
Karen said she couldn’t understand what all the fuss with the police was about, saying crowds are much more likely to get out of hand at football games.
Three men then approached, looking to sell drugs.
“Those are the guys [the police] should be busting, not anyone who’s drinking beer and smoking pot,” she said.
Around 6:30 p.m. in the same lot, Park Police were seen arresting two men for what appeared to be drug possession. One officer said he was “not sure yet” when asked what was confiscated.
About an hour earlier, the atmosphere in the lot across Route 50 was very laid back, with fans relaxing mostly with beer cups in hand. Jay Octavius, 32, of Westbury, Long Island, traveled with three friends from Westchester to see the concert. Octavius said he had no concerns that Phish would discontinue playing at SPAC.
“The fact they went from one to two shows from last year to this year shows that they believe in this place,” he said while noting the band’s neighboring Vermont roots and long history of playing at SPAC. “They paid homage to the places we love, and they love playing here.”
His friend, Ray Sullivan, said he had been coming to concerts at SPAC for years and said the police have always had a hands-off approach. “Only loud and drunken idiots get in trouble. They only find you if you give them a reason to,” Sullivan said.
By the entrance, Andre Rodigue, 30, of Voorheesville, said, “Everything’s all good. People aren’t here to party and cause trouble. They’re here to have a good time.”