Kareem Ghobrial wasn’t going to miss seeing the Dave Matthews Band two years in a row.
The 24-year-old Connecticut resident, who grew up in Saratoga Springs and saw the band perform every summer like clockwork at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, had to see the band’s return to the historic amphitheater on Friday night, its first concert there since 2010.
“Usually I try to go to one a year,” Ghobrial said. “Last year he didn’t have a big tour and skipped SPAC, so I tried to make an extra effort to go this year.”
And even though the Dave Matthews Band had been absent in 2011, the scene in the Saratoga Spa State Park and surrounding parking lots before Friday’s show indicated fans hadn’t forgotten how to have a good party for the occasion. The parking lots along Route 50 and in the park were a mellow home to people grilling by their cars, playing beer pong, tossing around a Frisbee or just enjoying a beer.
Deeper in the park the atmosphere was much rowdier, with the area around Peerless Pool serving as a haven for underage and legal drinking, which all flaunted the zero tolerance policy the park has about alcohol.
This policy, though, was mostly only enforced inside the park when people were visibly causing problems or thwarting the will of police. This enforcement attitude was embodied by one police officer who said to teens drinking from red cups outside of Peerless Pool shortly before the first act was set to start, “Head into the venue, so I don’t have to come over there and check out what’s in your cups.”
But drinking wasn’t the only thing on people’s minds, as 23-year-old Rochester resident Patrick Ward was focused on a sub he had brought with him from a western New York supermarket. He was very excited for the show, as he felt the band always played its best set list at SPAC.
Review: DMB offers roller coaster of rockers, ballads, freak-outs. Click HERE.
“People flock from all over to come here for Dave,” Ward said, including himself as one of the “flockers.”
Commenting on the rowdy teens surrounding Peerless Pool, he predicted they would eventually grow out of it and become more laid back about the pre-show festivities.
“You eventually chill out,” he said, noting the people grilling are usually seasoned veterans of SPAC shows.
For 16-year-old Erin Dooley, of Wilton, the concert represented the official start to summer. This sentiment was echoed by her friend, Miranda Hughes, 19, of Saratoga Springs, who has been home from college for about a month but felt like this was kicking off her summer.
View a wide-angle lens photo of the crowd. Click HERE. (Photo by Alex Haff)
The two girls hadn’t come to the concert together, although in the grand tradition of the park serving as a popular meeting spot, they ended up bumping into each other.
“You just find people here,” Dooley said, proving her point a few minutes later when she ran into more friends during her walk through the park to go into the venue.
“You come with a little group, and as the night progresses, you all join together,” she said. “It’s for the love of Dave.”
“It’s ridiculous how many people I see here from Saratoga,” Hughes added. “Usually I never see anyone. It’s only here I see everyone from high school.”
Farther away from the excited crowds already in the park, on routes 50 and 9, there was manageable traffic that didn’t seem to slow down people just passing by as part of their commute. Police had been worried about traffic backing up on both highways, but it wasn’t much of a visible problem.
There was a lot of congestion at the nearby Stewart’s Shop just off Exit 13 of the Adirondack Northway, a popular spot for people to pick up supplies for before and after the show. It was an eclectic mix of preparations, with underage teens failing to buy cigarettes, one person emptying out part of a soda container to make room for alcohol and some people just buying food.
The Dave Matthews Band will also be performing tonight at SPAC.