Every time Burt Mintline sees the benches coming out of the Stewart’s Shop on Route 9P, he knows the cult following of the Dave Matthews Band is on its way.
Staff at the convenience store near Saratoga Lake typically clear space in order to keep a large cache of beer on hand to feed the unquenchable thirst of the estimated 2,000 fans camping at Lee’s Park before the band’s shows at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. Mintline, a longtime manager at the campground, watches every year as a steady procession of campers makes the trip on foot to the nearby Stewart’s, returning with a fresh case of suds.
The beer helps fuel a party that starts when campers first trickle in Thursday and lasts until they pack up to leave Sunday. Many are return campers who view Lee’s Park as a rustic home away from home.
“Everybody is family,” he said amid the bustle of campground workers bracing for the crowd. “Everybody pretty much behaves themselves.”
Of course, the campground isn’t the only area to feel the impact of Dave Matthews’ two performances. The concerts bring in roughly 25,000 fans per night — a population that fills area hotels, eats at local restaurants and visits bars in downtown Saratoga Springs.
“This is definitely a crowd that comes here, spends some time here and spends some money here,” said Todd Shimkus, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce.
Dave Matthews has remained a veritable fixture at SPAC since his first performance in 1994. He’s played concerts in the park every year since 2000, except in 2011, when his band didn’t go on tour.
The band's performances today and Saturday will mark their 29th and 30th shows in Saratoga Springs, a place where Dave Matthews himself has candidly admitted he enjoys performing. His affinity for SPAC is considered a contributing reason in the venue being able to land the immensely popular Farm Aid festival last fall.
“It’s one of our favorite concerts that come here, in part because Dave Matthews himself made it very clear that SPAC is one of his favorite venues,” said Marcia White, SPAC president and executive director. “I think Dave personally feels it’s like coming home.”
Tickets for Saturday's performance sold out weeks ago and only a few remain for tonight’s performance. And while crowds for the show aren’t expected to start arriving until today, some fans were already pulling into the city more than a day ahead of the soundcheck.
Mintline said he already had nearly three dozen campers at Lee’s Park getting settled in for the weekend shows. Since there are no reserved campsites, he said some particular fans arrive early to get their pick ahead of the crowd.
“A lot of them have been coming for years,” he said.
Many other fans seek more civilized accommodations — something that keeps area hotels packed through the weekend. The 168-room Holiday Inn on Broadway is booked solid and has been since the concerts were announced in January.
“Anytime Dave Matthews is in town we sell out,” said Cindy Hollowood, the hotel’s general manager. “Sometimes people even speculate what the dates will be and book rooms ahead.”
And with filled hotels comes a busy downtown. Though fans are dispersed throughout the city and county, most restaurants and bars feel their presence before and after the shows.
“Every year it's the same,” said Kathleen Stallmer, a manager at City Tavern on Caroline Street. “We are continuously busy from before the show starts until after it finishes.”
Of course, there are issues that arise with such a massive influx of people. The concerts bring inevitable traffic snarls along routes 50 and 9 near Saratoga Spa State Park.
Law enforcement officers are also on alert for fans imbibing a bit too heavily during the performances, which are known to attract a blend of young adult and 30-something fans that enjoy tippling. Previous shows have been accompanied by a wide range of misbehavior, ranging from drunkeness to assaults.
Then in 2010, state park police announced a zero tolerance policy toward alcohol in the SPAC parking lots and surrounding area. The crackdown hasn’t eliminated tailgating at the park, but has significantly diminished some of the more brazen drinking that had been starting before the performances and then spilling into the city afterward.
“We’ve seen a much improved condition over the years,” said state Park Police Chief Richard O’Donnell. “We give people credit for recognizing that it’s not worth the hassle of getting a ticket or getting ejected from the park.”
Likewise, the crackdown on boozing in the park has mitigated some of the poor behavior city police once witnessed after shows. Saratoga Springs Police Lt. Robert Jillson said the performances now are generally problem-free.
“We prepare the best we can, keep a visible presence and hope people make responsible decisions,” he said.