SPAC Is Where It's At

An outdoor performing arts center attracts music-loving visitors to Saratoga every summer

Story by Priscila Ortiz

Photo credit: Chris Lee; Emma Mackey


A SPAC concert at night

The New York Philharmonic Orchestra did not belong in Vermont. Albany journalist Duane La Fleche was convinced of that much. So when La Fleche read that the world-renowned orchestra was considering a summer residency in the Green Mountain State, the reporter decided to do something to keep the ensemble a little closer to home. “Wouldn't the State Reservation at Saratoga Springs make a nice location (for the Philharmonic to play)?” La Fleche wondered in his newspaper column. Leaders of the Saratoga community jumped at the idea. And before the year was out, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) had been born.

"Wouldn't the State Reservation at Saratoga Springs make a nice location?"

Today, SPAC is known for hosting the New York City Ballet and the Philadelphia Orchestra every summer. It’s a popular spot for classical and jazz music, but many popular artists perform/have performed there, including Rush, Grateful Dead, Dave Matthews Band and John Mayer.

The performing arts center itself is a clamshell-shaped amphitheatre, located in the heart of the Saratoga Spa State Park. Standing about ten stories tall, the amphitheater seats 5,200 people, while outside, the lawn can accommodate up to 20,000 more. Approximately 350,000 guests visit SPAC each season to attend classical or contemporary musical performances.

Many of those audience members watch their performance of choice from the lawn, a feature that attracts many families and groups of friends to SPAC every summer. By sitting on the lawn, audiences can get a full view of the amphitheater while enjoying a picnic with family and friends. Patrons can purchase food from the Hall of Springs, or bring their own.

The Hall of Springs is designated a national landmark by the United States National Park Service. According to, the Hall of Springs is “historically called a drink hall," where visitors can drink Saratoga's famous mineral water from three separate fountains for the different springs currently underneath the buffet tables.

Travis Nutting, who lives about a mile and a half from SPAC, has gone to at least 15 concerts there. A funny story he’s heard is that before a Dave Matthews Band concert, Matthews will ride around the park, wearing a wig and fake moustache as to not be recognized. Nutting’s favorite moment at SPAC was when the Dave Matthews Band played their song, “Halloween” as an encore. “It was the first time they had played it live in about eight years, and it was a spur of the moment kind of thing,” said Nutting. “It wasn’t even on the set list.”

"Whatever you want, you got it"

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A pre-concert sound check at SPAC

Herman Matlock, an adjunct lecturer at SUNY Plattsburgh, performed at SPAC three times in the mid-1980s. As a trumpeter, he played alongside Aretha Franklin, Jimmy Dorsey, and Peter Allen.

“Something that I always appreciated while playing there is that they treat the musicians so well,” Marlock says. “Whatever you want, you got it.”

Another aspect of the SPAC is the Saratoga Wine and Food Festival, which runs from September 10-12th. SPAC and the Saratoga Automobile Museum join forces as a major fundraising effort and promotion of the educational programs the museum offers. In its 9th year, this three-day festival sees an increase in attendance with every year. There was a 30 percent increase in 2008 compared with 2007. The festival showcases mainly Italian cars and cuisine.

Lisa Hill, SPAC’s Public Relations/Development Specialist, says SPAC also presents fireworks displays following several of its classical performances, “including the annual fundraising Ballet Gala and Performance, the Orchestra’s Tchaivosky Spectacular performance, and after Family Night performances of the New York City Ballet and the Philadelphia Orchestra.” All in all, SPAC presents approximately four to six fireworks displays during its classical season.

According to Hill, while regular lawn seating is $18, SPAC offers $10 seating for students at its classical performances by the New York City Ballet and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

So whether you want to listen to the beautiful sounds of the Philadelphia Orchestra, or catch Dave Matthews riding a bike with a wig and fake moustache, SPAC is where it’s at.

Are you interested in going to SPAC?

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