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The Joy of a Music-Filled Weekend in Saratoga Springs

Music lovers are a different breed. The bass kicks in and their toes start to tap. The guitar picks up and their shoulders move in time to the music. Lord help the spectators sitting nearby if there are lyrics because, soon, the enthralled ones will probably be belting out along with the singer, whether they know the lyrics or not. I know this because I’m one of them. No matter what, I’m always happier with music. That’s why I loved every moment of my weekend immersed in music at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs, New York.

There are lots of fun things to do in Saratoga Springs, from visiting the springs themselves to shopping and eating (oh my goodness, the eating) in downtown. To be honest, I might have overlooked Saratoga Performing Arts Center—known as SPAC, for short—if I hadn’t been encouraged to visit. And I would have totally missed out.

Theater and reflecting pool at Saratoga Springs Performing Arts Center

See, I associate the idea of a “performing arts center” with classical music. And while I played the flute for many of my growing up years, I think classical music is fine, but it’s not my favorite genre. I tend to find it a bit…sleepy. What I didn’t know was that concerts at SPAC go well beyond they type of performance I expected.

People on lawn watching a stage performance
Photo by Chris Lee

My first taste of the magic of SPAC came on my first evening in Saratoga Springs. The timeless movie E.T. was being shown with the score performed live by the Philadelphia Orchestra, part of the 51st year of the Orchestra’s summer residency. Families and friends spread out across the lawn with picnic blankets and folding chairs talking, laughing, and settling in for the evening as the army in white tie took the stage with its instruments. From my seat under the pavilion flanked by trees, I watched as the audience members swayed in time to the music.

Orchestra playing while movie projects on a screen

It’s amazing how much music changes a movie when you truly pay attention to it. I’ve never appreciated a score more than when watching it be performed in person. The pounding of the kettledrums accented the approach of the police. The twittering flutes and soaring strings as E.T. and his friends climbed through the sky and later as the spaceship took off brought audience members to their feet. It was anything but a conventional classical music concert.

Band performing

As the families filed out after the movie, it was time for the evening’s second event. Couples and friends followed the path to the Jazz Bar at the Hall of the Springs, a grand 1930s social hall with a magnificent dark wood bar. There, the bar area and patio were splashed with a bit of island flare in honor of the night’s Cuban music from the band Alta Havana. Palm trees, white lights, and fire pits lent ambiance while the beats filled the summer night air.

All around the patio, couples danced. Since I could never dream to repeat those moves, I contented myself with a mojito and some great people watching as the music played on, bringing an unexpected slice of Cuba to upstate New York.

Cocktail and sign advertising the jazz bar

My last concert at SPAC was a first, for me and for Saratoga. SPAC on Stage combined the club feel of the Jazz Bar with the brilliant space that is the SPAC amphitheater, allowing the audience to sit right on stage with the band.

The stage-within-a-stage held a menagerie of performers from the hot jazz band The Hot Sardines. Among the eight, there were horn players, a drummer, and a piano player all ready to tear it up for the inaugural performance. The band even had a dedicated tap dancer, which has to be one of the most unique things I’ve ever seen at a concert. He had plenty of featured moments throughout the two-hour set, but even when he wasn’t the center of attention, his feet became an instrument right alongside the others.

Performers dancing and playing instruments on stage

During the show, there were cocktails, dancing, and plenty of laughter. Despite the enormous space, on stage it felt just like a club. We were encouraged to move around, engage, and even to take photos. The atmosphere was uncommon by design. It was made for crazy music lovers like me.

I was the guest of Saratoga Performing Arts Center. All opinions of the fun and uplifting are my own.

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