SARATOGA SPRINGS – Three Sundays of free music, a new gazebo, and nearly three weeks of film screenings highlight some of the new amenities at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center this season, the organization announced Wednesday at the Hall of Springs, during its annual meeting.
A “Caffè Lena @ SPAC” Concert Series – in reciprocity of the recent “SPAC at Caffè Lena” series will take place on SPAC’s gazebo stage from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday afternoons, June 11, July 9 and Aug. 27.
“We look forward to bringing people from all corners of our community together to experience the exhilaration of live music performances, without the barrier of cost,” said SPAC President and CEO Elizabeth Sobol.
The musical lineup, thus far, features Birds of Chicago, The Pines on June 11; The Steel Wheels, Twisted Pine, Honeysuckle and Western Den on July 9, and Soul Inscribed, Sweet Megg & The Wayfarers, and Let's Be Leonard on Aug. 27. Fans are welcome to bring in food, drink, blankets and lawn chairs for the concerts. Food concessions will also be available. In the event of rain on the day of performance, the concert location will shift to Caffè Lena, on Phila Street.
Also new this year: SPAC will host the Saratoga Film Forum at the Spa Little Theatre from July 20 – Aug. 2, and Aug. 23 - 28. Many of the films screened during the series will feature subjects with connections to artists, composers, choreographers or works that are part of SPAC’s summer programming. The film schedule will be announced in the coming weeks.
The venue’s new gazebo, which will feature an increase in square footage of 133 percent over the current one, will be named after the late Charles R. Wood – who in addition to his other regional accomplishments was a member of SPAC’s board during the ‘90s. The Charles R. Wood Foundation awarded a $150,000 grant to SPAC that will underwrite the cost of replacing SPAC’s aging gazebo stage.
According to SPAC’s 2016 Revenue Statement issued Wednesday, $10 million in operating revenues topped approximately $9.85 million in operating expenses, resulting in a net surplus of approximately $152,000.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Brad Paisley stood atop the stage surrounded by hundreds of local high school seniors and asked for the details of their school mascot.
“Blue Streaks!” came the shouted reply.
“Blue Streak? What is a Blue Streak?” he pondered. “You guys are a streak of lightning,” he said, finally. “That’s very cool!”
And so it went Wednesday night at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, where Paisley put the finishing touches on the stage show for his Weekend Warrior World Tour which officially debuted Thursday night at SPAC and will travel across North America and touch down in Norway and Sweden before concluding in late September.
Wednesday night’s “dress rehearsal” came with the issuance of an invitation to hundreds of high school seniors at Saratoga Springs and Averill Park. Many were thrilled to attend the free preview.
“Oh. My. God. I’m so excited. Me and my dad listen to him all the time, but this is my first time seeing him,” gushed Saratoga Springs High School senior Cheyanne Mattison, who alongside fellow classmates Marisa Pantoja, Larissa Benton and Alyssa Concho secured elbow space at the front of the stage on a May night that boasted temperatures near 90 degrees.
The West Virginia born singer-songwriter strolled the catwalk, took selfies, and showcased his guitar skills, mixing strains of Prince’s “Purple Rain” and the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women” into a slew of tunes for more than one hour, as the band tweaked its sound and technicians tested the pulsating lights and flashy screen graphics, all to the joy of the kids who gathered to witness the event.
“I’ve never been to anything like this,” Paisley explained, casually dressed in black jeans, a T-shirt, street sneakers. A baseball cap rested atop his head.
The musical presentation was combined with casual back-and-forth banter with students which effectively gave the large amphitheater the feel of an intimate living room. When informed that the Blue Streaks had just secured a Section II title in tennis, Paisley offered his congratulations alongside some advice.
“It’s great you won. Tennis is good, but make sure you guys get a back-up career,” he instructed, before sharing his thoughts with the assembly of 17 and 18-year-olds of something to look forward to.
“You know, people will tell you high school is the best part of your life. That’s bull-crap. It’s not,” Paisley said. “But, now college…” he said with a smile.
Paisley made his musical debut in 1999. He has released nearly one dozen studio albums and topped the country music singles charts numerous times. His new release, “Love And War,” features appearances by Mick Jagger and John Fogerty, among others.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Every morning, Elizabeth Sobol begins her day driving down the Avenue of the Pines. Since taking over the reins in October at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Sobol has been forming a vision in her mind’s eye of a park for the arts.
“When I saw the reflecting pool, the Victoria Pool, the beautiful porticos and the baths, the Jazz Bar downstairs, the Hall of Springs and all sorts of these other nooks and crannies, I was like: wow. I started thinking about all sorts of site-specific work,” SPAC’s president and CEO said.
She asked about the jazz bar, and was surprised to learn no live music is played there; When she saw the reflecting pool, she was reminded of John Luther Adams’ 2014 piece “Become Ocean,” which was performed at Lincoln Center around that venue’s reflecting pool.
“I see the park filled with art-making. Music. Maybe some outdoor sculpture and interactive experiences. I think of the park as this magnificent convergence of man-made beauty and natural beauty.”
Sobol said she wants to eliminate any preconceived barriers that may exist separating the SPAC amphitheater – where the arts are staged – and the surrounding grounds of the Saratoga Spa State Park.
“I’m all about no boundaries. Let people experience art in unexpected places where it catches them off-guard,” Sobol said. “I feel like this is a park for the arts, with so many spectacular places we can do performances.”
The other thing she wants to dispel is the bipolar notion that SPAC is either pop music, or classical music. “I think SPAC is one organism. It’s a world-class venue, and as long as everything that appears on the stage is world-class, it belongs without respect to genre.”
Teaming-up with other organizations is key, and already collaborations have been struck with Caffè Lena for a six-concert series, Skidmore College – for a performance that will be staged in June - and with UPH and Proctors for a yet-to-be announced event that will take place in the fall. There are also ongoing conversations with the nearby National Museum of Dance, and Saratoga Auto Museum regarding a potential Cuban festival that would feature live music, dance classes and a curated show of classic cars that would involve all three venues in their respective area of expertise.
“You’d walk in here and have this immersive experience, pulling it all together for you rather than a kind of silo experience,” Sobol said. “I think the more you feel art connects with basic human experiences, then it touches you in different ways.” The idea is to host year-round events that would fan out beyond SPAC’s geographical borders and into the Saratoga Spa State Park, “giving people these sublime experiences out in nature.”
“Some of it would be formal collaboration, some of it would be ‘pop-up,’ but I’m also imagining a poet’s corner here, where people can come and read their work,” Sobol said. “I want people to learn they can just come here in the same way they can go to a fair and entertain themselves, there’s food and rides and animals there’s all sorts of stuff – but with a proliferation of artistic experiences they can have here.”
“I’m also imagining having this whole day based on science and music that would end with Holst – ‘The Planets’ - performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra with massive screens of NASA space footage and hundreds of telescopes placed down in the football field, so kids could go from not just being taught these connections between astronomy and music, but seeing and hearing and feeling it,” Sobol said.
Saratoga’s Arts Ranking
On April 24, SMU’s National Center for Arts Research released its third annual Arts Vibrancy Index, which ranks communities across the country, examining the level of supply, demand, and government support for the arts in each city.
The “arts vibrancy” is measured by nonprofit cultural institutions, organizations and venues particularly attractive to artists or tourists, levels of government support, and being robust in a variety of arts sectors.
The cities of Bennington, Vermont, and Hudson, and Oneonta, N.Y. placed high on the list. As a county, Saratoga placed in the 92nd percentile, meaning of the 3,144 counties across the country, Saratoga County ranks higher than 92 percent of the rest of the country, according to the report, which may be viewed at: https://sites.smu.edu/meadows/heatmap/index.html
Saratoga Springs Arts Commission Involvement
City Mayor Joanne Yepsen, who in 2015 appointed members to the city’s first Arts Commission, is in the process of attempting to strike a collaborative partnership with the city of Nashville, Tennessee.
“We’re identifying what that exchange and partnership will look like,” Yepsen said. “The first step will be sending an invitation to their arts commission to invite some performers, musicians to Saratoga Springs to begin the partnership and we’re hoping to do this in August or September. It might even turn into a mini-festival of national performers, so we’re going to move forward as an Arts Commission.” The creative pipeline could also result in the Spa City hosting music workshops featuring performers from “Music City.”
How It’s Done in Music City
Nashville with a population about 678,000, is more than 20 times the size of Saratoga Springs.
Overseeing things in the “Music City” is the 15-member Metropolitan Nashville Arts Commission, which was formed in 1978. The arts commission has an approximate $3 million annual operating budget, promotes and supports that city’s visual, performing and literary arts. The commission has autonomy from the council, meaning the granting process – while going through a transparent public process, don’t have to return to the City Council for approval, said Jennifer Cole, director of Nashville’s arts commission. Of the $3 million budget, $2.3 million is awarded to civic and nonprofit civic and charitable organizations that assist the commission in its goals, with the balance of monies used to fund special projects and administrative costs.
The arts commission in Nashville also receives separate funding for public art, through the city’s Capital Budget. In 2000, the council adopted a measure that ensures 1 percent of all city-issued bonds for public city buildings is targeted for public art projects. Potential public art projects are subsequently scored by “citizen panelists” - members of a seven-member Public Art Committee - and taxpayers are also permitted to weigh in regarding the art projects that will be placed in public areas, Cole said.
A separate group, the all-volunteer Music City Music Council was started in 2009, which doesn’t have governing powers but works as an advisory group to the mayor . They are an association of business leaders charged with developing strategies toward heightening the awareness and development of Nashville’s world-wide reputation as Music City. Music is to Nashville as horses is to Saratoga, with core employment in the music industry in Nashville per 1,000 population exceeding all other U.S. cities by large margins and New York and Los Angeles by 2.5 to 4 times.
Recently, the Saratoga Springs Arts Commission has held discussions recently regarding the impending loss of the 300-seat Saratoga Music Hall when converted to a court room. Yepsen said to compensate, there are plans underway to potentially enlarge and enhance the Dee Sarno Theater at the Saratoga Arts building on Broadway. Joel Reed, executive director of Saratoga Arts, said with some interior re-configuration, the theater could double its capacity from 100 to 200 people.
New Incubator Opens in Saratoga Springs
“There’s an opportunity for the city of Saratoga Springs with an incubator right here, through SEDC’s (Saratoga Economic Development Corporation) good work,” said Yepsen, referencing other existing regional incubators at the Center For the Gravity in Troy and The Albany Barn. “It could be a space for people to create inventions, or art, or a combination.”
By its own definition, the Tech Valley Center of Gravity in Troy cultivates a community of makers, innovators and entrepreneurs to initiate creative collisions resulting in economic and personal growth. In Albany, that City, its Housing Authority, and the Barn partnered to redevelop the St. Joseph’s Academy building into 22 low-cost live/work residences for artists, and a multi-tenant creative arts incubator, enterprise and program space that includes work and rehearsal suites, a dance studio, and digital media lab.
Ryan Van Amburgh, Economic Development Specialist with SEDC, met with the city Arts Commission during its monthly meeting in April, shortly after launching SPARK Saratoga to empower locally based entrepreneurs. On Wednesday, the non-profit consulting firm announced a collaborative agreement with Saratoga CoWorks to site a new business incubator on Regent Street. Van Amburgh said discussions with the city’s Arts Commission are ongoing regarding a potential arts component, and that SEDC is engaged in a willingness to play a role in the city’s creative economy.
SARATOGA SPRINGS - The Saratoga Performing Arts Center is launching a new programming series this summer that seats audiences directly on the stage of the iconic amphitheater.
The onstage seating capacity in the unique format is 300. The entire audience will sit onstage with the artists and no other seats will be sold for the four-concert series.
“Positioning audiences onstage for this series will offer them a unique, visceral experience – a connection with the performance unlike anything they have experienced previously,” SPAC President and CEO Elizabeth Sobol said, in a statement.
The series takes place on four consecutive evenings in August. New York City jazz band The Hot Sardines perform on Aug.7; Time for Three, and its three classically trained musicians — violinists Nicholas Kendall and Charles Yang, and double-bassist Ranaan Meyer – perform Aug. 14; Classical, hip-hop and R&B fused ensemble Black Violin – whose members have appeared at President Obama's Inaugural and three Super Bowls – perform Aug. 21, and three-time Grammy Award nominated Afro-Cuban music group Tiempo Libre will perform on Aug. 28.
Tickets to SPAC on Stage are limited and are $40 to $50, and available at spac.org beginning May 3. And check out this video clip about the series:
SARATOGA SPRINGS – This weekend’s concert by The Orchestra of St. Luke’s will mark the second of six concerts brought to Saratoga Springs this year born of a newly forged partnership between Caffè Lena and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
The collaboration between the two venues, each which has staged more than a half-century of performances, will encompass jointly curated and presented programs at both venues, with the location varying by season.
The Orchestra of St. Lukes, one of Americas foremost chamber orchestras, will make a first-ever appearance in the Capital Region on April 25 in an exclusive performance at Lena’s café.
“I was in New York in January talking with some friends over coffee when they mentioned they had this program of baroque chamber music they were doing,” recalled SPAC President and CEO Elizabeth Sobol. “It was written by Bach to be performed at Café Zimmerman - a coffeehouse in Leipzig where all the artists and intellectuals would gather at the time Bach was living there. When I heard it was at a coffeehouse, I thought: Oh my God, that has got to come to Caffè Lena. It’s a perfect collaboration between SPAC and Caffè Lena.”
And while this weekend’s show is sold out, tickets are still available for the third spring program, which will be staged at Caffè Lena May 4 and features Louisville, Kentucky-based folk band Harpeth Rising. Tickets are available at: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2910973.
In June, the series shifts to SPAC, where three free Sunday afternoon concerts, one each in June, July, and August will be staged at the new gazebo.
“Very soon we’ll be announcing the summer component to the partnership which will include a monthly Caffè Lena Day at SPAC,” Sobol explained. “It’ll be the whole afternoon, from 12 to 5, and families will be able to come and hang and make music a real part of the afternoon in the park.” The three summer concerts are being curated by the café’s executive director, Sarah Craig.
“When we sat down and started talking about artists, every band Sarah mentioned to me I flipped over. Everything she mentioned I love,” Sobol said.
“I looked for artists that have a huge energy and a rich intensity that can hold up well in an outdoor environment,” said Craig, adding that the schedule of musicians, when solidified, could number as many as three performers on each of the three days. And while the teaming-up of the two Saratoga Springs powerhouses marks the first official collaboration between the venues, there is a long list of artists – from Bob Dylan to Melanie to Don McLean – who have performed at both, as well as a synergy historically fostered by Lena Spencer, who invited musicians appearing on the SPAC stage to come and perform after-hour concerts at her Phila Street café.
With six months under her belt as the new leader at SPAC, Sobol said one goal is creating new ventures while maintaining the venue’s time-honored traditions.
“I was being very conservative until I got the lay of the land. I haven’t touched the big resident companies because they’re so important to the DNA of SPAC, but we’ve been making some enhancements – like this Caffè Lena partnership, and within the next couple of weeks we’re going to be announcing all sorts of partnerships with some of our other cultural family members,” Sobol said. “There are so many organizations here, my feeling is the more we all work together the more we raise Saratoga up.“
SARATOGA SPRINGS - Four months into her new job, SPAC President Elizabeth Sobol says she is learning the Saratoga Performing Arts Center has a uniqueness all its own.
One factor is the location of the venue - nestled among 2,200 acres in the state park sitting on the cusp of a culturally vibrant city, she says. Another is the relationship forged with other performing arts organizations during the venue’s 50-year existence which continue to deliver everything from the whirring pirouette of the ballet dancer, to the delicate air strike of the conductor’s baton and the amplified clamor of an electric guitar.
“Having traveled all over the world, all over the United States, all over North America and having seen festivals of all kinds, I’m here to tell you there is nothing like this anywhere in the world,” says Sobol, a classically trained pianist. She relocated to Saratoga Springs from Miami Beach last fall and will mark her first season at SPAC this year.
“Thinking about the programming, I listened to community voices about what they wanted to see this summer.”
The spectrum of responses offered an array of varied opinions. “Part of my job has been listening to those voices and creating something cohesive that would speak to different aesthetic desires and visions,” Sobol says.
This year, the New York City Ballet will stage 18 ballets by six different choreographers during their residency, from July 5 to 15. The Philadelphia Orchestra season, from Aug. 2 to Aug. 19, will feature a balance between the new and the traditional and include one piece not performed at SPAC since the 1960s. And the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center will return to the Spa Little Theater with six concerts, from Aug. 6 to Aug. 22. The schedule of performers and performance pieces will be publicly released Sunday.
“One thing I wanted to do was also create mini-festivals within a festival. It immerses you in a sound, a narrative and a concept. In dialogue with the Philadelphia Orchestra, we created a mini-Russian festival, a mini-American festival and a mini-French festival. So, if you look across all our programming – the New York City Ballet, the Chamber Music Society and the Philadelphia Orchestra - you’ll see some of the same themes arising.”
Sobol also noted a new series titled “SPAC on Stage” to target young, musical genre-crossing fans and featuring several hundred audience members seated onstage. “What we’re envisioning is an experience that is intimate and extremely visceral and will feature artists unique and different than anything else that has appeared on the SPAC stage."
With pop concert promoter Live Nation, Sobol says there is an ongoing dialogue to maintain the delicate balancing act of scheduling dates at the venue between the pop and classical worlds. A variety of pop concerts have already been announced: Dave Matthews (two solo shows in June, sans band), Train, Nickelback, Dead & Company, and classic rock bills such as Foreigner/Cheap Trick, Rod Stewart/Cyndi Lauper, and Chicago/Doobie Brothers, among them. Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival will be staged June 24-25 and will feature headliners Chaka Khan and the Gipsy Kings, returning artists Jean-Luc Ponty, and Dee Dee Bridgewater, a musical tribute to Ray Charles and more than one dozen other artists.
Responding to recent reports that President Donald Trump may severely cut or altogether eliminate cultural programs that receive federal funding such as the National Endowment for the Arts, Sobol says while concerned about potential cuts to NEA funding for the national well-being, it’s not something that will greatly affect SPAC. “We are being much more strategic about arts funding, but it’s not something that, if it goes away, it’s going to put us in a compromising position.”
*Note, an initial version of this story misstated the number of acres in the Saratoga Spa State Park. The correct number of acres is 2,200.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Elizabeth Sobol leaned against a marble column outside the Hall of Springs. She glanced up at the architecture - detailed more than three-quarters of a century ago by Russian iron-workers, Italian plasterers and Austrian stone cutters - and searched for the words to best express the thoughts inside her head.
“It’s only been a month since my husband and I moved from Miami Beach to Saratoga. And it’s only been eight days since I walked into my office, but the overwhelming sense of magic, the cultural vibrancy I first felt in the city has only deepened,” said the newly minted president and CEO of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. “I want to make sure more people experience the epiphany that I’ve had coming here.”
Moments later, the self-described “newcomer with fresh eyes” was formally introduced by SPAC Board chairman Ron Riggi to about two dozen board members and department heads gathered inside the hall’s Gold Room for their annual fall meeting. Sobol told them that she didn’t foresee radical changes taking place in the near future, but wanted to enhance what already exists by both deepening SPAC’s roots in the local community and extending the venue’s presence and visibility beyond the borders of the Capital Region.
“I feel fortunate coming in at this auspicious moment,” Sobol said in succeeding Marcia White, who earlier this year announced she would be retiring after 11 years at SPAC. “It has been a privilege to begin my new role at SPAC fresh off the heels of the 50th anniversary celebration.”
“2016 was very successful with the 50th anniversary and some beautiful weather,” treasurer Tony Ianniello added. No less than 35 special events were staged in conjunction with the venue’s golden anniversary, and audience attendance during the classical season of performances increased 3.4 percent, compared to the previous year. SPAC received more than $5.22 million in capital campaign gifts in honor of the anniversary. The funds will be used to support programming, capital improvements, and SPAC’s endowment fund, according to the organization. “Now we want to dig down and drill deep on how we can improve the numbers – raise more money and decrease expenses,” Ianniello said.
The Board announced membership rates in 2017 will remain at 2016 levels, and next year’s classical season ticket pricing will include a $30 amphitheater ticket, a $10 reduction in select seating from previous seasons. “As we move into the future, we hope to engage new and younger audiences in order to fulfill our mission of sharing world-class performances with the Capital Region community,” Sobol said.
My parents, Drs. Presco and Vivienne Anderson, moved to Albany in 1950 from Philadelphia, where they both grew up, when I was two years old. Viv left her job as the first female and youngest Assistant Superintendent of the Philadelphia Public Schools so they could both work at the New York State Education Department. My mom was one in a billion. While some people would say that’s just a son overestimating his mother, anyone who knew or worked with Viv would enthusiastically endorse my sentiments. She was nicknamed the “White Tornado,” a phrase used in a popular TV commercial, because of her beautiful white hair and her ability to take complicated situations and clean them up so that they sparkled.
For me, as a kid growing up in the capital district in the 1950s and early 1960s, there wasn’t really that much to do. The drinking age was 18, so there were a lot of clubs with live music six nights a week, but, other than that, bowling and going to the movies were popular. Saratoga, other than the annual four weeks of thoroughbred racing, had become a pretty sleepy town after the 1951 closing of the casinos. The exception was the Harness track, which was pretty packed and was our destination, quickly reached thanks to the Northway, several nights a week. Despite Albany being the State Capitol, everyone knew that if you wanted “real culture,” you had to travel to New York or Boston.
Viv worked closely with Governor Rockefeller, coordinating the Hudson-Champlain Celebration (1958-60) and on other projects, so when SPAC began to take shape, her reputation as an arts advocate and community leader resulted in her involvement in SPAC from the ground up. The SPAC Gala was one of her most cherished projects, and, as President of the Action Council, she knew it had to be bigger and better every year. My favorite aspects of the gala have always been the different annual themes and the creative setups that patrons bring onto the lawn, including elaborate tables, chairs and even ornate candelabras. I’ve been to many galas in my life, but there is no gala like the SPAC Gala!
My mom’s mission in life was identical to SPAC’s mission: to cultivate, promote, foster, sponsor, and develop appreciation, understanding and love of the performing arts. Through her position in the State Education Department, Viv was able to enhance the role of the arts in the curriculum, knowing that involvement in the arts uniquely contributes to individual growth on emotional, creative and academic levels. She was instrumental in founding the New York State Summer School of the Arts, which Governor Rockefeller instituted in 1971. The ballet, dance, jazz and orchestral studies summer schools have always been housed at Skidmore College. Designed as an intensive pre-professional training opportunity, high school students interact with outstanding teachers including acclaimed performers from the New York City Ballet or Philadelphia Orchestra during the instructional day and attend SPAC performances at night. These students do final performances at the Empire State Plaza and SPAC.
Another of Viv’s beliefs was that the arts are for everyone and that everyone is an artist in some way. She founded the IMAGINATION CELEBRATION and Arts for the Handicapped, and ran these programs through the Kennedy Center in all fifty states and in 17 foreign countries.
In addition to the ballet and orchestra, SPAC was our first real opportunity to see the best rock bands live in concert (our region had no large venue before SPAC). There were countless legendary performances at SPAC, but my favorite was the first time I ever saw Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band, in 1984. Bruce is legendary for his high-energy, lengthy performances, but when, guitar in hand, he slides across the whole width of the stage and then jumped up on top of the piano to finish “Rosalita,” I was blown away.
My friend Gary Weinlein went to see Janis there when he was 15. During the encore, he rushed down close to the stage and, when Janis took his hand, her ruby ring came off in Gary’s hand. Gary thought he was in heaven, fantasizing about returning it to her backstage, until someone older and stronger snatched it from him and disappeared. Forty years later, Gary is producing “GROOVIN,” a tribute to the great rock music of the 60s and 70s using local performers. That’s the kind of impact SPAC and the arts can have on people.
Congratulations to SPAC for turning 50! Also, a huge THANK YOU to SPAC for the annual May 5k and 10k walk/run that kicks off summer at SPAC. Many bands perform as participants run through the State Park to SPAC and then enjoy arts-related activities on the lawn. Proceeds benefit the Vivienne Anderson Children’s Program, which provides free tickets to performances and pre-show meetings with dancers and orchestra members.
Editor’s Note: You probably know Susan Farnsworth from her long tenure with the Saratoga Springs Downtown Business Association. Or the Saratoga County Fair. Or Hats Off / Final Stretch. Or even at SPAC – but as a planner, who was brought in as a consultant to help plan all the SPAC50 hoopla that you are enjoying this season. But what you don’t know is that Susie got a singular honor: To be asked to sit in as a performer on the SPAC stage as part of an ensemble when she was a Skidmore student in 1973! She acquired life-changing experiences at a formative age. And they happened at SPAC. I promised you when we began this series that we were going to surprise and dazzle you. Susan’s remembrances are one big way we are fulfilling this promise.
- Arthur Gonick
What I remember most about playing on the main stage at SPAC was that it took a long time to get over the amazing feeling of playing for thousands of people and I was too innocent to be scared. I was asked for my autograph. If I had been aware of the caliber of the local musicians with whom I was playing, I also should have been in awe. The band’s leader was from Ohio. I believe he was discovered in Chautauqua - by the wife of Craig Hankenson (the President of SPAC at the time). She brought him to Saratoga Springs. He wrote all the music and the lyrics to the songs we were rehearsing, and he had some musicians he brought with him from Ohio.
He put a sign up at Skidmore looking for a flute player, and I answered it; I auditioned and was accepted, I played flute and sang backup. I was happy because I was self-taught on the flute, and didn’t read music for this particular instrument. I started on clarinet in fourth grade and played it until about 10th grade. When my sister started on the flute, I picked that up and never looked back.
We rehearsed in a local farmhouse he rented from a dentist; there was an alleged deal with Columbia Records and we would be his studio musicians. We rehearsed 5 days a week, from 10 p.m. to about 2 a.m., then I would get up and go to classes. It was exhausting. I never once thought about money for this gig, as any musician who loves to play can tell you, this is the natural, default position. We didn’t play at local bars or music festivals, we only rehearsed for the album. So when we were asked to open at SPAC for Maria Muldaur (Midnight at the Oasis) and the Headliner, America (Horse with No Name), we said yes. I believe that is when we got some local musicians to join us (including Peter Davis and Butch Walkanowski).
The curtain went up, I remember looking out and being very happy that I couldn’t really make out the audience…thousands of faces. The original music was nothing to write home about, but the band was tight, the arrangements were great and we got applause. The adrenaline was ridiculous. The Columbia Record deal fell through, I doubt that I would have seriously considered leaving Skidmore for the road tour that would have been necessary, (I remember my father being extremely anxious about this possibility) but it was a moot point. That fall, the bandleader composed a song for me, for flute and guitar. We performed it together at the Spa Little Theater: me on flute, him on guitar, no vocals. I remember it was a haunting and beautiful piece. I played it from my soul. It was very different from his other music.
We got a standing ovation. That was the end of my musical performing career, I left on top. I have been friends with the local musicians that were on stage with me that night ever since. I remember that the bandleader and I were also hired to bring food and drinks specified in the performers’ riders backstage to the Green Room for a whole summer.
Two memories stand out to me from that; John Denver was furious that the string instruments kept going out of tune during his first set because it was not a climate controlled environment, and he threatened to leave at intermission. The other was Linda Ronstadt was on the stage, and I was in the wings about 15 feet from her. She is a tiny little thing. She opened her mouth and belted out a song with a fullness and volume that astonished me. I couldn’t believe that it could be coming out of her tiny frame. SPAC was an important part of my life the whole 40+ years that I lived in Saratoga Springs, from the Jazz Festival to the Ballet, Orchestra and special rock concerts.
I was thrilled to be asked to help plan the 50th Anniversary season celebration, and spent 3 ½ years working with Marcia White and the SPAC team. I left the country in January 2016, the parts of the celebration planning I did were finished, and I am watching everything unfold -one after another -from afar.
Congratulations to everyone.
Susan Farnsworth now resides in Israel with her husband and his family.
My first concert, my high school graduation stage, and my first “big girl” job all have one thing in common – SPAC.
So for a place that fulfilled so many of my milestones, it feels only fair that I pay homage to its special milestone, the 50th Anniversary.
As a Saratoga Springs native - you know that it’s a special place.
As a little girl, I was mesmerized – twirling in a little pink ballet tutu – the first time my mom took me to a New York City Ballet matinee. As a tween, ecstatic, when I scored balcony tickets to Britney Spears. My big brother, who previously was way too cool for “Baby One More Time”, quickly volunteered to take me. And earlier this month, as an adult-in-training, I admittedly attended the Phish show, and of course it’s legendary “Shakedown Street.”
However, despite growing up at SPAC, it took working behind the scenes to be able to fully appreciate what makes it tick. The dedication of the small staff to present a full season to the public is astounding. You need to give up your life – and sleep -- for about 4 months of the year. Seriously.
The phrase “the show must go on,” while likely overused, rang true quite literally.
From an intern dressing up as “Dorothy” to promote the upcoming Wizard of Oz presentation with The Philadelphia Orchestra (and getting caught in a rain storm while staging promotional photos) to handing out American Girl doll raffle tickets to anxious moms to quickly tidying my notoriously messy car before picking up The Philadelphia Orchestra President – each was a once in a lifetime experience.
Meet and greet hundreds of Russians from the Bolshoi Ballet in the Price Chopper parking lot on a Sunday night? No problem. Smile and welcome them to Saratoga while they groggily exit their Upstate buses and navigate the foreign aisles containing 50 brands of cereal? Sure.
The New York City Ballet Gala and Lawn Party, always one of my favorite events, was subject to many near crises. At “The British Invasion,” we counted 32 tent rentals set-up. There was supposed to be 33. Can we get another tent installed ASAP all while not disrupting the current matinee performance? We must. Where are the eight missing high-top tables? And why don’t the linens fit?
And then the curtain rises to Balanchine’s Union Jack – and you remember what it’s for. Wait – where is the male arm bouquet Marcia is presenting on stage after the first Act? It’s not backstage with production?
Ah, yes, it’s in the wrong office. Roger. And the second act continues.
To borrow from Bill Dake who coined a popular SPAC motto (printed as a required desk adornment): instead of admiring the problem, look for the solution. And don’t answer the phone – “can I help you?” It’s “I can help.”
This philosophy has followed me to New York City where I now work at a public relations firm. Sometimes when I speak, my former bosses come out. And I’m proud of that.
The amazing thing about SPAC is that it has always had the most loyal “fans” – rivaling that of even Phishheads, and classical aficionados – who care about the venue, its history and its future.
And while we all know the show must go on, it’s nice to reflect on the place that we natives are lucky to have in our backyard.
Kristy Godette is a Saratoga Springs native. She served as Executive Assistant to the President and Public Relations Associate at SPAC and now does public relations for DKC Public Relations in New York City.