Saratoga Performing Arts Center

Saratoga Performing Arts Center
Exterior of SPAC
Address 108 Avenue of Pines, Saratoga Springs, New York, U.S.
Location Saratoga Springs, New York, U.S.
Owner State of New York
Operator Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Inc.
(popular music concerts booked by Live Nation)
Type Outdoor amphitheatre
Seating type reserved, lawn
Capacity 5,103 seats, 20,000 on lawn.
Built 1964-1965
Opened July 9, 1966 (1966-07-09)

Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) is a large amphitheatre located in Saratoga Springs, New York, on the grounds of Saratoga Spa State Park. It presents summer performances of classical music, jazz, pop and rock, dance, opera, as well as a Wine & Food Festival. It opened on July 9, 1966, with a presentation of George Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream by the New York City Ballet.Coordinates: 43°03′19″N 73°48′21″W / 43.0553°N 73.8058°W / 43.0553; -73.8058

The Center is the official summer home of the New York City Ballet and the Philadelphia Orchestra, both of which are in residence for two or three weeks during the summer.

SPAC also serves as the common grounds for high school graduations, particularly for Burnt Hills - Ballston Lake, Saratoga Springs, Shenendehowa, and Ballston Spa High Schools.

Saratoga Performing Arts Center, inc, is a non-profit charitable corporation that runs the arts center. It holds a 50-year renewable lease with the State of New York, which owns the land, theaters and buildings that comprise the center. SPAC subcontracts with Live Nation, which organizes and presents the popular music and rock concerts every summer. The income derived from the Live Nation contract goes towards supporting the classical arts presentations.


In early February 1961, Albany newspaperman Duane La Fleche noted a wire service report about a group hoping to entice the New York Philharmonic to make Stowe, Vermont its summer residence. La Fleche proposed that the group stay in New York State and perform in Saratoga Springs. Local civic, cultural, and legislative leaders, who had previously considered a Saratoga Arts Center an interesting possibility, began to design the facility. Within a week, they held their first meeting; within a month they were focusing on Saratoga Spa State Park as the site, had won the support of State Conservation Commissioner Harold Wilm, and began discussions with both the New York Philharmonic and New York City Ballet.

By summer 1963, contributions from Rockefeller Brothers Fund and New York State supplemented community support to create Saratoga Performing Arts Center. In June 1964, Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller mounted a bulldozer to break the first yard of ground. More than 410 workdays followed: 300 workers clocked 136,000 hours to complete the 5,103-seat, 10-story amphitheater (original layout of the venue did not include a festival lawn; the lawn, which holds 20,000, was added later).[1]

Harry Belafonte was the first non-classical performer to perform at SPAC, in 1967. Then on September 1, 1968 The Doors gave a performance at SPAC,[2] which began a tradition of bringing top pop and rock acts to the amphitheater including Jackson Browne (who recorded "Rosie" backstage in 1977), Whitney Houston (who filmed her music video on stage for "Didn't We Almost Have It All" and televised MTV VMA performance for "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" in 1987). The Pretenders, Santana, Tina Turner, Guns N' Roses, Coldplay, Aretha Franklin, O.A.R., Rush, Demi Lovato, KISS, Dave Matthews Band, Kings of Leon, blink-182, Fall Out Boy, Paramore, Aerosmith, Toby Keith, Train, Maroon 5, Britney Spears, Ray LaMontagne, Prince, Missy Elliott, Pearl Jam, Jay-Z, Phish, Bruce Springsteen, Pink Floyd, Avril Lavigne, John Mayer, Nicki Minaj, Sheryl Crow, 50 Cent, Paul Simon, Selena Gomez, Tom Petty, Drake, The Cars, Snoop Dogg, The B-52's, Def Leppard, The Black Eyed Peas, Ray Charles, Dire Straits, Christina Aguilera, The Beach Boys, 5 Seconds of Summer, Foreigner, Heart, Alter Bridge, Journey, Wiz Khalifa, John Mellencamp, Elton John, Justin Bieber, and The Grateful Dead (1983 being considered one of their classics).

Farm Aid was held here in 2013. Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp, Neil Young, and Willie Nelson headlined.

Past presidents of SPAC include Margaretta "Happy" Rockefeller and Lillian Bostwick Phipps. Currently, the President of the non-profit corporation also acts as the executive director. In the non-profit world this is not unusual .

Present-day performances

Interior of SPAC

Today, SPAC hosts the New York City Ballet and the Philadelphia Orchestra every summer, however in recent seasons it has become apparent that SPAC is in financial trouble, evidenced by its reducing the ballet season from three weeks to 2013's proposed five days only. Paul Bray, in an editorial column has noted that SPAC has suffered from a lack of artistic vision, and has recently been particularly unsuccessful in its fundraising efforts.[3]

In past seasons, some of the world's finest classical music soloists, including Yo-Yo Ma, Gil Shaham, Yuja Wang,[4][5] and Sarah Chang, have performed major concerts at this venue.

The "Philadelphia Orchestra's most well-attended performance is its annual Tchaikovsky Spectacular, which includes the 1812 Overture and one or two well-known concerts.

A feature of each summer is the Freihofer Jazz Festival, co-produced with George Wein, which presents major and emerging jazz artists on two stages.

Also, the Saratoga Chamber Music Festival, under the direction of Canadian violinist, Chantal Juillet, presents programs in the Spa Little Theatre. In 2006, the Composer-In-Residence was Bright Sheng.

Opera performances are given by the Opera Saratoga (formerly Lake George Opera) in the Spa Little Theatre.

The Martha Graham Dance Company performed at SPAC during its 2008 residency at Skidmore College.

SPAC is also a venue for popular music concerts, which are booked exclusively by Live Nation, a leading concert promotion company.

Popular rock band Phish has played the venue a total of 20 times beginning in 1992, a show where frontman Trey Anastasio sat in with headliner Santana. The band has played at SPAC every year since their 2009 return (excluding 2011 and 2015) including three-night runs in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2016.

Sting performed during his Symphonicities Tour on July 31, 2010, along with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

The Dave Matthews Band has a live album recorded at SPAC: Live Trax Vol. 11 (August 29, 2000). Also, they have sold out more concerts than any other artist at the venue, with eleven.[6]

For at least two decades, SPAC has played host to the School of Orchestral Studies (SOS) for the New York State Summer School of the Arts (NYSSSA) program. Under the baton of artistic director Russell Stanger and overseen by administrator Dr. Edward Marschilok, and accompanied by string orchestra conductors Patricia Koppeis and Philip Preddice as well as wind ensemble conductor Conrad Kuchay, the approximately 115 high school age students of NYSSSA's SOS attend concert performances during their summer weeks as part of an intensive study of music performance, study with members of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and ultimately give a culminating performance in the amphitheater.

SPAC's entrance

SPAC is headed by Marcia White, who replaced president Herb Chesborough in 2005, although her recent stewardship has been seriously questioned.[3]

Over 200 seasonal employees keep the venue running smoothly over the summer.

SPAC's largest attended performance in its history was by The Grateful Dead in 1985, where a total of 40,231 fans showed up to see the band. Since the show, SPAC limits its capacity to 25,103.

See also


  1. "Saratoga Performing Arts Center" (PDF). Saratoga Performing Arts Center Festival Site. Billboard Magazine. Retrieved 20 September 2016.
  3. 1 2 Bray, Paul (Sep 13, 2012). "SPAC needs new advocates". Times Union, Albany, NY. Retrieved 30 September 2012.
  4. Geraldine Freeman, "Yuja Wang, 21, SPAC's new pianist star, is a sensation", Schenectady Gazette, August 23, 2008, p. D4.
  5. Geraldine Freedman, "Pianist Wang enjoys unpredictable schedule", August 14, 2008, found at dailygazette website
  6. About SPAC; the official site of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center
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