Blogs > City Editor's Blog

By Jeremy Schiffres, Daily and Sunday Freeman, Kingston, N.Y.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

SPAC attack

The Saratoga Performing Arts Center — SPAC to its loyal patrons — long was my favorite place to attend concerts. And not only because I lived just a few miles from it for three summer seasons.

SPAC provided the ultimate leisure setting for experiencing live music — easy (and free) parking in a gigantic lot along Route 50, a bucolic country setting, a relaxed and festive atmosphere on the large lawn behind the amphitheater for those who chose not to buy the more expensive indoor seats, freedom to walk all parts of the spacious grounds at will, an easygoing venue staff and reasonably priced food and drinks.

Then came the invasion of Live Nation, and SPAC quickly has become my least favorite place to attend concerts.

Prior to this past Sunday, I last was a SPAC in 2006. That's a long time ago, I realize, but Live Nation, which got its start as a concert promotion company, already had taken over the run of the place, and though there were some changes I didn't love, most of the SPAC experience remained unblemished.

Well, something sure changed between August 2006 and this past Sunday — for the worse. Much worse.

I approached SPAC on Sunday from the north, as I almost always do, coming down Route 50 from the center of Saratoga Springs, expecting to make my usual left turn into the main lot, park my car and enter the concert grounds. But as I got within a few hundred yards of the lot's entrance, I noticed no left turns into the lot were being allowed. OK, I  figured, they're just trying to improve traffic flow. No big deal. I'll just drive a short distance down Route 50, make a U-turn, come back up and make the right turn into the lot.

Yeah, sure.

Approaching from the south and starting to make the right turn into the lot, I was stopped by an attendant who informed me there only was "privileged parking" (read: pre-paid) in that lot and that if I wanted to park for free, I would have to use the field across the road and walk over the foot bridge above Route 50 to reach the venue.

So I drove up to the next traffic light, did another U-turn, got into the line of cars approaching the parking field and ultimately made a right turn into said field. Pleasantly surprised that the field was about half empty, I figured I'd just dart to an empty spot, park my car and head for the amphitheater. But NOOOOOOOOOOOO, as Steve Martin used to say. Instead, I was guided by no less than 20 hand-gesturing teen-age attendants, standing apart at equal distances, to make a huge loop around the field behind a line of cars and ultimately place my car exactly where instructed.

I finally stepped out of my car at 7 p.m., exactly 30 minutes after I reached Saratoga Springs at the end of my trip from Kingston. My time span between reaching Saratoga and being parked at SPAC used to be 5 to 10 minutes. Oh, well. I guess that ship has sailed, and it's been forced to dock farther from the venue than ever before.

So then I trudged through the field, crossed the foot bridge and immediately was greeted by a large blue sign informing me of all the items "prohibited" from being brought into the venue. In order: animals, beverages, laser pens, cooking equipment, audio or video recording equipment, cameras with a detachable lens, bikes, rollerblades, skateboards, illegal substances, hard coolers, digital cameras and glass. Oh, yeah — also firearms, knives, weapons and fireworks.

Money, of course, is allowed in. After all, the twin-patty hamburger and bottle of water I was about to buy would, unbeknownst to me until the last second, cost $14.25. (What is this — Yankee Stadium?)

So I ate my overpriced dinner, used the restroom and headed from the food vending area to the amphitheater — a relatively short walk the includes passing by the general-admission lawn.

Carved into the lawn are two long, paved sidewalks that lead down to the back of the amphitheater. They're very useful for reaching the "house" without having to navigate through thousands of people and their chairs on the grass. New, however, is that both paths now are bordered on both sides by white, fence-like barricades, about 4 feet high. Similar barricades, though black, cover the entire width of the back of the amphitheater. The resulting effect is that of the lawn being a prison; the message being "You commoners need to know your place. Don't dare try to mingle with the royalty who have bought indoor seats."

I, apparently being royalty (who knew?), had purchased an indoor seat. And though I know the inside of the SPAC amphitheater like the back of my hand, having been in it more than 60 times, I nevertheless welcomed the opportunity to be ushered to my assigned spot (Section 2, Row W, Seat 1) by a nice lady in a white SPAC T-shirt.

White shirts: Good.
Yellow: Not so much.

The yellow-shirted employees, mostly women who looked they couldn't quite make it as phys ed teachers, were Live Nation security staffers. Or, as I've taken to calling them, the Live Nation Gestapo.

The sole job of the yellowshirts appears to be making the concert experience as unpleasant as possible for people who paid more than $100 for indoor seats. The yellowshirt closest to me spent easily half the night harassing a woman across the aisle from me because the woman had a tendency to stand up, step into the public pathway and dance to the music. (Heaven forbid!) Every time she moved outside her "seat zone," the yellowshirt rushed in, spoke rudely to her and, on some occasions, physically moved her out of the aisle.

I was hoping this yellowshirt was an isolated a--hole, but no. During what I knew to be the final song of the show, I walked toward the back of the amphitheater to be closer to an exit and stood at the edge of a row of seats, only to be approached by another yellowshirt who started gesturing at me to move. Before she could utter a word, though, I leaned in close to her and said into her ear: "The show will be over in about two minutes. How about you give it a rest!" Wisely, she backed away.  

So let's recap:
* Parking: No longer free in the main lot, made unnecessarily difficult by a bunch of self-important 16-year-olds in the free secondary lot.
* Items that can be brought into SPAC: Virtually none, except your money.
* Food: Overpriced.
* The lawn: Once a fun place to hang out, now a veritable prison.
* The amphitheater experience: Ruined by a bunch of power-hungry security staffers.

Ironically, the musician I went to see on Sunday was Tom Petty — who also was the headliner when I last was at SPAC in August 2006 and when I first went to SPAC as a new resident of Saratoga Springs in June 1985.

Petty hasn't changed a bit in 28 years. He remains one of the best live acts in rock 'n' roll and never has disappointed me. The venue at which I so often have seen him, however, has disappointed me more than I ever thought it could.

And it's doubtful I'll ever go there again.


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

CHRIS-tal clear intentions

Let me start by saying I like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. But what he announced today is a HUGE waste of money for his own political benefit.

Christie, a Republican, is calling for a special election to be held in mid-October to pick a replacement for U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., who died Monday.

Why not just hold the election on Nov. 5, Election Day, and save the state the cost of two elections? Simple. Because Christie knows the Senate race is likely to be won by a Democrat, and he doesn't want that race on the ballot the same day he's running for re-election as governor. Doing so probably would draw more Democrats to the polls than usual, hurting Christie's chances of winning a new term.

So, instead, the guy who claims to be the savior of New Jersey's economy is about to waste $12 million of New Jersey taxpayers' money (the estimated cost of the special election) for his own personal gain.

Shame on him!