In the Capital Region, one of the signs that summer has officially arrived is the first concert at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, more commonly referred to as SPAC. Because it is an open amphitheater and there is seating on the lawn, the concert season at SPAC is a fairly limited one that usually runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day, with the occasional outlier scheduled later in September. In between, the venue offers a diverse slate of programming that tends to be heavier on country music and classic rock performers, but also usually includes stops by the Dave Matthews Band, Phish and more current performers. It’s a nice place to see a show, though it can get crowded on the lawn; I grew up less than two miles from SPAC and have been going to see shows there for years. On a really clear night, we could hear the faint din of concerts from my backyard. I have very vivid memories from my childhood of when the Grateful Dead would come to town and my fascination with the Deadheads that would be floating around town in the days preceding the show. To a five year old, all that tie-dye was exotic and beautiful. Back when I was in high school, lawn tickets were so cheap that my friends and I would sometimes decide to go to a show the day of simply because we were bored and didn’t have anything else to do. I even walked across the stage at SPAC when I graduated high school – yet another legend that has shared the same stage as the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam and Paul Simon. 🙂
My frequency of going to SPAC has ebbed and flowed over the years, depending on their programming slate for the summer. SPAC is a regular stop for a lot of performers, but that also means that I’ve often already seen an act from a previous visit. While there are some bands that I will see over and over, the majority of the time I want to see someone that I haven’t seen before. So depending on who they book, some summers I’m at SPAC a lot, while others I may not make a summer pilgrimage at all. This summer looks to be a boon year, as I already have five shows scheduled at SPAC with the potential for at least two more. I’m going to be spending a fair amount of time in Saratoga.
The first show of the year was Jack Johnson, a performer that I’ve wanted to see for a long time. I have always found his music very relaxing; when I hear one of his songs, it just makes me think of sitting outside in the sunshine. This may or may not be because I listened to a lot of Jack Johnson when I was out in the Bay Area of California ten years ago for my best friend’s wedding. As amid of honor, I had flown out early to help with wedding prep and was home alone at my friend’s apartment. I wasn’t 100% sure how to work their sound system, so I just listened to whatever was already in there on repeat – which just so happened to be Jack Johnson. So while I know that folk singer-songwriter isn’t necessarily everyone’s cup of tea, he always makes me smile and I was looking forward to a chill night out with friends.
In retrospect, it’s kind of ironic that I think of words like “sunshine” and “chill” when it comes to Johnson, because while there wasn’t a lot of sunshine at my show it most certainly was chill – and not in the laid back relaxing sense, but in the rainy and cold sense.
One of the perils of sitting on the lawn at SPAC is of course the weather; there isn’t a lot of cover available, so if the elements aren’t in your favor it can be kind of messy. I have been extremely fortunate that in all my years going to shows at SPAC, I have never been caught in the rain out on the lawn. The few times that the weather has been less than optimal, I’ve always been inside the amphitheater, feeling sorry for the poor bastards out on the lawn who were getting rained on. Even those instances have been very few and far between; generally, Mother Nature has shown favor to the scheduling department and has provided sunny concert days. This may not be everyone’s experience, but it has been mine, though it was probably inevitable that my luck would eventually run out. After 20 plus years, I guess I was due for a little rain on my SPAC concert parade. Unfortunately, having lived such a charmed weather experience up to this point meant that I had gotten a little cocky in my concert prep so I wasn’t necessarily all that prepared to handle the elements. The only thing that I had thought to bring in with me was a hoodie; I had hemmed and hawed about bringing in an umbrella and ultimately decided to leave it in the car because I didn’t want to have to worry about carrying it – a ridiculous bit of logic since I had a bag that I could have easily put the umbrella in. I was clearly off my game, lulled into complacency.
The evening started off fine enough – the sun was out and we were able to secure a nice spot on the lawn where we could see the stage as well as the giant screens scattered about the pavilion. We set up our chairs and enjoyed the opening act, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros – a band that I knew but wasn’t super familiar with. They were enjoyable – even if my friend Tom could never remember their name – and kept us entertained for their hour-long set. SPAC is always good for people watching, so we were easily able to kill some time while we waited the thirty minutes before Jack Johnson took the stage. As the sun set, it started to get a little cool – apparently this had been predicted in the forecast, but I had not dressed for this possibility. My friends had questioned my attire when I arrived, but I was adamant that I wouldn’t be cold. I was lying and had already slipped my hoodie on before the sun had even set.
Jack Johnson took the stage at 9 on the dot and the crowd all jumped up and went wild. I was honestly a little surprised by this enthusiasm – I had expected his fan base to be much more laid back, but this was really no different than any other concert I’ve been to. People were standing and dancing for the duration of the show and hooting and hollering. Not what I expected, but I appreciated that they were showing their support. I was content to just relax in my chair and watch the show on the giant screens – Jack Johnson doesn’t have the kind of stage show that necessitates paying close attention; there is no spectacle or crazy pyro, so I could have just closed my eyes and enjoyed the music just as much. Jackson stumbled a bit in “Brushfire Fairytales” when he forgot the words, but the audience was forgiving and he quickly recovered. Everyone was singing along and dancing and having a grand old time.
It was about 20 minutes into his set when I felt the first raindrop; I turned to my friend to see if she had experienced that as well, hoping that I had hallucinated it, but she too had felt the rain. It started off as a light sprinkle at first, but eventually morphed into a pretty steady, if light, rain. I pulled up the hood of my hoodie, but it didn’t take very long for all my clothes to get very damp. This wouldn’t have been very problematic if the weather had been ten degrees warmer, but with it hovering somewhere in the fifties it was a less than pleasurable experience. My friend Dana graciously shared her rain poncho with me, so at least part of us was sheltered from the rain, but the rest of my clothes were pretty wet and I was shaking a bit from the temperature. I even joked that this would be how I caught pneumonia again.
Now normally, I probably would have been much more agitated about this uncomfortable spot, but because I was listening to Jack Johnson I remained pretty calm and cool as the rain began to fall. I don’t know – maybe he has some Zen power over me, but I just sat back and listened to the music while quietly praying for a break in the rain. He did a great set that focused primarily on his older music but that was peppered with some songs from his new album as well. A few people left when the rain started, but most stuck it out and didn’t let it dampen (ha!) their enthusiasm for the performance. He hit a lot of my favorite songs and as very efficient in his presentation; there wasn’t a lot of banter or storytelling – he just went from one song into the next during his nearly two hour set. We occasionally got some reprieve from the rain and the show was certainly slightly more enjoyable when that happened, but even when it was less than ideal it never fully detracted from my enjoyment of the show. And I have no idea the psychology behind it, but whenever Johnson sings about banana pancakes, I immediately crave them despite the fact that I am neither a huge fan of pancakes or bananas. Again – Jack Johnson may have some weird mental hold over me.
We did sneak out during the encore to beat the traffic and warm up a bit; we actually had the heat on for the ride home and I wasn’t truly warm until I got home and changed out of my wet clothes and was under a blanket. But I still had a great time thanks to the soundtrack presented by Jack Johnson and the excellent company. It was a good reminder that I can’t get lackadaisical about my concert game; I need to be better prepared for future shows. Despite the minor bumps, it was a nice official kickoff to the summer concert season and I can finally cross off a performer that I’ve always wanted to see off my dwindling list. It wasn’t an ideal concert experience, but it was good enough. In the words of Johnson “staple it together and call it bad weather,” but don’t call it a bad show. Jack Johnson was a good time.
The From Here To Now To You Tour continues over the summer. Check out his website for upcoming dates in your neck of the woods.