Jack Johnson – Saratoga Performing Arts Center (Saratoga Springs, NY), 5/24/14

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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.

 

O.A.R. (Of A Revolution) – Saratoga Performing Arts Center 7/28/12

O.A.R. is kind of a funny band; I always assume that they are more mainstream than they actually are. When I mentioned that I was going to see them last Saturday, the reaction was split – half the people were jealous and half the people had no idea who I was talking about. I would have expected that reaction six years ago when I was first introduced to the band by a friend, but now that they’ve had a few songs that have been on the radio – not just pop radio, but some more adult contemporary stations as well – I am surprised that they don’t have more name recognition. I’m guessing people are familiar with their songs, but just don’t know the name of the band. If you’ve heard this song (which was all over the radio)

then you know O.A.R.

The last time I saw the band live was 2007 at Madison Square Garden; we were fortunate enough to be at the show that was then released as a live album and a concert film. It was a really great show and part of the reason I hadn’t seen them again live was that I didn’t know that a second concert experience would be able to live up to the MSG show. The other contributing factor was a difficulty in finding someone to go with me; I’d mention I wanted to go to the show, but no one ever expressed interest in accompanying me. I’ve had plenty of chances to see them again – O.A.R. makes regular stops in Saratoga Springs most summer – but it just never found my way to see them. But this summer I had the opportunity to get free tickets in the pavilion (as opposed to sitting on the lawn) and I decided that was a sign that it was time to see O.A.R. again. The promise of free tickets also made it easier to find a companion (who was even willing to drive!), so on Saturday I was Saratoga bound.

One thing that stands out about O.A.R. shows is that the crowd skews young – very young. As in, people were probably wondering why “someone’s mom” (a.k.a. me) was at the show. We were a good 15-20 years older than the majority of the audience. Check out the “Seen” gallery on the local newspaper’s website if you need proof. I noticed this same phenomena at the MSG show as well, where we felt a little more like chaperones than concertgoers. The kids at the MSG show were a little more out of hand – someone threw up one section over from us before the show even started – but the kids at SPAC, while slightly intoxicated (despite being underage), were very well behaved from what I saw. And their youthful exuberance was kind of contagious; at a lot of the shows I’ve been to recently, people just stay in their seats and listen to the music. It was nice to see people get up and dance with the music and we even joined in (though I’m guessing their legs didn’t hurt as much as mine did the next day).

O.A.R. was just as fun and energized as I remembered them to be; once they took the stage it was a non-stop jam. I think it was 30-40 minutes into their set before lead singer Marc Roberge even addressed the audience. There was no unnecessary chit chat or pandering to the crowd; they just played song after song at full intensity. They did a great job of mixing in songs from all the different points of their 15 year career. Their songs are generally very upbeat, even the ones that have sad lyrics, and the crowd was feeding off the energy of the band. O.A.R. seemed to be having a fantastic time on stage, especially the horn section. Those guys were just fun to watch; they were given ample examples to shine, especially the saxophonist. But when they weren’t playing, they were dancing and clapping and generally looked like there was no place in the world that they would rather be. It’s nice to see people who love doing what they do and their joy was definitely infectious.

The enthusiastic horn section

I’m no musician – ask my 4th grade violin instructor – but the band sounded amazing and cohesive. O.A.R. doesn’t use any pyro or other special effects; their stage has a very minimalist look to it. I enjoyed that. Though all the extras definitely can enhance a show, they can also be used as a distraction. O.A.R. was the show and they were more than enough to keep the crowd entertained and happy throughout their 2.5 hour set. You read that right – 2.5 hours. We left the show exhausted, but happy.

Some other quick thoughts:

  • I had my first doughboy, a Saratoga Springs specialty, in ten years while at the show and I’m glad that they lived up to my memories. They were just as ooey and gooey as I remembered and really are pretty phenomenal after a few beers. Now I’m craving another one.
  • We arrived at the concert late since we had spent the day at the Saratoga Race Track, so we didn’t see any of opening band Rebelution’s set. I usually don’t skip the opener – it’s a good way to discover new bands – but we were just having too much fun to leave the track early.
  • The few times that there was a lull in the music, the crowd broke into “U.S.A.!!!” chants. Seriously – I can’t even get away from the Olympics at a concert??
  • I grew up less than a mile from SPAC – back in the day you used to be able to hear the concerts in my backyard on a clear night – and my high school graduation was held there. I can’t help but laugh to think that I’ve shared a stage with every band that has come through since – or, should I say, they’ve shared the stage with me.
  • This was not even close to a sold out show and I’m guessing the iffy weather had something to do with it. The lawn was fairly empty and apparently a lot of people took advantage of the opportunity to upgrade to pavilion seats. Even so, our row was nowhere near full, which gave us plenty of room to kick back and enjoy the show.

All in all, it was a really great show. The person I went with was not a huge O.A.R. fan, but left a convert. A great way to spend a day in Saratoga. If you are not familiar with the band, I’d recommend checking them out. I’m partial to their2005 album Stories of a Stranger, which contains two of my favorite O.A.R. songs, “Love and Memories” and “Lay Down” (though my favorite version of the former is from the Live From Madison Square Garden cd). However, perhaps no song epitomizes the band better than “That Was a Crazy Game of Poker,” a 15 minute song that they typically close their show with. I’d definitely recommend attending an O.A.R. concert, as long as you don’t mind spending the night hanging out with a bunch of whippersnappers.

Setlist

About Mr. Brown

Program Director

Old Man Time

Something Coming Over

Shattered

Woke Up An Uncle

Gotta Be Wrong Sometimes

Revisited

The Last Time

The Strager

Hey Girl

On Top The Cage

Night Shift

Love and Memories

Mr. Moon

Hold On True

Heaven

Conquering Fools

Black Rockefeller Institute of Government Anyway

I Feel Home

War Song

City On Down

Delicate Few

Encore

Irish Rose

That Was A Crazy Game Of Poker