The fields and lawn of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center were flooded the weekend of June 28-29 with tents, blankets, and folding chairs of eager fans in celebration of the annual Saratoga Jazz Festival. Starting at noon on Saturday and Sunday, fans were treated to an assortment of renowned jazz groups and performers in the amphitheater and gazebo, including: Earth, Wind and Fire, Patti Austin, Robin McKelle and the Flytones, and, closing out the festival, New Orleans native Trombone Shorty.
Being new in town, I was told the festival is a staple of any summer in Saratoga.
I had only been in town for two weeks, and was still toeing the waters of Saratoga, so to speak. In attending the Jazz festival, however, I finally felt thrown into the tide.
Arriving a few hours in on Saturday, it didn’t take me long to understand how dedicated a fanbase the festival has. You can see it before you even reach the box office, with a number of blankets and chairs set up in the grass outside the front gates for those fans content with listening through the trees and not having to pay the price of admission.
Once through the entrance, the real hustle and bustle of the festival becomes obvious. The amphitheater stands out as a grand melodic epicenter as the music echoes out in tandem with the chatter from camped out families. You can see patrons of the meal tents walking away with pigwiches, sausage and peppers, and legs of ham half the length of your arm, which still look tantalizingly tasty. Altogether, it’s a New York summer scene if you ever saw one.
Perhaps only second to the spectacle of the performers themselves to a newcomer is the array of elaborate tents on display. One of the more outstanding tents featured a plastic pig windmill out front, with miniature pig decorations dangling from the roof. It was enough to hope the owners, Jim and Laura Owen, didn’t bump into the roasted pig at any point. Jim and Owen are longtime fans of the festival.
“We’ve been coming for 10 years,” said Laura. “I had heard about it because my friend lives in Albany. I’m a teacher, so it’s a nice break from the school year, to just chill and listen to music. We do the run in the morning, to get the good spots.”
Laura and Jim mentioned one of their favorite moments from their years attending the jazz festival
“Three or four years ago, George Benson ended up staying next door to us at the Holiday Inn. He had trouble with the door, and we were like ‘you want help? You can come hang with us!’”
The tent owned by James Walker and Sandra Townsend looks like something you might bring on a three-week sojourn into the wild, enough to hold three people. Perhaps not to blend in, however, as its frame is bright neon orange.
Sandra—who has been attending the festival since her college days 30 years ago and has seen greats such as Miles Davis—explained its importance in bringing her friends and family together.
“Our friends are from Rochester. We all come together once a year to enjoy each other’s company. They come from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut. It’s a wonderful venue. It’s a good opportunity for adults and children to enjoy good music.”
You can see this attitude among the other tents set up around theirs. The music from the nearby gazebo serves as a fine background for good company.
Matthew Fay is a native of Brooklyn, recent graduate of the University of Virginia, and intern at Saratoga Living.