SPAC’s Saratoga Jazz Fest: The RE-Birth of the Cool

Greetings From Lawn Pod 204!

SARATOGA SPRINGS – A beautiful wedding on Saturday meant that I would only get to partake on Sunday, June 27th – the second day of Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival. So I resolved to absorb it fully – taking in all the nooks and crannies, and unique accent points that make this festival unlike any other offering that SPAC puts forth. This proved to be as true in its first post-COVID iteration, as it was in years before…

Although there is no denying that things are different… but, news flash – everything is different in this world today! Some cope with the changes better than others to be sure. More on that later. In the meantime, let me welcome you to my skybox….

AKA Lawn Pod 204 – pretty nice, huh? Spacious and roomy… I bet that any number of the hundreds of thousands of souls we lost to COVID would love the chance to be in this plush spot. Great views of both stage and screens, too. I liked it so much that I didn’t deduct points because they forgot to deliver my mini-bar!

But as sweet as this spot was, if you know me at all you know I’m not going to sit still. I’m going to assure that this whole place is covered, my photo pass and trusty camera in tow. So, despite this day’s 90+ degree heat, I’m on the job to chronicle the “Rebirth of the Cool” – which is not just what’s on stage, my friends.

The result is a nice gallery that appears below – but first, I’d like to beg your indulgence as I opine from the perspective of a long-time Jazz Festival attendee. Those of you who don’t wish to think too deeply today (we are still in a heat wave) can just scroll down.

I tend to be from the “Skybox” school of things, and for my part, I regard the fact that SPAC held this festival at all as a modern miracle, given the hoops they had to jump through from the State, and a small but vocal segment of the public at large. It’s a fact: Many, many festivals throughout the country decided to bag their events for another year.

But that didn’t stop that small, vocal minority of crabapples on social media from wailing and moaning about the unfairness of it all, because they couldn’t bring their coolers, buy a block of 15 lawn seats, or any other rules that SPAC had dictated to them by New York State. That “things aren’t like it used to be.” Gee. What is?

And, poor Danny Melnick (Producer of the Festival,) who dutifully, calmly and thoroughly answered every complaint from these whiners! Sir, you have the patience of a Saint! Further, you are my personal nominee for’s Person of the Year (and I’m pretty tight with the voting committee, so you’re looking good)…

I mean really, people – I’m sure that the Festival Producer didn’t want to sell you extra tickets. It was his idea to impose rules and guidelines on you – just with the goal of ruining your good time. It’s all about you, crab cakes. Not the greater good for society. Right.

Now, in truth, I wasn’t planning to say anything about this – Social media can be a cesspool of negativity on a variety of subjects, and I prefer to be positive, especially since IMHO, there was a lot to be thrilled about on this day. But then I heard from a VERY highly placed source at SPAC that some of you were calling the office and harassing the (COVID- reduced) staff – and that was the last straw for me.

Of course, it was some intern’s idea to ruin your good time! The staff conspired to not let you have your bottles of homemade hootch; it was their idea to not let you have your precious beach umbrellas so you could block other people’s views, like it always was…. oh, except for last year – BTW how’d you like how things were at the 2020 festival?

Oh yeah, that’s right…

Gosh, I guess I was wrong. I always thought it was proper to salute people who try their best under challenging, unprecedented circumstances… how silly of me!

But, in truth the vast majority of you did just that. So, I’ve ranted enough. Onto the positive. As for you crabbie’s: You are hereby invited to get a life, and are permanently banned from my skybox. Sigh.


Robert W. English, Luzerne Productions

The Jazz Festival’s historic hallmark has been about making and re-kindling connections. This year, particularly, it was very nice to see people that you don’t see often – but they are regular attendees at this festival. I enjoyed catching up with some of my media-type cronies – Bob English (above) who has a long history of producing (he was Liz Bishop’s first producer at Channel 6,) and has produced the live broadcast / Proctors Holiday event “The Melodies of Christmas” for years…. as well as my long-time friend and music photographer extraordinaire Andrzej Pilarczyk (below) – who still can limber up with the young guys when it comes to getting the shot. Andrzej’s work can be seen in The Chronicle, Nippertown, and many other fine outlets that are looking for excellence.

Andrzej Pilarczyk


Surveying the landscape on this day… another distinctive aspect of this festival is the unique food and beverage options, as well as craft vendors that are above and beyond the typical hot dog and t-shirt stands….

While not as numerous as in previous years, it reflected the lowered attendance that was mandated this year. One notable thing was that everybody was well-served: You wanted some rice + beans or a soda, you walked up and got it. A cup of ice on the side on this day? You didn’t have to ask, it was offered up to you with a smile. Very cool.

Overall, it seemed that the food and beverages were fairly priced for what you got, especially in comparison to what you’ll pay at LiveNation rock shows for a basic dog and a beer. One excellent thing is that there was free water available (thank you National Grid!) on this scorcher of a day – if you know where to look….

These gems were found near one of the new buildings that were constructed last summer on the upper lawn. One notable thing missing was the line – just walk up and fill your cup! Instant gratification, and FREE, FREE, FREE!

But that, my friends, was not the biggest bargain….

Behold! The oasis has arrived – and thankfully, not a mirage! The Jazz Bar at the back of the Hall of Springs was open for business. Just the cool ambiance, and the cooler air-conditioning cranking made the 3-5 minute walk from the amphitheater worthwhile… and the best part was the prices: how’s $4 for a 16oz. Coors Light that you would pay double for at the concession stand? Or $5 craft drafts? I was amazed at how many tables were available (first come/first served) and while business did pick up during the intermission between acts, it was never anywhere as busy as you expect on a day as hot as today. I keep telling you folks about this place ever since SPAC re-claimed it a couple of seasons ago. Feel free to keep ignoring me – more room for me and the happy people who do venture to what was easily the second best thing that happened on my journey this afternoon…


But this was the best… clearly.

Yes, yes, yes. No matter whether you caught them from near or far, Garland Nelson and his Joyous Noise ensemble absolutely DOMINATED the proceedings. Their impactful gospel/soul offerings set the tone for this day, as (I heard) did gypsy swingers Hot Club of Saratoga on Saturday.

The Jazz Festival organizers have wisely incorporated local acts into the mix for a few years now – but unless my memory fails me, this is the first time that the locals appeared on the big main stage. Functionally, only this stage was used this year by necessity, but I doubt that it will be the last time this happens.

The breakthrough performances that I saw and those in attendance heard, on this day, have blazed a trail that will long be remembered, in a year that will always be remembered – the year that SPAC became ours to enjoy again.

The RE-Birth of the Cool, Ladies and Gents – enjoy the gallery.

Arthur Gonick – June 29, 2021

Gallery: Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival – 6/27/2021

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