Music lists are pretty subjective. I should know; I’ve written about a thousand of them in my career. I’ve done lists on the most influential rock bands, the druggiest Beatles songs and the greatest Eric Clapton guitar solos. I even did one on the Phil Collins tunes that “secretly rule.” Here are the top five musical moments (in no particular order) in the history of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center—according to us.
1. THE PHILADELPHIA ORCHESTRA [August 4, 1966]
Maestro Eugene Ormandy, who spent a jaw-dropping 44 years conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra, first raised his baton at SPAC on August 4, 1966, for the venue’s opening night event. Patrons were treated to the Overture in C Major from Ludwig van Beethoven’s The Consecration Of The House, which includes a march and trumpet fanfare. In other words, perfect welcoming music.
2. HARRY BELAFONTE [June 29, 1967]
Showing off its early progressive roots—the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing at this point—SPAC invited Jamaican-American superstar Harry Belafonte, best known to modern audiences for his take on the Jamaican folk standard “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song),” to be its first nonclassical act to perform there on June 29, 1967. That year, Belafonte had released his Belafonte On Campus album, which featured a pair of songs written by Caffè Lena regular Tom Paxton—who’d be part of a packed folk festival lineup there the following month.
3. THE GRATEFUL DEAD [June 27, 1985]
Drivers know to stay away from the various roads near SPAC when the Dave Matthews Band or Phish is in town—but on June 27, 1985, all traffic bets were off. The Grateful Dead, which had lassoed in a stunning 37,801 fans the previous June, logged a record-breaking audience of 40,231 Deadheads on that day. Aside from the band pleading with one fan to stop hanging over the balcony, the affair was one of peace and love—and great music. The Dead ended their set, aptly, with a cover of Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.”
4. JACKSON BROWNE [September 1, 1977]
Live albums are a dime a dozen, but it’s not every day that a song that’s cut elsewhere at a music venue works its way into the grooves of an LP record—and subsequently gets listened to by millions of adoring fans. That’s exactly what happened on September 1, 1977, when Jackson Browne brought his tour to SPAC. He and his band recorded the piano ballad “Rosie”—you can hear someone joke, “It’s Mozart, at two years old,” at the beginning of the recording—in the backstage area. Three months later, it would wind up as the third track on the critically acclaimed, platinum-selling 1977 album, Running On Empty.
5. WHITNEY HOUSTON [September 2, 1987]
I grew up on Whitney Houston music, so she makes the list. That September 2, 1987, she was touring in support of her greatest album, Whitney, which included four No.1 singles—two of which landed her on this list. At the MTV Video Music Awards, which aired nine days after her SPAC show, the cable channel ran Houston’s performance of “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” that she taped at the gig. Also, her official music video for “Didn’t We Almost Have It All” was filmed at SPAC, too. How cool is that?