Before They Were Stars: Dave Matthews, Melissa Etheridge Got Their Start At SPAC

Everybody loves to say they were fans of a band before they were famous. As in: I owned Radiohead’s debut album, Pablo Honey, in 1993, along with the rare “Stop Whispering” single, which includes the non-album UK single “Pop Is Dead.” One venue Radiohead never played? The Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC). Had they been a little better known, they’d have probably opened for The Kinks (July 1993) or Peter Gabriel (September 1993) there. Throughout its history, SPAC’s been a great proving ground for young bands. Here are five of the greatest green (or opening) acts that have played SPAC throughout the years.

Jam band Phish. (Brantley Gutierrez)


In the early 1990s, the coast-to-coast jam band craze was just starting to catch on, even though OG jammers the Grateful Dead, and leader Jerry Garcia, were still very much alive and kicking. In ’92, SPAC crowds would’ve probably been wowed by the guitar heroics of Trey Anastasio from the Burlington, VT-based Phish, but would’ve likely been there to catch headliner Santana. Some 27 years later, both bands played separate headlining dates at the Saratoga venue, with Phish actually playing two.

Nine Inch Nails

A handful of years before their ’94 breakout, The Downward Spiral, and more than a decade before Johnny Cash covered “Hurt,” Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails (NIN) were just another group of poor, young industrialists, trying to get noticed. When 1991’s nascent Lollapalooza music festival rolled through SPAC that August, NIN was, without question, one of the lesser-known acts, with just a single tune, “Head Like A Hole,” getting airplay on the radio. It would be 15 years before they’d headline SPAC on their “Live: With Teeth” tour in 2006.

Dave Matthews Band

It was a long way to the top for SPAC’s perennial darling, the Dave Matthews Band (DMB). With the alternative rock and jam band scenes crossing over in the early ’90s, harmonica virtuoso John Popper, along with his band Blues Traveler, organized the Horizons Of Rock Developing Everywhere (H.O.R.D.E) Festival in ’92 to showcase some of his favorite bands. (Phish jumped on board that year.) By ’93, H.O.R.D.E.’s lineup had ballooned, including up-and-comers DMB, who, the following year, who were billed as headliners, when they landed at SPAC, supporting their then-brand-new record, Under The Table And Dreaming. During their set, DMB played a paltry 9 songs; over 2 headlining nights this past July, they ran through nearly 50!

Grammy-winning country artist Kacey Musgraves. (Alexa King)

Kacey Musgraves

In 2013, the year Kacey Musgraves’ whip-smart debut album, Same Trailer Different Park, dropped and won her a pair of Grammys—and a six-spot before she took home Album Of The Year honors for her sublime Golden Hour—she was part of the supporting cast of Farm Aid. That year, the lineup wowed SPAC audiences with headliners such as Willie Nelson and Neil Young. Good luck trying to get ahold of Musgraves’ “Oh, What A World” tour tickets these days; most of her headlining dates have been sold out for a long, long time.

Melissa Etheridge

All the way back in August 1988, a little more than three months after she released her eponymous debut album, a virtually unknown Melissa Etheridge opened for Bruce Hornsby and The Range at SPAC. That show pre-dated her colossal breakthrough album, Yes I Am, by five years, and Etheridge has since won a pair of Grammys, an Oscar and the adoration of millions of fans the world over.

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