It says a lot about a music venue when simply being there is as important to the concertgoing experience as whatever sound is emanating from the stage. This is a common phenomenon for spectators at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC), and most of all for those on the sprawling green fanning out from the amphitheater, which is lovingly referred to by all manner of Saratogians—young and old, balletgoers and rock band groupies—as “The Lawn.”
On this particular afternoon more than 50 years ago—Sunday, August 4, 1968, to be exact—it was the classical music set that happened to be enjoying the virtues of The Lawn, as The Philadelphia Orchestra, led by conductor Arthur Fiedler and guest conductor Richard Rodgers, performed a selection of Rodgers’ and his longtime musical collaborator Oscar Hammerstein’s show tunes. “Melodies so well known that you could sense the audience, 9,000 strong, sing subvocally with the musicians, were heard Sunday afternoon in the SPAC,” reported Helga Doblin in The Saratogian the following day. (Such melodies included songs from Oklahoma!, The King and I and The Sound of Music.) “The enthusiasm of the mostly gray-haired audience,” she continued, “showed that this type of Americana is still very much a part of us.”
These days, though the names of the conductors have changed, and spectators may flock to SPAC to catch Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in Concert rather than mid–20th century show tunes, it’s clear that The Lawn’s type of Americana, to borrow a phrase from Doblin, is still very much a part of Saratoga.