A couple of weeks into the fifth grade, my best friends (we all played tennis together every day) somehow got their hands on tickets for something called the Miami River Music Festival, an all-day, outdoor rock concert that would be coheadlined by The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and REO Speedwagon, and invited me to join them. I remember that sweltering, sticky September Sunday so vividly not only because it was such a “cool” thing to do without my parents anywhere in sight, but it also happened to be my very first concert. And, boy, was I hooked.
After that show—I can still hear the indescribable, earth-shattering voice of Kevin Cronin, REO Speedwagon’s lead singer, in my ears—summer meant only two things to me: around-the-clock tennis with my buddies and listening to Y100 radio for news about giveaways to area concerts. Back then I was into all kinds of music, but powerhouse divas ruled my world, particularly Donna Summer, who I still maintain is America’s greatest vocalist (the fact that we were both born at Mass General Hospital in Boston bonded us, I believe, for life). When Summer teamed up with Barbra Streisand on “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough),” a song that would go on to top the Billboard charts for weeks, I was glued to my sister’s hi-fi stereo so I could hear those two incredible belters sing about kicking that no-good man out of their lives forever.
But, curiously, I also loved Journey (Steve Perry’s “Open Arms” remains among the most beautiful ballads ever), Boston (“More Than A Feeling” is a joyride of a song), Styx (“Babe” and “Mr. Roboto” are everything) and Billy Joel (though my brother’s favorite, I do appreciate “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” and “Say Goodbye To Hollywood”). So a pattern emerged where I was loving divas and rockers, making me quite obviously the only person I knew with such divergent musical tastes. I embraced the contradiction as a sign of maturity and genuine music mastery.
Upon landing in Saratoga Springs after a decades-long circuitous career route that took me to some of this country’s best cities, one of the first places I checked out was the city’s fabled venue, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC). Not unlike a baseball fan who hears about and dreams of attending a game at Fenway Park (yet another Boston reference), I’d heard about SPAC for years as the summer home of the New York City Ballet (I was a longtime subscriber to NYCB’s fall season at Lincoln Center in Manhattan) and the venue of choice for the likes of The Grateful Dead, Dave Matthews Band and other established rock titans.
What a thrill to sit in that amphitheater to witness ballet’s finest, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s majesty or Kendrick Lamar or Keith Urban or Janet Jackson light up the stage. In a word, SPAC is perfect—the atmosphere, the acoustics, the proximity to Downtown Saratoga, all of it.
So, as we head toward another intoxicating, scorching, endless Saratoga summer, you better believe I’ve checked out this year’s lineup of concerts I’ll be rocking out to, and Cardi B is first up. Funny thing is, all these years later, I’d still love to see REO Speedwagon, Journey or Billy Joel kill it on stage. But heaven knows, I’ll have to wait for that special celestial encore to hear my girl, Donna Summer, love to love me baby one more time.