Last June, I attended one of the greatest concerts of my life. The multiple Grammy Award-winning hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar, who at the time had recently won a Pulitzer Prize, brought his tour to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC), and I kind of lost my mind a little bit. My girlfriend had bought us tickets weeks beforehand—thank goodness, because I’ve never seen SPAC so crowded—and it turned into a night not just of great music, but also of outrageous fun.
This summer’s SPAC schedule is shaping up to be even more memorable. Pop hitmaker Cardi B is bringing her “Femme It Forward” tour to the amphitheater on May 26; Grammy-winning guitar icon Santana will be swinging through on August 23, just days after celebrating the 50th anniversary of Woodstock on the site of the original festival in Bethel, NY; and comedians Steve Martin and Martin Short will be bringing their two-man act through on September 13. And as always, New York City Ballet (NYCB) and The Philadelphia Orchestra will be returning to do their summer residencies in July and August, respectively, as they have done so since the mid 1960s.
Now, you might assume that the folks who book NYCB and The Philadelphia Orchestra—not to mention, stage the wildly popular Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival every summer—are the same ones who rein in all the top pop, hip-hop and rock acts at SPAC. That’s actually not the case. The organization that does the latter? Live Nation. Formed in 2005 and based in Beverly Hills, CA, Live Nation is one of the country’s preeminent events promoters, last year raking in $10.8 billion in revenue with a concert attendance total topping 93 million. “Although Saratoga’s not a very populous region, SPAC draws really big crowds,” says Jim Koplik, President of Live Nation Connecticut and Upstate New York. In fact, SPAC consistently ranks as one of Live Nation’s top-ten amphitheaters in the country. In part, Koplik credits the venue’s success to its unique design. “It’s a gorgeous amphitheater with a balcony and a beautiful setting—and part of the beauty of it is that nobody sits too far back or has a bad view,” he says. “I personally have never seen another amphitheater like that.”
SPAC might seem like small potatoes compared to other entertainment venues in New York State, but its attendance numbers are actually on par with those in medium- to large-sized markets. Koplik attributes this to the summer population explosion in Saratoga (i.e., racing season), and also to music fans coming over the borders from Vermont and Western Massachusetts. Of course, strong attendance equals massive ticket sales. “It’s one of the reasons we bring our top artists into Saratoga,” says Koplik, who’s responsible for four amphitheaters across two states. “For earnings, SPAC is the only one I’m in charge of that’s ranked in the top-tier amphitheaters at Live Nation.”
Koplik is no novice to the events promotion business, having worked in it for more than five decades (22 years of which he’s spent at Live Nation and its predecessor, Clear Channel Entertainment). He actually closed the original deal between SPAC and Clear Channel back in 2000, and it wasn’t his first trip to our neck of the woods: In 1990, Koplik booked the first-ever performance at Albany’s Times Union Center (then known as The Knickerbocker Arena). The show? Legendary crooner Frank Sinatra, who wasn’t feeling well but managed to still wow the adoring masses. Koplik has also produced top-shelf shows for The Rolling Stones, Madonna, Elton John and Paul McCartney; and needless to say, he’s a huge music fan himself, having caught more than his fair share of off-the-charts performances at SPAC. “For me, Bruce Springsteen, Farm Aid 2013 and three nights of Phish are my most memorable SPAC shows,” he says.
So what if Kendrick Lamar isn’t playing SPAC again this summer? (At least I think he isn’t.) Thanks to Live Nation, I’ll soon be checking even more artists off of my bucket list.