SPAC, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center is one of those venues that has always been a special place to visit. The concert shed is located in the State Park, a couple of miles from downtown Saratoga Springs, NY. Saratoga State Park is known for its healing springs. The waters are rumored to be magical. FDR bathed in these spring waters during the Great Depression as a treatment for his Polio. The State Park facilities are all well maintained, and the springs are worth visiting on any non-concert date.
Starting in July 1980, I attended my first concert at SPAC and saw the reformed Allman Brother Band. In 1980 SPAC was relaxed, security non-existent, you could walk anywhere, go right up to the front row. I remember thinking, this would be a great venue for a Grateful Dead concert. Fast forward to June 18, 1983, The Grateful Dead played an extraordinary concert at SPAC. I have almost never missed a Dead related concert at this venue. According to the SPAC history website, the Grateful Dead concert on June 24th, 1984 set a record with 37,801 attendees.
When Dead & Company announced the summer tour schedule, I was happy to see SPAC on the itinerary. On the day tickets went on sale, I was camped out on the TM website. Why was I seeing only GA lawn tickets? Are pavilion seats already sold-out in the first 30 seconds? Experience with TM dictated indoor seats would soon become available, and sure enough, I was able to lock into a pair of lower balcony seats.
The show started with a jam, the stage was bathed in blue lighting and the band worked their way into a slower tempo Jack Straw. Easy Wind was played next with John Mayer taking the lead vocals. A friend of the Devil featured Bob Weir on vocals, and acoustic guitar and Minglewood Blues featured Bob Weir on slide guitar. We’re a long way from the 1970s when Bob Weir was experimenting and learning how to play slide in front of 20,000 fans. Derek Trucks can play slide like almost no one else. Bobby has a lot of great qualities, his slide guitar technique still needs some work. The highlight of the first set was a well-played Ship of Fools. As they have done in the recent past, John Mayer and Oteil Burbridge traded lead vocals and harmony on the song. Most everyone would agree, Oteil should sing more songs in this band!
The second set opened with The Weight, everyone except the drummers took a turn singing a stanza and the band looked like they were all enjoying the interaction and having tons of fun. The Dead & Company light show, the graphics, and murals projected behind and above the band create an atmosphere like no other rock & roll show. The Grateful Dead iconography morphs into motorcycles racing down a highway, skeletons dancing, roses, SYF and skulls & roses. The jam from The Weight teased The Other One and finally landed with an up-tempo Truckin’. He’s Gone led into an always fun to hear New Speedway Boogie and then the one song I can never get tired of hearing, Uncle John’s Band. At this point in the concert, I’m going home happy. Bill Kreutzman and Mickey Hart had their percussion fun, the full band returned to the stage, and Bob Weir led them into Black Peter. The song is radically different than the versions played by Jerry and has gone new places with Bob Weir on vocals. The cynic in me is thinking; please do not go into Around & Around to close the set. I was granted my wish. The band decided Good Lovin’ would be the upbeat send-up song to end the second set. A fine Touch of Grey encore ended the show, and we were on our way back into the lovely town of Saratoga Springs.