Monday, March 24, 2008

Eighties-Rock Nation

It’s almost hard to recall how laid back the summers at the Saratoga Performing Art Center used to be during the 1990s. Back then, all you needed was a 20-spot, some beers, a few sandwiches and an umbrella if dark skies threatened. The security force was composed of local high school and college kids, many of them simply looking to catch a free concert. All around, the mood seemed light and relaxing; just the type of atmosphere for watching any musical act, much less one you might actually like.

Pan to present day SPAC under the auspices of Live Nation, a company spun off from the neoconservative-controlled monolith of Clear Channel Communications. These days, most concert goers instinctively show up wearing garbage bags and with a wad full of hundreds. Otherwise, hanging out at the venue is more akin to skulking around a Soviet gulag with some pleasant 80s rock playing in the background.

There are no umbrellas permitted, so if you happen to get caught in the storm, good luck. Anything consumable and not purchased from the over-priced concession stands is contraband; this includes water. And while you’re enjoying a seat in the mud purchased for $35, do stay out of trouble, lest you draw the attention of the hyper-aggressive steroid freak security staff hired to pummel and push anyone that looks like they’re having too much fun.

Editor’s note: Live Nation has wavered on the water and food issue. This season, patrons are allowed to bring in sealed one-gallon containers of either water or food. However, this was not always the case. Several concert goers from recent years have relayed horror stories as much. One woman said Live Nation security turned her away with a hand-sized factory-sealed water bottle, claiming she could bring the bottle itself in, but no liquid. In short, this means the company is either wavering on its policies or employs a bunch of witless wonders as their security detail. It should also be noted the company can puke out any “special ground rules” they desire for a concert.

Yes, concerts at SPAC are a different beast these days. In fact, there are an increasing number of residents who don’t bother with them at all. But that’s probably more a factor of the “hotter and bigger-name acts” coming to the city “that otherwise might have skipped SPAC.”

Acts like the Police, a geriatric tribute act to the band that broke up in the 1980s and only reunited last year after record sales dipped worldwide. But at a cheap $46 to sit the grass, who could resist? Or Rush, the 50-something Canadian rockers who can otherwise be heard just about every other minute blaring on WPYX Albany’s Uncle Vito show; hotter and bigger-name acts indeed. Price to listen to them live on the lawn: $35. Price to listen to them on PYX106: brain cramps from Vito’s one-liners.

Now, SPAC’s Board of Trustees is considering re-upping Live Nation’s contract, several news agencies reported last week. This contract pays SPAC a flat-rate $1 million per year stipend and a $3-per-ticket fee during years where more than 200,000 people come through the gates. In 2006, when roughly 220,000 people attended Live Nation concerts at the amphitheater, SPAC took a whopping $60,000 in added revenue; it was one of two seasons where attendance exceeded the 200,000 benchmark under Live Nation’s watch.

This sort of accounting should raise some red flags, especially given what Live Nation has been charging for tickets and the type of act they’ve been booking for Saratoga Springs, a city that has grown considerably in size and wealth since the 1990s. The assumption would be a city that now routinely draws a laundry list of celebrities each summer probably wouldn’t have much difficulty in convincing a few nice acts to put on a gig in a picturesque park like SPAC.

Live Nation also handles all the concession –and profits thereof –at the amphitheater. This is precisely why getting into the venue these days is more akin to getting through an international air terminal. No liquids, no food, no nothing except yourself. On the plus side, Live Nation still doesn’t force patrons to remove their shoes –for now at least.

But in the world of Marcia White, the first SPAC president who has never had to book a rock act, life under the rule of Live Nation has been peachy.

“They’ve been a very good partner,” she told The Saratogian last week. “We’re hoping to continue with them.”

Echoing this sentiment was Rick Geary, SPAC’s chief financial officer, who said the concert venue couldn’t possibly “get another promoter.” In other words, get ready for another decade of Live Nation overcharging for concerts, running the amphitheater like a prison camp and delivering a concert lineup that might have been slamming were it still the 1980s.

True, SPAC continues on in the black for the time being. Some would attribute this turnaround to Live Nation’s concert booking. Of course, those proponents are more than likely working for the Wal-Mart of the music industry and not routinely subjected to the remarkable sham their concerts have become in recent years. These are folks like Donna Eichmeyer, Live Nation’s upstate New York marketing manager.

“People will go to SPAC to see a show. They don't have to love the band; they just have to like the band,” she proclaimed in a laughable one-source article published by The Daily Gazette last week. “The experience at SPAC is so unique, they will go.”

Translation: we can charge as much as we want for our bland, flavorless concerts and SPAC will still renew our contract because they know they’ll get their cash even if we book Engelbert Humperdinck for all 35 slots next season. So get those garbage bags out and start saving up those Franklins, it’s going to be a long new decade with Live Nation.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Last good concert was when all the beach Boys were alive.

12:11 PM  
Blogger Vito said...

Brain cramps? LOL! Good one. I hope those come from trying to look a little deeper into some of those one liners for the commentary they are meant to convey in the time allotment Cheap Channel allows me talk.

You are so right about the Saratoga thing!

2:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We've come a long way from the Allman Brothers who partied in town after a show and the Grateful Dead concerts where people were seen hanging off the upper deck. It is now sanctioned fun at a huge ticket price. All the tight-assed adults who run SPAC should be ashamed of themselves for depriving the next generation of a good time... you money grubbing vampire assholes. Sorry you didn't enjoy your youth, but do you have to take it out on everybody else?

6:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So grow out of your extended adolescence and go to the ballet, why don't y'all?

8:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah SPAC! Rain for every Tom Petty Show. I can't even remember the last time I wanted to go over there; Neil Young and Lucinda Williams? Drug Alley! You haven't lived if you never got burned for a bag of stems and seeds or some pills that at best gave you a headache. Anybody remember Trippin' Ron? The dude was always at SPAC looking to buy a joint to pitch in. He had a loose afro with a grey streak? Later went crazier and started stalking women around town. There's a story for you Horatio. I gotta give Vito some props! He plays some stuff they never play anymore and played the shit out of Neil Young's "Living With War" on his show. This took some balls on Clear Channel. Remember the discouraged song list after 9/11? Pax, PhilthyRex

10:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They {spac} certainly haven't pulled in any acts that are "current" for the younger crowd. It seems like everyone has forgotten about marketing Saratoga as the place to be. This is just another sign of Saratoga "jumping the shark". High end second home condos for retirement folks, no conventions to speak of that are better than gun shows or the woodworkers expo, no expansion of the city center, too high rents on Broadway (anyone watching the stores closing and eateries up for sale?), and now sky high ticket prices for concerts that no one under the age of 90 wants to see. It just makes me very sad. The idea of Sting rocking it in tight leather pants really does nothing for me.

1:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

demroc said: they ruined spac when the put the concession stand right in the middle of the place. gone are the days when you could have someone meet you at the flagpole

10:13 AM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...


Ya gotta admit some of those one-liners are prone to causing blood bubbles. Please accept my kudos, though. Anyone who sticks it to "Cheap Channel" has a friend here, especially during that 9-11 debacle.

10:39 AM  
Blogger Vito said...

Oh, I know they don't all require any brain power, but there are some that I hope make people start thinking. It's always good to have friends.

1:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

horatio, what the fuck are you talking about. you need to get the facts straight. your blowing smoke up your ass eith your insane comments.people can bring in all the food they want, and they can bring in water to drink also which cuts into live nations profits. how do i know this? let's see, maybe it's because i work there and know more about what goes on than you do. so stop being a hitler, and shut the fuck up until you know all the facts.

4:44 AM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...


Hmm...I didn't know SPAC and/or Live Nation was hiring mental patients. The only reason I've published your comment is so that everyone else can see your unabated stupidity.

I will say, you have grain of truth in your post, albeit an ill-informed and ignorant one. SPAC-produced events, such as the Philadelphia Orchestra, Jazz Festival and NYC Ballet DO allow food and drink. But check it out, Einstein, THAT'S NOT LIVE NATION.

But I will give you the benefit of the doubt before I dismiss you as a flatulent butthead with an intellect far inferior to the common rabid gray squirrel. If you can PROVE to me what you say is true, I'll make a note of it in my post.

Otherwise, fuck off. I make a policy of only responding to people with and IQ greater than their age, which is obviously not the situation you face.

5:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm confused. you mentioned that you have a policy of only responding to people with an IQ greater than their age, which is obviously not the situation i face. um, since you did respond, i gue4ss i do have an IQ greater than my age. HMMMM. fodd for thought. yea i know, this won't get posted.By the way, did you go to live nation's web site to see what can be brought in? you will see food and water is on the list.And yes, even brainless wonders like you are able to come in.

7:31 AM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

(no response)

8:17 AM  

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