Tag Archives: Saratoga Spa State Park

Under the table and dreaming of Dave

7 Jun

Under the Table and Dreaming, v. 2.0 | Myrtle Beach SC, May 2012

Hailing the real Boys of Summer: Welcome back, Dave Matthews Band
 

Rambling

Summer belongs to Dave Matthews. The season of lazy days and languid nights just wouldn’t be the same without Dave Matthews Band. Last year, when Dave and company decided not to tour fully (Caravan, schmaravan), summer downright sucked. For the better part of the last 20 years (holy shit), I and legions of other fans and followers have taken for granted that DMB would be there for us. Like clockwork. In these parts, serving as the official kickoff to summer. With two nights of extended jams, familiar standbys (heard dozens of times before but still sounding fresh), and a smattering of new tunes every few years. Echoing through the woods of the Saratoga Spa State Park, from our storied SPAC. But last year, silence. No DMB. And for me, no summer.

This weekend, the DMB drought ends. And summer officially begins. The past few nights have brought me vivid dreams, with Dave on the brain. The new DMB album hasn’t dropped yet, but that’s okay. I’ll dance with Dave Feet to new versions of the old favorites, and sing my made-up words to the lyrics I can’t understand, and wax nostalgic about the arc of my DMB fanhood…

I credit my brother Vik with introducing me to this eclectic “college band” in the early 1990s. As the more responsible (read, geekier) older sister, I was only marginally aware of the crazy and quasi-illegal hoops Vik jumped through to see DMB concerts as a teen (a “sleepover” at a friend’s house that masked a secret New Year’s Eve overnight road trip to a Virginia Beach concert, for instance). Vik was (and is) bad ass, so my dorky self felt privileged to share a first live DMB concert experience with this Original Fan in 1995. It was an auspicious introduction. It was in a college gym. A cheap general admission ticket got us into the campus rec center at the State University of New York at Albany on a weeknight in September. Vik and I had been working together in Albany at the time, so camped out after work until the venue doors opened, and then rushed the stage area with hundreds of others to claim a spot on the gym floor. My first DMB show, and we were front and center! Pushed up against the gym mats padding the platform that was pretending to be a stage.

Meshell Ndegeocello (remember her?) was the opener. No one wanted to listen to her. The crowd was rude and unruly. She was booed off stage. It was appalling. After what seemed an eternity, Dave and friends finally appeared. And so did chaos. The moshing began. The pushing, the shoving, the bodies, the crushing, the feet to the face. Who the hell was this band? Who were these fecking rabid fans? I had never been so terrified. At 6’3″, my “little” brother embraced the crazy crowd vibe, literally head and shoulders above the rest. At 5’5″ (okay, maybe closer to 5’4″), I was dodging death by student stampede. Ultimately, I retreated from the front-and-center stronghold, and tried to enjoy the rest of the show from the gym’s nosebleed-equivalent seats.

Thanks to the interweb, I relive that concert, and my time as a petrified DMB virgin, and invite you to join me for a sampling of that show. Note the silhouettes of people walking across the stage? Crowd-surfers–or potential crush victims–who made it to the front, invading “Dave’s House”, before being escorted offstage by security in a steady stream. Sigh. At least I can claim to have had a front row “seat” at a DMB show. Even if for just a few precious minutes.

A few years later, I would see DMB again, and again in a gym (well, indoor tennis stadium). This time, north of the border, in Montreal. It couldn’t have been a more different experience. It was May 1998. DMB was enjoying widespread mainstream popularity stateside. But in Canada? If there were more than a thousand people at this performance, I’d be surprised. It was intimate, informal (standing only), beer served on the sidelines, Canadian cordial crowd. And the band was having a jolly rollick. It felt more like a practice session. For a teenage garage band. I couldn’t find any videos online, but did find this entertaining collection of fan reviews. Memorable in its own right. Every year since, Hubby and I have searched for a repeat of this mellow Montreal gig. No luck.

A few months after Montreal, I was in for another “crushing” concert experience. It was July 1998. (My now) Hubby and I were front-and-center at our nearby “neighborhood” concert venue, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC). Kid brother Vik insists that SPAC is among DMB’s favorite places to play. That the performances and set lists are never better than when the band is at SPAC. For Hubby and me, this was our first “non-lawn” DMB SPAC show, and we were lucky enough to have scored fourth row orchestra pit seats (my boss at the time was a big-time SPAC supporter and member, and got dibs on The Fancy Seats for all the shows). We smugly took our places in The Highly Civilized Section at the very front of the amphitheatre, alongside the Muffy/Buffy/Skip/Chip monied set and privileged teenagers (none of whom were True Fans like us). Behind us, in the regular seats and on the lawn, sat The Lowly Rabble. But not for long. In a flashback repeat of my inaugural DMB concert experience, the stage was rushed. Our temporary folding chairs crumbled. Our bodies were crushed. We retreated. Once again watching a DMB concert from a safe distance. Bruised and disappointed. But no less awed by the music. After that show, all sorts of security measures were put into place (wrist bands, limited pit audience, beefy bouncer types instead of old lady volunteer ushers). Epic.

Fast forward to 2000. A truly memorable millennial. Summer saw me between graduate school and jobs, and working for the season as a front desk clerk at The Gideon Putnam. Situated in the Saratoga Spa State Park, and adjacent to SPAC, this hotel saw its share of celebrities, especially during the summer months. In my brief front desk stint over several summers, I had met the likes of Bobby Flay, Ralph Wilson, Frank McCourt, Tara Lipinski, Dr. Ruth, and Celeste Holm.

And in August 2000, Dave Matthews. And the gang. We front desk clerks didn’t know for sure if the band would be staying with us until the very last minute, when pseudonyms on the original reservations were changed, to Dave, and Boyd, and Leroi, and Carter, and Stefan. But I had brought my disposable Kodak to work, just in case.

I remember it clearly. There was a conference of school administrators and teachers meeting in the hotel that day. During a late afternoon meeting break, a group of harpy women swarmed the front desk, chirping orders for photocopies, replacement room keys, faxes, more water in the conference rooms.

Behind them, standing alone, patiently, quietly, no airs, duffel bag slung over his shoulder, lips puckered in a sort of whistle…Dave.

Above the melee, we made eye contact. I motioned for Dave to meet me at the side door to the front desk area. Ignoring the pecking shrews, I stepped away from the desk, and ushered Dave into the private area behind the front desk mailboxes (old school hotel). He was much taller than I had expected. And he smelled fresh and clean, like fabric softener. The small talk was a blur–I think I congratulated him on his recent marriage, and he told me he had a head cold; I mentioned my kid brother who had met him before a recent Albany show, and he said something like, “Oh yeah, tall Indian kid, I remember”–as I fumbled with his keys and told him how to get to his room. And in a move that surely should have gotten me fired, I whipped out the camera. “Would you mind terribly? I would love to get a picture.”

A silken, baritone “well, sure.” One photo left in the Kodak disposable. One Charmin squeeze for the ages.

I’d had my seminal Dave moment. One that can never be matched nor topped. It was followed close behind by helping to check in a very ripple-y Boyd, a surprisingly petite Stefan, an impish Carter (who later had a problem with bees in his hotel room), and a sunglasses-less Leroi (whose credit card signature I photocopied after he checked out…man, I should have been fired. You just don’t do those sorts of things as a front desk clerk, especially at the buttoned-up Gideon Putnam).

Now it’s nearly Summer 2012, and I am looking forward to this weekend’s performances as eagerly as ever, 15+ years on. My brother–still a diehard DMB fan, but now living in southwest Florida, and bereft of his regular Dave fix–counts down, and sends me regular emails with concert stats, links to DMB articles, schedules, set lists, album release information. Nagging, really. To make sure that we don’t miss the performance (“Guys, PLEASE go to Saturday night’s show…It was the fastest sell out of the entire tour.”), and everything that it represents.

While I still look forward to DMB concerts as the true harbinger of summer, I have come to appreciate Dave and friends more from afar. Just outside the SPAC gates. Away from the noisy throngs. With the other “grownups”, who are content to spread out on the park lawn, sipping our shrouded beers–or perhaps now some Dreaming Tree wine–and reliving happy memories of concerts past. This is how we roll now…but don’t tell anyone our secret.

(I am also tickled to find “work appropriate” versions of DMB on Spotify, for the soundtrack of my professional day. DMB in lullaby, yoga-fied, classical piano, even bluegrass.)

The other day, I ran into my old boss from the Gideon Putnam Hotel. He had been a DMB fan, too. He’d even given me a live cassette recording of that 1998 SPAC show. We hadn’t seen each other in over a decade. Still, he remembered that Dave day.

“You know, I still have a copy of that picture you had taken with Dave Matthews. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone so happy about anything, then or since.”

Rock on. Welcome back, boys. And hello-o-o-o-o, Summer.

Have a favorite DMB concert moment or memory? Share it!
 
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The path less traveled: Spa State Park rediscovered (alternately, The Geyser Fallacy exposed)

10 Jan

Rambling

I often take for granted our proximity to the Saratoga Spa State Park, and all that the park offers. In our youth, it was the perennial field-trip-and-class-picnic destination. In adolescence, the site for those first rock concerts “alone” (you know, when you and your Huey-Lewis-and-The-News-loving posse got dropped off by your folks for a night of quasi-freedom, then had to return to reality three hours later, piled into the back of the family Buick wagon…so uncool).

Now, in adulthood, we like to think we have a more mature and sophisticated appreciation for the park. We see the New York City Ballet and Philadelphia Orchestra perform at SPAC in the summer. We lounge at the I’m-too-sexy-for-this-scene Victoria Pool during the two weeks it’s open (or so it seems). We enjoy ogling The Fancy People in their Ferraris at the Saratoga Automobile Museum in the fall. But ultimately, the Spa State Park is still a big, beautiful, mostly free, year-round playground. In the spring, Hubby and I enjoy riding our bikes there. In summer, we chill curbside with our camouflaged beers and listen to bunches of rock concerts for free outside the SPAC gates. Snowy winters sometimes find us there on snowshoes or cross-country skis. But we rarely take the time to explore the hidden patches of the historic park by foot.

So on Sunday, we decided to take advantage of the relatively mild and dry weather, and to stretch our legs before an afternoon of TV football playoffs (read, “napping”), by taking a hike through the park. What started out as a stroll on the park’s access road soon deviated, to a new path (to us), a more recently marked and contiguous “5 Mile Trail”. What a find! And given the absence of foliage and undergrowth, what a nice way to take in different views of the park.

We picked up this trail off North South Road, across from the golf course, and followed its meandering route. Atop a ridge overlooking Geyser Creek, down to a grassy (not snowy…eerie for January) knoll, along and across the creek at the park’s southern end, up and around the more far-flung picnic pavilions, along the freshly restored Vale of Springs…a serene walk, filled with simple surprises: red squirrels, a mysterious pine cone pyramid (work of the red squirrels), solitary “taking of the waters” at the various springs in the now-deserted picnic area, a lone moss-covered picnic table, tufa…

Wait…what? Tufa?

You know, those other-worldly, flesh-and-rust-colored mounds that we see at the base of the park’s geyser (which isn’t a geyser at all, but more on that shortly) and along Geyser Creek (near the pedestrian bridge that crosses into SPAC): Tufa. A sort of limestone, made up of accumulating mineral deposits from the natural springs. The one pictured here is from the incredibly mineral-y Orenda Spring, from which you can taste a tapped sample, about 30′ up and 30′ back from the base of this chalky, cheese doodle-y mound. And I am amazed to learn that this stuff accumulates at a rate of about a half-cup per 100 gallons of water…Am I the only one freaked out by this figure? I mean, given that no one ever turns off these natural springs, it would seem that these mounds might overtake all of Saratoga in the not-too-distant future. And then we’d know this charming hamlet as…Saratufa?

And the whole geyser thing…So hard to stomach that we proud Saratogians have been (and continue to be) duped! For years, along with “health, history, and horses”, we have bragged about having “the only geyser east of the Mississippi”. Well, thanks to the beautiful signage installed in the park to celebrate its centennial last year, we learned on Sunday that this is patently wrong. We cannot boast having a geyser. What we have, occupying its own tufa island in the middle of Geyser Creek, is a spouter.

Island spouter sign reveals The Ugly Truth

A geyser is an erupting spring whose waters shoot up and out as a result of heat-driven forces inside the earth (think magma and volcanic action), often accompanied by steam and vapors. We do not have this. What Saratoga has is a spouter. This looks like a geyser to the unenlightened, but is actually the manifestation of trapped gases present in Saratoga’s subterranean mineral waters. The irony of this is not lost on me: Saratoga is full of (not-so) hot air. Spouting crap for all these years. Ain’t that a gas?

Nonetheless, “Geyser” sticks. It has to. We have a road named after it, along with a few housing subdivisions, an elementary school, a creek, a bed-and-breakfast, a park, a mineral spring, and probably some sort of gelato flavor or panini in one of our downtown eateries. “Spouter” just wouldn’t do. But now we know.
 
So, a winter Sunday ramble in Saratoga Spa State Park…educational, invigorating, enlightening. And a perfect precursor to football-watching (napping).
 

The ramble in pictures 

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