Saratoga.com Facebook followers recently got a HUGE update on the latest happenings at Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC)! Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President Todd Shimkus interviewed SPAC President Elizabeth Sobol live, and she provided us with a ton of exclusive information on the new shows, programs and more happening at the world-class amphitheater. Did you miss the interview? Watch the video or read the transcript below to get all of the exciting details.
Todd Shimkus: Good morning. My name is Todd Shimkus. I’m the President of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce and we’re thrilled to be here today with Elizabeth Sobol, the President of SPAC.
Elizabeth Sobol: Good morning, so nice to be here.
Todd Shimkus: So, first of all, a quick thank you, to Bigler Studios for putting this production together today and also to Saratoga.com for hosting us. We’re going to talk a little bit about SPAC and what’s taking place there, and some of the changes that Elizabeth has made over the last few years, that have all been positive. What we want to start with is, you have a really cool story about your first visit to Saratoga. Could you share that story with everyone that’s watching?
Elizabeth Sobol: I love telling this story. So just a little background, before coming to Saratoga I had spent quite a few decades in New York City in the culture and entertainment business and I ran a talent agency for a long time, and then I went over to Universal and ran a record label for Universal. I had actually left Universal, I was going down to Miami Beach with my husband and I had an apartment. My intention was to start taking it easy after many years of the grind, and we had no sooner gotten back to Miami Beach, I was starting to relax when the phone rang and a search firm said, hi, we’re doing a search for the new president of SPAC and your name keeps coming up. And as I’ve told many people, my reaction was “I’m going to go out on my balcony here in Miami Beach and describe the ocean to you and you’re going to tell me why in the world I would decide to move to Saratoga Springs, New York”. But of course now in retrospect I can say that was the reaction of a person who had never been to Saratoga.
After I was sort of cajoled to come up here and and actually interview, I had the most extraordinary experience. I, without knowing anything about the city, other than that there was this incredible amphitheater over in the park because I had been sending artists up here to perform all those years. I walked into town, it was a cool June afternoon on a Sunday and I walked past Congress Park and I was like, wow, that is so beautiful. And then not know anything about the town, no streets, no nothing, I took a right on Phila Street and I walked by Lyrical Ballad, so that was very intriguing. And I took a left on Putnam, I was in search of food, I was really hungry. I came across Mio Posto, may it rest in peace here. Had a fabulous meal there. Continued on to Caroline Street, not having any idea what Caroline Street was, I just happen to take a left and went up Caroline Street. And now all of a sudden I’m hearing music coming out of virtually every door and hearing some great jazz and going, what the heck is going on here? And then I get up to Broadway, take a left, and now lo and behold, Northshire Books. Now of course on Broadway, I’m seeing all that extraordinary historic preservation of the city and just going, how in the world did I not know what an amazing place this was? And so that was it, I fell in love that very day, 14 hours and I was done.
Todd Shimkus: I mean that’s just an incredible story. So the fact that we could attract you from Miami Beach to Saratoga Springs speaks highly.
Elizabeth Sobol: It’s a really magical place. Absolutely.
Todd Shimkus: So one of the things that I know I’m really thankful for since you arrived is your leadership to do collaboration with all sorts of different groups in the art and the business community. Can you talk about why collaboration is so important and maybe some of the collaborations that you’re proudest of?
Elizabeth Sobol: So having come from the arts and entertainment culture world, they’re all kind of mixed together. Resources are generally, more limited let’s say, than they are in the straight for-profit world or the pop world. When I was at Universal obviously the big pop labels like Interscope and Def Jam and labels like that were making tons of money. We were in the jazz classics sort of hybrid cross genre world and there’s just less to work with there right. And so one of the easiest things to do to make sparks fly and to create more resources is to work with like minded partners. And when I got to Saratoga, what I did see is that there was a lot of siloing, you know, that SPAC was a very important organization at the south end of town. But as I got to know the city and realize the deep cultural richness that was going on here, the incredible history of Caffe Lena, all the incredible stuff that goes on up at Skidmore, Yaddo, I had known about for decades as a young music student. I knew, you know, about the little legend of Yaddo and everything, but it didn’t appear that people were working together, which I found peculiar.
Early on I went out with three women who’ve become some of my best friends, collaborators, really inspiring women. Teddy Foster from UPH, Sarah Craig from Caffe Lena and Alana Richardson from Yaddo. And we just went out and talked about “what’s it like to be a woman leader in the cultural field in a city like Saratoga and how can we all together work to make it even greater?” So Sarah and I immediately hit it off in the sense that what SPAC has, which is this large infrastructure and ability to present concerts and what Caffe Lena had, which is this passionate following and intimate space, a 60 year history of bringing a particular kind of artists to town, our two organizations, there was just this almost perfect fit between us. So we just like, it just kind of started to flow. SPAC and Caffe Lena started partnering in the spring of 2017 with some interesting cross genre artists that we were both interested in, which neither one of us would have done on our own, but together it made sense. And so we did that first spring at Caffe Lena, that was wonderful for SPAC to be able to present something downtown in the winter and spring. And then in the summer what we were able to bring to Caffe Lena was our new Charles R. Wood stage and basically an unlimited audience capacity, right? And we gave them a budget to work with, to curate three concerts over the course of the summer, Sunday afternoons, four hours of free music, people could come to the field with like their coolers, their frisbees, their kids, their dogs, and just enjoy really great music in this beautiful park-like atmosphere. The partnership has continued to roll from there.
Todd Shimkus: And I can certainly say from the Chamber side as the County’s tourism promotion agency, that that collaboration helps us as well. Not only is there more to promote the fact that everybody’s collaborating, we have way better content and information well in advance and that really helps.
Elizabeth Sobol: Totally. I mean I think that’s one of the things that I discovered early on in my tenure here particularly once my first summer was upon me and it was just like, bam, like what just hit me, you know, and seeing how much goes on in the city. So you’re absolutely right, like the communication with the Chamber and the role that you guys have taken in pulling everybody together and disseminating that information from a central source is really critical because we have a very robust ecosystem here in Saratoga, but it is small, right? So we all have to really be very careful not to be competing with each other to the extent we can avoid that, you know? So that’s really critical. Also, a lot of people are still under the impression, particularly people from outside of Saratoga, that Saratoga is a summer place to be. And it sure as a summer place to be. SPAC has gone year-round, Caffe Lena is obviously a year-round magnet, you know what Skidmore does year-round. I mean it, this is just an amazing place to be 365 days a year.
Todd Shimkus: It really is, and all of those organizations you mentioned, Caffe Lena, Skidmore, SPAC, UPH, Yaddo, all of them were also going through improvements to their facilities and modernization. So the visitor, the customer, the experience that anybody listening is going to have going to any one of those venues this year, next year is really being transformed.
Elizabeth Sobol: I’m so glad you said that. I literally woke up this morning, getting ready to come over here to do this interview. And of course we’ve been through a tough winter and spring. Ryan and I woke up this morning and it felt like the world had been born anew. It’s like, wow, it’s finally spring on June 7th or whatever day is today. But I was also thinking about how, it’s not just about the season, the rebirth of the season, but truly Saratoga is going through a rebirth, a cultural rebirth, right? SPAC is just going through an enormous transformation, not only from a programming and new initiatives point of view, but as you know we just unveiled our brand new amphitheater ramps going into the building and we’ve got a couple more big passes of capital improvements. So the infrastructure is being reborn, the programming is being reborn. Obviously we’re all waiting eagerly for the birth of UPH in 2020 and Caffe Lena just went through their rebirth of their gorgeous refurbished venue. The Tang Museum is looking at its 20th anniversary in 2020. I mean, it’s just all kind of like bubbling and fermenting and flowering. It’s pretty a pretty exciting.
Todd Shimkus: It’s crazy here. So let’s jump right into the summer season now. And really sort of the start of the summer season is the Jazz Festival. And you’ve mentioned to me that Saratoga Springs is really a jazz city. Can you talk about this summer’s jazz festival?
Elizabeth Sobol: So when I first came to Saratoga I knew about Saratoga, the Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Fest from my days running a talent agency. But once I got here, I don’t know if people really realize just how important the jazz fest is. It’s considered one of the top jazz fests in North America which is a pretty big deal because there’s some great jazz fests in this country. But also the Skidmore Jazz Institute, one of the most prominent important institutes in America. The thing that I learned very happily when I moved here was that you can literally hear great jazz in Saratoga 365 days a year. People outside of Saratoga don’t know that, and that is enormous for jazz lovers. This is truly a mecca, right?
I was so thrilled, last year we decided to do a kickoff night called Jazz Fest Friday, which is the night before we start Jazz Fest. One of the things I learned from our long term ticket buyers for Jazz Fest – and by the way, 50% of our ticket buyers come in from way out of town from all over the northeast, which is very different than the makeup of a lot of our other programming. I learned that they were coming up on Fridays and they’re staying over and we weren’t giving them anything to do. We weren’t telling them where to go, or giving them tips, or queuing them into the fact that this is a great jazz city. So the program that you collaborated with us on last year, Jazz Fest Friday, where all the business establishments promoted live jazz on Friday night, and we all promoted that together to our ticket buyers.
Of course we’re repeating that again this year and we really think it’s going to be even bigger than last year. On Saturday and Sunday, I have two names that I’m going to throw out, Norah Jones and George Benson. A third one Trombone Shorty, I don’t think I have to say much more than that. This is one of the Jazz Fest’s biggest and best lineups, but the thing that I’m proudest about this jazz fest is that for the first time ever we have invited local high school jazz bands to be the first up on the amphitheater stage Saturday and Sunday. So we’re really excited to be involving local artists in the programming and these two high school jazz bands. Last weekend we had our Festival of Young Artists, we had 600 kids at SPAC and we have over 400 kids performing on the amphitheater stage. At Jazz Fest we’re going to have all these kids on the amphitheater stage. Imagine what that’s like, for a young kid who thinks they might want to be a musician, to have that thrill to be performing on the same stage where Dave Matthews, the Philadelphia Orchestra, Norah Jones and George Benson are performing. Pretty great.
Todd Shimkus: That’s awesome. I remember, and Dave Bigler does too, when we did the Saratoga Lip Dub back a number of years ago and we premiered it on the big screen at SPAC on the stage, and to be standing up there in front, I think there were 2,000 people out in the audience. And that was for me just overwhelming knowing who had been on that stage in its lifetime, and to think that I was standing there. So for those kids who are interested in music, that’s just incredible. What a great opportunity for them.
Elizabeth Sobol: It’s incredible. You know, I’ve now been here, this’ll be my third summer. I still like get like chills when I walk out on that stage. George Balanchine, Eugene Ormandy, everybody else who’s come since.
Todd Shimkus: So next after that, New York City Ballet, Philadelphia Orchestra, talk about that.
Elizabeth Sobol: So I’m going to return to my word about rebirth and transformation. I find it so interesting that both of our amphitheater resident companies are going through their own rebirth as well. And it’s been so exciting. Jon Stafford has become the new artistic director of the New York City Ballet and Wendy Whalen is one of the great prima ballerinas of the New York City Ballet. And so this just changes things magnificently for New York City Ballet and brings them into the present, it’s a fresh approach. The repertoire that we worked with them on for the summer, it was a very, very collaborative process. And, um, you know, people here who love New York City Ballet understandably have very strong opinions and views and tastes and everything. And I would say I have an equal number of people who would say to me, oh, Elizabeth, please bring more story ballets, we want to bring our children, our families and we want the tried and true, the traditional, which is great because we all want to see that. But I have an equal number of people are going, oh gosh, you know, can’t you bring in something new? We’ve seen that particular program like 15 times over the last 50 years or whatever.
We’re constantly balancing and we’re constantly looking for things to bring in new audiences, things to bring to people who are true traditionalists who want to see the same things over time with different casts and different dancers. And we want to have something for the people who really want the discovery, right? So this summer, the way that’s played out is that we have three performances of Coppelia. Now, this particular production of Coppelia, it was premiered on the SPAC stage, which is pretty exciting. And so, not only is this one of the most beloved New York City story ballets, but it also involves a lot of local kids in the production. And I will just mention, we have two evening performances, the Friday night performance also happens to be our American Girl Night. So that attracts a lot of young people. Last year for Romeo and Juliet we had thousands of kids out on the lawn. So we decided because that can be its own kind of experience, we also have an evening performance of Coppelia on Thursday night for people who prefer attend a performance of Coppelia without a lot of kids on the line. Cause you know, everybody likes to consume their performances in different ways. So that’s Coppelia. Needless to say, we have some phenomenal Balanchine programs of Tchaikovsky. But the thing I’m most excited about if I have to choose one is what will be the second year of a new tradition called SPAC Premieres 21st Century Choreographers, in which we are presenting a whole evening of ballets that have never been seen in Saratoga before by young choreographers. So this year in particular, we’ve got another Justin Peck. I mean, Justin Peck is so beloved by the dance community here in Saratoga in the Capital Region, but we also have a spectacular new ballet by Kyle Abraham, which I saw last fall at city center at the New York City Ballet Gala. I won’t go into it, just Google and watch it. The music is just spectacular. The dancing Taylor Stanley, it’s just a remarkable piece. Google it later and see the runaway. But that’s going to be pretty spectacular.
The orchestra, okay, so, let’s talk about rebirth there. They have a brand new president and literally just yesterday they announced a $55 million anonymous gift to the orchestra, in the days when many orchestras are struggling, many are on strike. Many are dealing with like the aftermath of bankruptcies and everything. You know, the Philadelphia Orchestra went through a tough time with a bankruptcy some years ago. So this vote of confidence in this orchestra with Yannick Nézet-Séguin again, who arguably is the most in demand, most exciting conductor of our time. And he’s here in Saratoga. He chose to come for two weeks, this summer, even though the demands on his time are so crazy now that he took over as the music director of the Metropolitan Opera that last fall. But he loves being in Saratoga. So just a quick thing again we’ve got for the traditionalist, we’ve got a number of magnificent core classical programs including closing night, which will be the great Mozart Requiem conducted with incredible singers from the Metropolitan Opera. The Mozart Requiem has never been performed at SPAC before, despite the fact that it is one of the main, greatest masterpieces ever written. Again, once we’re done with this, people can go to SPAC.org and see all the other classical concerts that we have. There’s really some sublime and wonderful repertoire in the program. And then for those people who aren’t in that core classical camp, we do have three cinema nights. We’ve got Harry Potter back for round two.
Todd Shimkus: I am not going to miss that this year.
Elizabeth Sobol: It was spectacular. It is just amazing to see it on those huge screens, 40 foot LED screens, you know, live music and everything. John Williams score. Then we’ve got Disney Pixar’s Up, which is one of my personal favorites. And then for traditionalist classes, this whatever we’ve got Chaplain’s City Lights with live orchestra in the film. One other thing that I’m really, really excited about – what is America’s classical music? It’s jazz, right? And so there are a number of composers who, from Leonard Bernstein to, I can’t even begin to list all the composers who have incorporated jazz elements into their classical scores. But we always try to do something with a jazz element. Think about Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue or the Piano Concerto. So this year we are incredibly lucky to have Jazz at Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis, who will be on the stage with the Philadelphia Orchestra performing, Wynton’s own swing symphony. And so to have literally America and possibly the world’s most extraordinary jazz orchestra with one of the most extraordinary jazz artists in the world today Wynton Marsalis, right here in Saratoga at SPAC. Yeah, it’s pretty great.
Todd Shimkus: Now, one of the things that I’ve really appreciated as well is that you’ve really made sure that the next generation of fans are coming to SPAC through children’s programs, but also you’ve done SPAC On Stage. Could you talk about a couple of those and why are they so important to SPAC and its future?
Elizabeth Sobol: Yeah, so when I came to SPAC, what I saw was, slightly siloed or polarized programming and you know, it’s sort of like in one corner we had Live Nation and all the great shows they bring to town. And on the other hand, we had our classical residencies, the orchestra and the ballet and the way people talked about it was like, almost like they were opposing, you know, or they were in corners of the boxing matches in boxing ring. And I’ve really tried to change the narrative around that because from my point of view, you may be a core classical fan and you may not be interested in seeing Zac Brown Band or Kendrick Lamar or Santana. But there are a lot of people for whom those are passionately important bands and as far as I’m concerned, ours is a best in class venue, literally best in class, one of the greatest outdoor venues in North America. And that’s not just my opinion by the way. And my belief is that, you know, a best in class venue deserves best in class artists across all genres. And so we’ve really tried to kind of embrace the, the multiplicity or the diversity of the programming. Obviously there are people who grew up loving classical music and you know, they understandably want the experience of going to hear classical music to continue as they know it, right? And so we tried to honor that and preserve it. By the way, I was trained as a classical pianist. So I come at it from that point of view, but also come at it from the point of view that you have to be pragmatic because in these days, you know, the number of people who are passionately interested in core classical has diminished so greatly that we have to be focused on bringing new people in. Whether it’s these cinema programs that bring people in who wouldn’t necessarily go here, the Mozart Requiem or bringing people in to see the Kyle Abraham piece, which has a score that includes some hip hop music or whatever, who might not choose to go see Tchaikovsky and Balanchine.
When I was at IMG and managing a lot of artists, and then when I went to Universal, what I saw was that this young generation, and I’m even talking about conservatory students who are studying music and are studying to be classical musicians, they’re no longer in that “I only listen to classical music the way things were 15 or 20 years ago”. They listen to everything. And when I was at Universal, I would walk around the office and I had employees, many of whom had classical music backgrounds, and I was just as likely to hear them listening to Adele or Kendrick Lamar as I was to hear them listening to Annetta Tremco or Gustavo Dudamel conducting the LA Philharmonic. And they’d just have much broader interests and tastes. Also there are a number of artists who don’t want to be pigeonholed, they want to play their Brahms or Beethoven or Mozart, but they’re also interested in all these other forms. So, you know, when I was at IMG, one of the artists I was privileged to work with was Joshua Bell, and Joshua, aside from being one of the greatest violinists, not just to his generation, but I personally feel like ever, he was one of those people who obviously was on of the top in the classical sphere, but he was curious and ravenous about other kinds of music and he made film scores and he made bluegrass albums and he was just interested in all kinds of music. I love working with that kind of musician who is constantly curious and hungry and wanting to find new ways of expression and collaborate with people who are kind of genre crossing or genre busting.
So at any rate, I wanted to do that at SPAC. I had worked with artists at both IMG and Universal like Time for Three, like The Hot Sardines who were doing this kind of cross genres stuff. And I knew I wanted to bring bands like that to Saratoga because not only had none of them had ever been here, they’re all amazing. But I also wanted to start bringing in a different kind of audience who were curious about these more, you know, weren’t just like firmly in the pop side, or firmly in the core of classical. I wanted to start bringing in people to give them these unique experiences. So my big challenge was where was I going to do that? Because most of these artists probably are good for 800 to 1,000 seats, tickets sold. And I absolutely firmly believe that putting an artist in an amphitheater with 5,200 seats, knowing you’re only going to sell a thousand is a crime. You know, it’s demoralizing to the audiences, demoralizing to the artists. So one day I’m out in the amphitheater, and I’m my pondering my existential challenge, how the heck am I going to bring those artists to SPAC? And I’m looking at this magnificent stage we talked about earlier and I thought, wow, that’s big. I wonder how many people we could actually seat on the stage. And so my absolutely wondrous, miraculous ops team went out there and measured it all up and did a mock up set up and they said 350 and I said, let’s do it. Let’s do a series. And so we launched SPAC On Stage where the audience literally sits on the stage with the with the artists and it’s all rules are off. It’s not like sitting there for a classical concert. You can use your phone to photograph, you can video, you can get up, there’s a bar there, you can dance, you can, as long as you’re respecting your fellow concert goers, anything goes. So what we found is just, there’s a tremendous amount of hunger and enthusiasm and by the way, 33% of our ticket buyers have never been to before. So a lot of that new programming that we’re doing is having that sort of like 30-40% new ticket buyers, which you know, then helps.
Todd Shimkus: And I can just say for anybody that hasn’t done, I mean obviously there’s limited tickets, but SPAC On Stage, the intimacy of that, the fact that you are literally on stage with the artists as they’re performing. It’s a completely different experience from sitting in the amphitheater looking up at the stage. And I don’t think I appreciated that until I went out and did it. And it was one of those, wow. No, I didn’t dance because nobody wants to see that. But, So, the children’s programming, you’ve had just a ginormous increase in the number of kids that you’re impacting. Can you talk about that?
Elizabeth Sobol: So for me, education is the key to everything. I was lucky to grow up in a family that cared about music. I had piano lessons, my mom saying that she would take me to the opera. We had to drive an hour to the big cities, to the opera. But more and more we went through a time in this country where arts and arts education programs were just completely eliminated from the schools. And we’ve seen the effects in our programming and in the arts world of just like diminished interest in the arts, right? And people think, you know, in times of economic stress or whatever, arts should be the first thing to go. Well, there’s so much research, don’t take it from an art celebrity, take it from the research that the kind of cognitive growth, the kind of, inner resources that studying the arts get confidence and compassion and empathy and many things that this world is in great need of right now, come directly from a study of the arts. Right? There’s a lot of research backing this up right now. So that’s the sort of like, we want SPAC to be a place where children and adults can experience the wonder of beauty. Both the man-made beauty that is on our stage or out in the field when we do performances, but also natural beauty, right? Because both nature and art fill the soul and when you’re in the presence of great beauty like that, differences tend to go away. If we’re sitting there, you know, going, oh my God, having this incredible moment or like whoever the band is or if it’s an orchestra, you forget your differences cause you’re kind of united in that incredible transformative moment. So bringing that experience to kids, giving them an opportunity to experience that, not just the man-made beauty, but the natural beauty that we have the great privilege to inhabit there in the park. So there’s the bigger mission, it’s an important thing to do for humanity frankly, but also from a pragmatic and, you know, self interested point of view. That’s our audience for the future. So just to give you a couple of little rundowns on things we’ve done. First of all, overall in the last two years, our education program has gone from serving 5,000 kids to serving over 38,000 children all over the Capital Region.
Todd Shimkus: That’s incredible.
Elizabeth Sobol: Yeah, we’re so proud of that. And you know, the festival of young artists that I mentioned, it just happened last weekend. We had over 600 young painters, poets, instrumentalists, singers and dancers representing 35 schools throughout the Capital Region. This week we just did our first ever program called Ballet and Fifth partnering with the National Museum of Dance. We brought in dancers from New York City Ballet, it was a three day program for fifth graders here in Saratoga. This will be an annual program so that if you’re a parent, you know that if your child is going to school in Saratoga Springs that by fifth grade, they will have hands on direct experiences with dancers from New York City Ballet.
Todd Shimkus: Who else has that right now?
Elizabeth Sobol: Nobody! Nobody. This is like such an important thing. You know, we all talk about recruiting talent, retaining talent in the Capital Region and Saratoga. These are major things for parents to know and for potential new residents of Saratoga to know that these sorts of resources and programs are available. And then we’re very lucky to be here in Saratoga Springs, there’s so much culture, there’s so much generosity from the community. And so we’re all the beneficiaries of that. Not every community is like that. Thanks to organizations like the Wright Family Foundation, like Bank of America, we have programs where we go into underserved communities, particularly in Schenectady and Albany right now, and we bring kids to SPAC, we provide tickets for the child and two adult guardians. We provide transportation and meals to bring them to SPAC so that they’re having this experience of being outdoors, being in a group that can walk them through and be there for them to help them with the experience. So we’re bringing more and more kids to SPAC to have those experiences. And then, you know, our classical kids program has many manifestations throughout the Capital Region. Get this, this year alone we have 12,000 kids coming through classical kids and when you come through a classical kids program, you get a classical kids free lawn pass for yourself and an adult, which you use until you graduate from high school.
Todd Shimkus: This is one of the best kept secrets. Say that again so everybody out there with kids hears this.
Elizabeth Sobol: You come into a classical kids program, you as a child, or your child gets a free classical kids lawn pass. It entitles you to come for free to any SPAC classical programming all summer long until that child graduates from high school.
Todd Shimkus: Richie Snyder who works for the Chamber has raved about that program in particular, getting his two young kids involved at SPAC, and hearing all of the incredible music and seeing all the incredible performances as a result of that. So it’s a great program.
Elizabeth Sobol: It’s really something. How lucky are we at SPAC to be able to do that? You know, I bemoaned my existential challenge of 5,200 seats, but how lucky to have so much space, how lucky to be able to invite people in. You know, it’s, it’s really awesome.
Todd Shimkus: So to take a real leap into the fall, a totally different subject, the Wine and Food Festival. You’re making a little bit of a change with that.
Elizabeth Sobol: We’re making a big old change. So the first big change is the date. It’s going to be October 4-5. In the past it’s been the weekend after Labor Day and you know, this is my third summer. So like my first year wine and food kind of came and went and you know, I experienced it. I didn’t have a lot of time to ponder it. And then last year, it was a very big departure. We moved out to the reflecting pool. We had over 80 Bugattis here, thanks to the partnership we had with the Automobile Museum and thanks to you and the City and City Center and Discover Saratoga. We had that fabulous Bugatti parade. So once you’ve done Bugattis, there’s no place to go with regard to cars. And so this year is going to be now a real pivot. The reason we moved later is that we just found for ourselves and for everybody in the community, particularly chefs and restaurants, that Labor Day weekend being the last weekend of track, the following weekend everybody’s dead. Pocket books are empty, batteries are low, we’re all on fumes and we thought, let’s push into October. Because it gives everybody a chance to like get their bearings, get their energy back. And now we’re in the middle of harvest season. So there’s all sorts of benefits to doing that.
The other thing I wanted to do with Wine and Food because we are SPAC, because we’re in the park, because – by the way, this is another best kept secret – people don’t realize that Wine and Food Festival is our biggest fundraiser for that education program we’ve just talked about. And so it was kind of baffling to me that we had classic cars there, which is cool enough thing to do, but we didn’t have was art and culture, right? We weren’t really like conveying the thing that we’re known for. So we have really thought about this a lot and obviously the big focus on Bugattis last year, that became the focus. And so we’re now pivoting back. Like there’s a real focus on just true, exquisite wine and food experiences this year. But also because of our place in the park, because of our commitment to sustainability and the protecting the part, protecting our natural resources, which is as much a part of SPACs reality is our arts side, we really wanted Wine and Food to reflect our belief that it’s all of our responsibilities to be responsible about sustainability and the environment.
The two pronged focus is that there’s going to be a lot about sustainability and conservation and preservation, we’re going to have a whole week leading up called The Cultivates Series where we’re going to be doing demonstrations and films and talks about fun and informative things about what is it to think about food and consume food in a socially conscious way. Then when we get to Wine and Food, Fired Up is being retired, and Friday night will be an exquisite farm to table meal focused around a theme of forest magic, and then the next day will be the grand tasting. A lot of the chefs who are coming in are chefs who are people very focused on sustainability, waste free cooking. There will be demos around that theme. I should mention in terms of collaborations, our collaborators so far, the lineup includes Skidmore and they will be working with us on the Cultivates Series around these issues of social justice around food and sustainability and all of those topics. We’re partnering with Caffe Lena who are going to curate the music. We’re partnering with Kim Klopstock from The Lily & the Rose and John Sconzo of Hamlet & Ghost, two of my favorite food gurus in the Capital Region. And then we also have Salem Artworks who are going to be bringing in a phenomenal sculpture for the sculpture garden, which will encircle the area where food is taking place again around the reflecting pool. So, Wine and Food is going to feel very different in this year and much more collaborative, much more rooted.
Todd Shimkus: As much as I hate to say it because we are really celebrating as you mentioned the first day of spring in Saratoga today with the weather, you’ll also have the fall foliage within the beautiful Spa State Park at that point in time.
Elizabeth Sobol: Yes. I mean, we’re already like working on the look and feel, which was going to involve a lot of dried flowers from gardens right here. We’re calling it a celebration of the cultural and culinary bounty of the region. We want to celebrate the region, there’s so much here.
Todd Shimkus: Absolutely. So this was awesome. You gave out a ton of information to folks. So for the people who are watching, what should they do to get more detailed information, actual dates, tickets, all of those things that they want to do.
Elizabeth Sobol: All of that is on SPAC.org, in particular look at the SPAC On Stage lineup, which this year is one every month, June, July, August, and September, rather than in the past where it was every Monday in August. We also just launched a new speaker series called Water, looking at that most important element of Saratoga’s history. SPAC.org. All of that information is there.
Todd Shimkus: Awesome. Elizabeth, thank you so much for doing this. And to everybody tuning in out there, thank you for doing so, and to Dave Bigler Studios for all of his great work and to Saratoga.com for hosting us. This is Todd Shimkus from the Saratoga County Chamber and I guess we are signing off.
Elizabeth Sobol: Bye everybody.