By R.J. DeLuke
The Saratoga Performing Arts Center has hosted a renowned jazz festival since 1978, started by the legendary promoter George Wein. It runs on a weekend in June and brings in music legends and on-the-rise stars.
It has also brought in legions of tourists over the years that occupy hotels, eat in local restaurants and shop in downtown Broadway.
In May, at a press conference at Caffe Lena, SPAC, Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce officials and others announced the addition of Friday night events in the city that will add to the enjoyment for both festival-goers and local people as well. It will involve the business community and help grow the buzz for the festival.
Elizabeth Sobol, SPAC president and CEO, said some 50 percent of those that attend the festival come from outside the area. “We weren’t giving them anything to do” prior to the fest, she noted.
“The cultural tourist spends 60 percent more than the average leisure tourist, therefore, adding an evening of programming to showcase Saratoga’s vibrant downtown and our incredibly talented local jazz musicians is a win for our community and an added value for out of town guests.”
Freihofer’s Jazz Fest Friday will feature Chamber businesses welcoming locals and visitors with live jazz events, themed dining, and social dance options that will serve as the kick-off to the Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival. Participating restaurants, bars and venues include Caffè Lena, National Museum of Dance, The Adelphi Hotel, Sperry’s, Northshire Bookstore, Kru Coffee, The Gideon Putnam, Hampton Inn & Suites, Holiday Inn at Saratoga Springs, The Local, Morton’s the Steakhouse, Homewood Suites by Hilton Saratoga Springs, Diamond Club at Embassy Suites, BurgerFi, Dunning Street Station Bar & Grill, Hattie’s, Lake Ridge Restaurant, Prime at Saratoga National, Saratoga Apple, Saratoga Wine & Spirits, Impressions of Saratoga and more.
In addition to festivities scheduled around the city, SPAC’s Action Council will present the featured event, A Night on Bourbon Street, at the Canfield Casino in Congress Park. Kicking off at 7:30 p.m. on June 22, guests can hear a band led by jazz trumpeter and vocalist Bria Skonberg, who will present New Orleans-inspired music Lily and the Rose will cater food the open bar befitting of a festive “Big Easy” fête. Tickets start at $150 and are available at spac.org.
“Saratoga is not just ‘health, history and horses,’” said Todd Shimkus, Chamber president, referring to one of the city’s promotional slogans. “We’re so much more than that. We’re a cultural destination.”
He said the first-ever Jazz Fest Friday “is a unique opportunity for us to expand this world-renowned festival from two to three days and to showcase our community as a top destination for Jazz music in the world. We’re thrilled to have so many local hotels, restaurants, stores and venues involved already and we fully expect to add more locations, artists, and discounts in the coming days as word spreads”
At the May 22 news conference, he said he expected the list of participating businesses in the city to continue to grow, perhaps doubling.
Now in its 41st year, the festival features a roster of artists, ranging from jazz luminaries like Jon Batiste, Chris Botti, Herbie Hancock, Gregory Porter, Joey Alexander, to emerging artists making their Saratoga debuts such as José James, Lakecia Benjamin and SoulSquad, Scott Sharrard and The Brickyard Band, Jazzmeia Horn and Keyon Harrold.
The festival is the fifth longest-consecutive-running jazz festival in North America. Initially founded as “the Newport Jazz Festival at Saratoga” the weekend event was renamed Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival in 1998. The two-day, two-stage festival continues to be one of the largest jazz music events in North America.
For tickets or more information, visit spac.org.