The 34th Annual Freihofer’s Jazz Festival at SPAC

Saturday’s flying weather was crappy and I had canceled my flights for the day, so the wifey and I headed down to Saratoga Springs to enjoy some great music at the present day version of the famed Newport Jazz Fest, the Freihofer’s Jazz Festival at SPAC. The Jazz Fest is a 2 day event, we went for Saturday. We got there about 12 noon and left around 10 PM after a full day of enjoying some great Jazz, except for the last act – I’ll explain later. For the last 30 years or so, I’ve always been too busy with my seasonal balloon ride biz to consider taking the time to appreciate and enjoy an event such as this in my local area, and just figured it was time, again. I say again because when I was in my late teens to early 20s, a friend and I went to Newport for the Jazz Festival. Can’t remember much about the acts or the music, it was the 60’s for-peets-sake, but I do remember running into Bill Russell at the beer tent. I was a huge Boston Celtics fan as a kid, so I was definitely impressed by standing next to him. He towered over me, and I was considered a big man back then on my high school basketball team at 6’3″. Not very big by today’s standards, and neither was Bill. Anyway, back to Saturday’s event, there were 7 acts playing on the main stage in the Amphitheater and 6 at the small Gazebo, so there was constant music playing. Most of the bands I’d never heard of (don’t mean much) except for the last headline act-Michael McDonald, who for the life-of-me, I don’t know why he was booked as a headline act at a Jazz Festival like this, and the Jack DeJohnette Group, who was the main attraction for me. The first act opened at noon, with the last around 9:15  PM, like I said, a full day.

Arriving at SPAC, greeted by Colleen Corcoran scanning tickets. Colleen's bro Pat was a buddy of mine from highschool days.

The walkway onto the grounds.

The Amphitheater

The first act up playing world infused music, the Lionel Loueke Trio from the West African nation of Benin.

Next group, the Ben Allison Band. The crowd gradually grew as the afternoon went on.

While we had some great seats inside the Amphitheater, the lawn is the most popular for the party crowd that likes events like the Jazz Festival

Another view of the lawn crowd, which most had prepared for rain.

The small second stage, the Gazebo with Hilary Kole playing

Next act up on the main stage at the amphitheater, Eliane Elias whose music blends elements of jazz, pop, soul and Brazilian Bossa Nova.

Next up, the main draw for me - The Jack DeJohnette Group.

Next was the bigger group sound of George Wein & The Newport All Stars. George Wein spearheaded the first Newport Jazz Festival in 1954. In 1978, he opened a second location for his Newport Jazz Fest in Saratoga Springs at SPAC. On his 85th birthday celebration, jazz pianist Wein, led a very talented group of musicians after the dedication of a bronze star in the SPAC Walk of Fame.

The crowd in the amphitheater is growing as we head into the evening hour.

Next up was the 2011 Jazz Journalist Association Female Singer of the Year, Dee Dee Bridgewater, performing a tribute to Billie Holiday. This lady had a powerful voice and was the high-lite of the evening.

And last up at around 9:15 PM, was Michael McDonald, who for the life of me, I don't know why he was booked for this show? If you were looking for a hard rocking, top 40, pop/motown Grammy Award winner, he's your guy. He's not a jazz singer in my humble opinion.

While I have to admit, that both of us were disappointed with the scheduled head-line act of Michael McDonald, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and the variety of music selected for Saturday’s show, the first of the two days of the Saratoga Jazz Festival.

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