Breaking the Barriers

I recently took my first vacation in nearly a year, traveling up to beautiful Saratoga Springs with my parents for the annual Jazz Festival held at SPAC (Saratoga Performing Arts Center, for those unfamiliar).

I love music, to be sure, but jazz...not exactly at the top of my hit parade. The concert was spread over a two-day weekend, running from noon to almost midnight, taking in about ten acts each day, the great majority of which I had never heard of - generally not a selling point when purchasing tickets to something. But hey, I was going on vacation; and, more importantly, I was making a conscious effort to try something new and exciting. (Plus, I knew that Smokey Robinson was on the bill one of the days, automatically making the trip a worthwhile one.)

Imagine my pleasant surprise, then, when I found myself enjoying, with rare exception, almost all of the acts on stage before me. And as for the “experience” of it all...unbelievable. Just imagine strolling across vast expanses of rolling green hills, tiptoeing between thousands of people from all across the country, camped out on the lawn with their blankets, tents, umbrellas, a ten-day supply of food...all drinking in the gorgeous weather and the mellow jazz notes wafting through the air. Such was the scene within the cozy confines of an outdoor theater nestled into the side of a hill in one of the most quaint, historic cities in New York. A true communal experience, if ever there was one; one you need to witness firsthand in order to fully appreciate.

All around, people mingled with one another – complete strangers in most cases – talking, laughing, dancing. When the New Orleans Preservation Jazz Band came out with their authentic dixieland jazz, countless people grabbed their umbrellas and proceeded to march up and down the concourses, twirling and spinning as if they were part of some wild Mardi Gras parade. Veterans of this Jazz Festival, and countless others like it, mingled with the newcomers and assimilated into one great, music-loving entity. All barriers were broken, if only for one weekend. 

Honestly, just having the opportunity to do some people-watching would have made the trip worthwhile. Entire columns could be devoted to those characters we stumbled upon, from the man in full tie-dyed regalia with antlers – yes, antlers – with little bells dangling from them; to the man seated directly in front of us who looked to be the second-coming of Shaft, who felt compelled to leap from his seat spontaneously and, shall we say, groove to the music. And I don't mean groove in the sense of dance a little-clap a little-tap your feet a little – I'm talking full-fledged, full-body convulsions, deafening yelps of approval, and a slide step that threatened to take out his entire row. But you know what? While most people, under most circumstances, would have been inclined to write him off as some sort of freak of nature, here, in sunny Saratoga, people reacted with only mild amusement, as if his obvious pleasure had somehow rubbed off on everyone around him as well. And why not?

Maybe the festival wasn't about the music after all; maybe it was about the people, the experience, the whole package.

Not a bad way to spend a vacation.


{Published: July 19th, 2006}

Jamie Lynn RyanComment