Why Ommegang became a concert destination

cake concert at ommegang Skyla Pojednic

Cake performing at Ommegang earlier this year. / photo: Skyla Pojednic - photoset

By Casey Normile

When the band Cake showed up for their concert at Brewery Ommegang earlier this summer, their first question was: "Where's the ping-pong table?"

And that question helps explain how Cooperstown, better known for baseball, has become a destination for big music shows this summer, including Wilco this week -- and Bon Iver in September.

It turns out Cake had heard about the ping pong table from The Avett Brothers, who played at the brewery last fall, says Ithaca-based concert promoter Dan Smalls. So, of course, he had to run out and find a ping-pong table.

"People talk," said Smalls. Not only agents and those behind the scenes, but the bands themselves; when a show goes well, or they play a good venue, musicians tell other musicians. And Smalls says that's why Ommegang has been able to score a slate of big-name acts -- and big crowds -- to an otherwise small-town venue. Bands like playing there.

Developing the brewery as a concert venue had always been in the back of the mind of Ommegang president and CEO Simon Thorpe, says the brewery's publicity coordinator, Kelly Jendrzejewski. "What goes better with music than beer? We wanted to bring more to the community than just beer; and music, the arts and craft beer just go hand-in-hand."

With that in mind, last year Ommegang approached Dan Smalls Presents to book, promote, and produce the events. And they were happy with how last year's slate of shows -- which included Levon Helm/Arlo Guthrie, an Americana Festival (Steve Earle/The Felice Brothers/Allison Moorer), and the Avett Brothers -- worked out. Three thousand people showed up on a Tuesday night for The Avetts despite pouring rain that lasted most of the show. Jendrzejewski says the concerts not only helped the brewery, they also brought tourists to Cooperstown, with concert-goers exploring local restaurants, bed and breakfasts, and hotels before they headed to their show.

cake concert ommegang angelina castillo
photo: Angelina Castillo

After calling the 2011 slate a success, Ommegang decided to line up a whole series for this summer. It started with Cake (June 15); Death Cab for Cutie played this past Saturday (July 21); Lyle Lovett will be there Friday (July 27); Wilco on Saturday (July 28); Bon Iver on September 17; and Darius Rucker closes the season on September 22.

Brewery Ommegang isn't the first, or necessarily best, big field in New York to serve as live music venue -- but it is right behind a brewery, not facing the sun, parking and entry is easy, they offer camping, there are local food vendors and... oh yeah, there's craft beer available all night long. Sure, it's $6 a beer, but you won't be sipping Bud or Tecate, it's Ommegang's selection of quality Belgian-style brews.

Despite the beer, live music, large crowds, and campers, Jendrzejewski says the concerts don't leave the brewery grounds in pieces the next day. Each show has been relatively trouble-free and the brewery is back to business as usual the next day, offering tours of the grounds, tastings, and its full café menu.

"It's just a great atmosphere," says Smalls, "but we're not trying to be SPAC, we just want a smaller, special experience, with each show better, not necessarily bigger than the last... Even if people don't love the artist, they come for the experience, and that's what we want to offer."

This post has been updated to correct last summer's lineup.

Comments

The venue looks awesome, and Dan Smalls is doing a great job with booking artists. Hopefully lineups of this caliber will continue for years to come!

I can't wait to visit for the first time in September!

Local funk band Oobleck played the Belgium comes to Coopertown festival at Ommegang in 2010. I didn't go, but they told me it was a good show, despite everyone being very, very intoxicated by the time they played. ;)

I REALLY wanted to see Cake. Love the band and haven't seen them before. Couldn't afford it. I won tickets to see Death Cab almost had to give the tix up because I had to work. I'm so glad I got someone to cover for me. The concert was great. The venue, however, was amazing! What a great place to see a show! It's sort of like a mini-SPAC. Blankets and lawn chairs for having a relaxed concert going experience. Or you can stand in the crowd by the stage. I'm really glad Ommegang is doing this. I hope it is worth it to them to continue the series in years to come. BTW, great bands!!!

Went to death cab on Saturday great music, food and beer The atmosphere was amazing along with camping. Will definitely be going to more shows there!

Anyone know if you can bring in food/coolers to the camping area?

was at the Death Cab show this past Saturday and camped out as well. Overall my wife and I enjoyed the show and the venue. I do have to say that they still need to work out some kinks with the "camping." First, this is camping in name only, no camp fires, no outside food or beverages (although I think they were lax on the outside food). Second, they made the campers wait outside an entrance separate from the concert entrance, had two or three security guards checking everyone's equipment for outside beverages before allowing admittance to camping area. The fact that there were about a 100-150 people waiting to get into the camping area and only 2-3 security checking equipment slowed things to a snails pace. This HAS to improve. Third, in the morning after the show folks from the brewery came over to let everyone know there was food available at the brewery. As folks rolled out of their tents at 7:30 or so the brewery was just really getting opened up and the food was not available until some time after 8. At this point my wife and I skipped the wait and left.

The show was great and the venue, once inside, is perfect. They really need to work on the little things to make this a top-notch experience.

Hennepin + good music = perfect!

We've found a new concert place...don't tell anyone! Death Cab was awesome...my husband and I thought we were going to be the oldest people there (60+) but the ages ran the gamut! Lovely evening, great music, great food and beer...oh, and the security people were nice, especially the guy who carded me...thanks!

What is the plan in case of rain? I'm looking at Bonnie Raitt concert 8/1/15.

@Joan. We saw the Avett Bros there and it rained the whole time. Show went off as normal and people were still camping. The grass parking lot turned into a mud bog though, so I suggest sacrificing the encore and getting out of there to ensure you are not stuck (precipitation level and vehicle dependent variables considered).

I've been there a number of times for concerts + beer events. The atmosphere is great, as were the food vendors and beer options. It's a bit more of a commitment if you choose to camp, but the plus-side is that you can thoroughly enjoy the whole experience more : more time with friends, no fighting late-night traffic or cutting yourself off to ensure you're sober enough to drive. You can relax and make a larger event out of it. We brought coolers, saw some folks with grills. Lots of footballs and Frisbee before the concert. All in all, an absolutely fantastic experience unlike the "evening-only" concert experience I was used to growing up and in college.

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