Mumford & Sons was the band that got the most attention during the recent indie folk revival that happened a few years ago, but I was always partial to the lesser known The Avett Brothers. I liked Mumford & Sons just fine; I just connected more with the music that The Avett Brothers were putting out. Plus, you know, I like being a contrarian. The Avett Brothers were on my dwindling list of bands that I wanted to see live, so I was ecstatic when I heard that they were coming to the Brewery Ommegang this summer. What a better way to spend an evening than listening to a great band at one of my favorite breweries. It’s like it was meant to be.
I’d never been to a show at Ommegang before and I had my doubts that logistically it was going to go smoothly. To be honest, I have these concerns about most new venues because I really enjoy worrying over nothing, but Ommegang is sort of special situation in that I thought it reasonable that it might be a problem. The brewery is tucked away in the beautiful countryside of Cooperstown, New York, but it’s also kind of in the middle of nowhere. This means that there is only one road to the brewery and I foresaw us being stuck in traffic for a very long time, since the concert quickly sold out and was the largest event that Ommegang had ever hosted. I also didn’t want to get stuck in the satellite parking lot and be at the mercy of a shuttle bus to get us to the venue, especially since the shuttle buses were scheduled to stop when the show started. The weather was also something of a wild card – the concert was going to be outside in a large field behind the brewery and would go on rain or shine, though umbrellas were allegedly prohibited. The idea of standing in a muddy meadow with 5,000 people for hours didn’t necessarily appeal to me. I would have hated Woodstock. It was also all General Admission which tends to give me anxiety as well; while I didn’t suspect that there would be much to see when The Avett Brothers were on stage – they were unlikely candidates to have pyrotechnics or a rotating drum kit – I didn’t want to not be able to see anything at all, which is likely to happen if I’m stuck in the back because I’m 5 foot nothing. In short (pun intended), there were a lot of wildcard factors at play here and plenty of opportunities for things to go off the rails. And for a person like me who is a planner, this is unacceptable. The fact that they posted the wrong information for when the gates opened didn’t inspire a lot of confidence.
Thankfully my friend Kristin has known me for over twenty years and is pretty well versed in my special kind of Type A obsession, so she was more than willing to agree to go on the early side to the venue to try and eliminate as many issues as possible. It would mean a lot of waiting before the show actually started, but we decided that it was better to be safe than sorry. Kristin also probably figured that it was better to just go with my neurosis than listen to me quietly freak out about it. So though the show didn’t start until 7:30, we were on the road by 2:30 (Cooperstown is about an hour and twenty minutes away – I’m not THAT obsessive).
It turned out that all my worrying was for naught as contrary to what I feared these people actually knew what they were doing. There was no traffic to speak of – something that gave us both pause – and we were quickly and efficiently parked on the brewery’s property. No shuttle bus for us – yay! We decided to wander over and get in line for the gates opening and since we had our lawn chairs with us we just opened them up and took a seat for our hour wait. The time actually flew by pretty quickly and other than the very hot sun it was a quick sixty minutes. We were smart to get in line when we did; we were probably among the first 100 people into the venue and the line quickly stretched as far as the eye could see. We were in good position to get a good spot for the show.
Once the gates finally opened, we were fairly quickly ushered in to the field where the concert would occur. They had wisely drawn a line on the lawn and people who were standing were in the front will everyone with lawn chairs was in the back. This was a really smart use of space and everyone with chairs lined up in an orderly fashion, rather than the usually haphazard maze that is created in the lawn section of concerts. We were in the front row of the chair section, but were far enough back that we could easily see over the people who were standing. Within 90 seconds of entering the venue, we were all set up and had secured our territory.
Since we are not rookies at this concert thing, we knew that we should strike while the iron was hot and get our food and beer before it got crowded. We purchased our drink tickets – another smart idea – and headed over to the beer tent for our first beverage (Ommegang’s new IPA Nirvana) and then surveyed the food options. There was a lot of yumminess to be had, but once I saw a food truck with a mac and cheese/pulled pork/Frito burrito, I knew my search was over. I do love me some frankenfood and mushing all those things together seemed like a capital idea.
We were very wise to take advantage of the calm before the storm; though the crowd was particularly well behaved and orderly – seriously, this may have been the nicest audience I’ve ever been a part of – with only so many food options and 5,000 people long lines began to form very quickly. While we were chilling and eating our dinner, most people were in for a long wait. At one point, out of sheer curiosity, I decided to time how long it took someone to get to the front of the line. “Red bandana” was already about halfway through the line at the nearest vendor by the time I started timing him and it took him 20 additional minutes to place his order. And that was toward the end of the rush, so I’m guessing the wait for food was easily 45-60 minutes. The line for beer was never an issue – by the time I went back for my second beer (Ommegang’s Hopstate New York American Pale Ale) later in the night, it still only took a minute or two. We also had plenty of time to people watch and we noticed that it was a fairly diverse crowd – lots of different kinds of people were milling around.
The sun had mercifully started to set when the show began. I didn’t know opener John Prine, but apparently he’s pretty well know (at least by this crowd). I’m always open to discovering a new artist and though none of his songs were familiar they were enjoyable. My knowledge of folk music is fairly limited so it was nice to get exposed to more of the genre. He played a solid set and by the time he left the stage twilight had set in and the air was beginning to cool.
The Avett Brothers finally took the stage and the show was nothing short of magical. There’s just something about being out under the stars listening to music. I realized that I haven’t listened to The Avett Brothers recently, so while I recognized most of the songs they played I would have been hard pressed to tell you their names or the lyrics. In a way, that was almost better since I just sit back and let the music wash over me; it felt new but also familiar. I’d forgotten how much I truly enjoy this band and their music and the venue were a perfect match. The Avett Brothers didn’t waste a lot of time with chit chat in between songs; they kept their interactions with the crowd brief but heartfelt. The night was really about the music and they worked their way through their catalog of songs. They played for quite a while – including their encore they did 28 songs, so we certainly got our money’s worth even if they didn’t play my favorite song (“I Never Knew You”). I kind of didn’t expect them to and I was more than satisfied with what songs they did play. The music and the vocals were totally on point; really, I can’t think of a better way to have experienced The Avett Brothers. For all the worry and vexing, in the end it was as close to perfect as any concert can be. I never should have doubted them.
I would absolutely go to another event at Ommegang; it’s a really cool way to hear live music and though it may vary by artist the audience was completely chill and amiable. If you like The Avett Brothers, I absolutely recommend going to see them live. Good music, good food, good beer and good company – that’s a hard combination to beat.
The Race Is On (George Jones cover)
Down with the Shine
Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise
Paranoia in Bb Major
Pretty Girl From San Diego
I Killed Sally’s Lover
Part From Me
Backwards With Time
In the Garden ([traditional] cover)
And It Spread
Live and Die
Le Reel Du Pendu / Les Bars De La Prison
Die Die Die
Going Down the Road Feelin’ Bad (Henry Whitter cover)
Talk on Indolence
The Perfect Space
Kick Drum Heart
I and Love and You
John Brown’s Dream ([traditional] cover)
The D Bag Rag
Murder in the City
Slight Figure of Speech