Sure, most social calendars traditionally mark Memorial Day Weekend as the unofficial official kickoff to summertime, but the livin’s not easy in Upstate New York until Brewery Ommegang opens its doors. That’s when outdoor live music junkies, beer lovers, and everyone in between can pour in and enjoy a straight up mini music festival vibe without straying too far from the 518. Lucky for me, these two save-the-dates happened to overlap this year, and I took full advantage.
For most of the year, Brewery Ommegang keeps busy doing their thing, pumping out award-winning Belgian-style ales while sitting pretty on 136 picturesque acres of a former hop farm nestled in the Susquehanna River Valley, just four miles south of Cooperstown, NY.
But for a handful of magical summer nights, the brewery’s grounds transform from a traditional Belgian farmstead into a bonafide music venue, and the experience truly gives new meaning to the term, “lawn seat.” (SPAC should take notes.)
Thanks to DSP Shows, Ommegang’s summer stage has been stacked with talent for years now, with Cake, The Shins, The Avett Brothers, Foster the People, Pixies, Decemberists, Glass Animals, Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt and The Lumineers playing tunes in recent years. And over Memorial Day Weekend, Jack White brought his A-game, too, kicking off the 2018 season with a live show that was full of energy and did not disappoint, despite Mother Nature’s attempt to rain on our parade, multiple times. (We know she don’t GAF).
While I consider myself a well-rounded person, it was a weekend of firsts for me, because it was my first time camping at Ommegang and my first time attending a PHONE FREE SHOW.
Since I’ll be heading back next week to catch Nathaniel Rateliff + The Night Sweats / The Head and the Heart (there are still a few tickets left, guys!), pitching tents again (I wasn’t scared off during last weekend’s mudfest so that’s a good sign, right?) I’ve decided to dedicate a separate blog post to pro tips and the DOs and DON’Ts of camping at Ommegang, something I wish I could have used as a reference when preparing for my own outing, so stay tuned for that one.
But for now, back to Grand Theft iPhone, this company called YONDR is in the business of helping musicians, performers, promoters, and venues (and schools!) create the ultimate, unconnected experience. Think: UX developers, but for real life.
Since @officialjackwhitelive was running around all night taking photos and videos, with a pretty sweet series of beautifully captured, edited, and uploaded media posted to the Official Jack White Live website and Instagram within an hour of his final encore, there was no need for anyone’s incomparable smartphone camera footage to be clogging up a newsfeed near you. (What do you do with all that concert footage anyway? It’s almost like recording fireworks, you know you won’t watch it again.)
Jack White wanted a 100% human experience for his fans, and I’m here for it.
“I really react to the crowd, just like a stand-up comedian would … If I finish a song and go, ‘Ta-da!’, and it’s crickets, I’m like, ‘Well, I don’t know what to do now.’ Am I supposed to play a heavier song, a faster song? Do you want me to play acoustic? Do you want me to leave? I’ll leave!’ But what I don’t like is, ‘Is that how they really feel, or are they just not even paying attention because they’re not engaged … because they’re texting?’
Watch this Rolling Stones interview to hear more about this hot topic straight from the horses’s mouth. Fun Fact: he credits Chris Rock with turning him on to YONDR in the first place, as he used it during a stand-up performance at Jack’s Detroit-based Third Man Records, so there’s that.
Besides, if you know anything about Jack White, you know he’s a kooky genuis, Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka of the music world, and a bit of a purist when it comes to music at large, so I wasn’t surprised in the least when he made the call to ban phones from his shows. DSP Shows did a solid job of advertising this during ticket sales, so no one should have been blindsided by the policy in the entry line.
Now, I’m certainly not the worst culprit when it comes to using my phone at shows – a quick pic here, a short Instagram Story there, and agree that filming an entire song/show is straight up criminal; however, I feel like I’m doing a dirty deed when I use my phone at a show at all and don’t give my full, undivided attention to what’s happening on stage, or around me, so I think I’ll implement this policy for myself moving forward. I secretly love how uncool it’s becoming to use your phone in public, so let’s keep it up!
No sooner did we step foot in the Camping Check-in line, were we ambushed by YONDR’s friendly field team, so away went the phones. This little lady from YONDR was more than happy to lock up my iPhone (and Apple Watch) into a neoprene pouch well before I entered the venue. Well played, YONDR lady.
The technology behind this Jack White-approved viewing party is pretty soft, as it’s literally a pouch that feels just like a wetsuit, secured by a variation of one of those department store anti-theft sensors careless associates sometimes forget to remove from your clothes, ruining your outfit plans for the night.
While there were “unlock zones” around/outside the venue for those who had to make an emergency phone call or get that Tweet off, the rest of us held on to our S.C.U.B.A.-certified smartphone gear and were assured they would be unlocked after the show.
I actually felt quite relieved at the thought of not being attached to my phone, iMessage, or social media for the night, and I honestly didn’t miss it once. As strange as it sounds, it felt like I had the night off or something!
It was borderline primitive, and aside time spent in remote parts of the ADK when I’m adventuring, it was probably the closest experience I’ve had to identifying with our caveman ancestors: I had my tribe for the night, and had to make sure I held onto them for dear life because if someone got swept away in the massive sea of people, it would be pretty impossible to find them until after the show, back at camp.
Throw in navigating around the muddy, borderline quicksand sections of the park (I told you Mother Nature wasn’t having it), and the experience was also reminiscent of surviving a leg of Oregon Trail.
I felt like I had more by having less: with no phone in hand (and wearing an incognito Camelback full of H2O), I didn’t have to perform my usual juggling act, and could easily hold a beer (or two!) and stay hydrated at the same time, or even get crazy by clapping and using my hands freely. I wasn’t as tired because I didn’t have to tread water in a sea of smartphone screens to have a quasi-unobstructed view of Jack White shred his little heart out – I wasn’t front row, but I had a great spot and that’s all you need.
Come to think of it, there really isn’t a bad seat in the Ommegang house, with plenty of viewing variety depending on your style, ranging from the die-hards in the front row (I don’t know how you psychos do it, but teach me your ways!) to those who like to hang far back and meander in the hops, the blanket bunch and the camp chair crew, there’s a patch of grass for everyone at an Ommegang concert.
Actually, replace “patch of grass,” with muddy “slip ‘n slide,” because that’s a better visual of what we were dealing with at Jack White. My one friend so eloquently compared it to, “walking in a vat of poop,” but when you live in Upstate NY, unpredictable weather and obscure, questionable sensation references are part of the territory sometimes, so chalk it up to, “the experience,” and just go with it.
While the DSP Shows schedule is extremely limited each summer, everyone should go Two Buttons Deep and enjoy a show at the legendary Brewery Ommegang once in their life. It seems that Cooperstown left an impression on Jack White, too, as he gave major props multiple times to the people and the town for making his short stay so inviting and memorable.
And get this – Jack White played a surprise Sandlot-inspired pickup game at the Hall of Fame fields before the show, how cool is that?! Kicking myself for not predicting he would do that. He ended up dedicating the show to the people of Cooperstown, and the ball players who stepped to the plate during the Hall of Fame Classic.
I love that his concert posters were shaped like baseball pennants, a true testament to the history and significance of the Cooperstown itself, and amazing attention to detail. Well done!
The opportunity to attend memorable shows at Brewery Ommegang is just another perk of living in the 518 and reason to enjoy life in Upstate New York.
Check out the brewery’s full calendar of events, and keep up with live music announcements through Upstate New York’s favorite concert promoter, DSP Shows. Go on, hop to it!
Two Buttons Deep is a news & entertainment website based in upstate New York.
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