COOPERSTOWN — The day after the first concert in the 50th season of the Cooperstown Concert Series, a panel of series organizers gave a talk about the history of the performances. 

Series Treasurer Jeff Katz led a group talk about the series, which was started by the Cooperstown Women’s Club in 1970, in conjunction with Louis C. Jones, who was the director of the New York Historical Association. The series was originally produced by the club’s Arts Program Committee, and the talk included several members whose participation dated back to the early days of the committee. 

Joining Katz for the talk, which was part of the Village Library of Cooperstown’s Sunday Program Series, and held in the village ballroom at 22 Main St., were former members Sally Goodwin and Jane Johngren, and current members Nancy Potter, Margaret Savoie and Jim Hill.   

“We wanted to make sure we did something for the 50th year to celebrate our history,” Katz said. 

The series began in 1970-71, with two performances, Ursula Oppens on piano, and Ernesto Bitetti on guitar. And although it has turned into a concert series, many of the early shows were not concerts. Shakespeare and other theater, ballet and other dances, and mime were among the early shows. 

Performances were held at Cooperstown Central School in the early years, and crowds often approached or exceeded 600 people, according to Goodwin and Johngren.

“It was the only game in town,” Goodwin said.

Shows are smaller now, and often held in smaller venues, too, such as the ballroom or at The Otesaga Resort Hotel. 

“It is fun to explore the talent that exists (for) the smaller stage,” Hill said.  

The series is run by an all-volunteer group, and the annual budget is about $25,000, Katz said. Tickets sales cover a small portion of the budget. The series is supported by individual and corporate sponsors. 

Concerts are booked a year to 18 months in advance, which can be hard, said Hill, who is the co-chair of the series with Dave Griger. The bands’ riders, contracts which request certain amenities, was one topic that made the panel laugh. Specific brands of gum, large quantities of beer and liquor, individual dressing rooms and showers, and detailed food requests are among the requests, which often don’t get honored. 

“We have learned they are going to ask for the moon, and you are going to give them a couple of pieces of Earth,” Hill said. 

The panel discussed some of the most memorable shows, positive and negative. Savoie talked about a scheduled performance by the Lakota Sioux Dance Troupe in 1995 that was delayed because the group got lost. No one had cell phones at the time, and Savoie said she was sent to the streets of Cooperstown to look for the group’s van. She ended up finding half of the troop, and the performance started more than an hour late; the other half of the group never showed up.

“The anxiety never leaves me,” Savoie said. “I still wonder how I found them.”

Goodwin and Savoie mentioned Lotte Goslar’s Pantomime Circus as one of the bigger misses in the program’s history. 

“She was just dancing with these scarves and doing pantomime,” Savoie said. 

“This woman had great press,” Goodwin said. “It was not five minutes into the show before the entire committee was like, ‘oh, my God.’”

Booking shows is easier now, the panel agreed, as YouTube has replaced press clippings, VCR and cassette tapes, and word of mouth. And some of the shows have been much better received.

Goodwin said Callopie: A Renaissance Band in 1992 was one of her favorites. Savoie mentioned Queen Ida and her Zydeco Band, which played the series in 1995, and several members of the audience of about 25 people, seconded her selection as one of their favorites, too. 

Katz mentioned a 2006 show by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band as one of his favorites, in part because his son, Joey, then a teenager, went on stage to play piano with the group, astounding the band and the audience by playing “Blue Monk” by Thelonious Monk. He also mentioned a 2016 show by Lake Street Dive, because the band has become a mainstream success since that show.

“One way to make people trust our taste is when you see people in the series on the way up, and then they get there,” Katz said. 

The 50th season of the series began Saturday, Nov. 2, with a performance by the Guy Davis trio. The next show will be the return of Annie & the Hedonists, which will take place at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30, at The Otesaga Resort Hotel. Go to cooperstownconcertseries.

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