Dark clouds and brief showers rolled over the sweeping field behind Brewery Ommegang on Friday (May 26) but in its midst, a sparkling disco ball lit up a cavernous stage. In the backdrop of the mountains and smokestacks of the brewhouse, Cake’s distinct trumpet blared to the steady rat-a-tat of drums and thumping bass guitar as John McCrea–sporting his signature 90s newsboy cap variant– spread out his arms over the crowd of thousands who echoed his every word, singing, “Sheep go to heaven, goats go to hell.”
This song– like many that evening–was followed by a solid amount of commentary from the frontman about our society, culture, environment and politics delivered with a healthy dose of sarcastic humor. The band played with fervor but they never played too loud. Save for a few solos, the words took precedence. Cake music is best served as a sing-along and between songs, the frontman had a lot to say. The concert was more of a theater piece, with constant crowd interaction and scenes that long-time fans eagerly awaited.
In “Sick of You,” McCrea enlisted the entirety of the crowd in a social experiment– pinning one half against the other to sing the harmonizing lyrics in a competition to let off some steam.
To his left was the representative “escapists.”
“You’re free, you’re like this wind guy,” he said gesturing to the inflatable tube man dancing in the wind among the food trucks that bordered the crowd. “These are the people who, when life gets confusing, turn to things like vampires, video games, shopping experiences, marijuana and other drugs. It’s about your freedom isn’t it? With your freedom in mind you will begin singing–without hesitation or embarrassment–filling the cool night air with sound: ‘I want to fly away.’”
To his right, were the more angry, uptight representatives. Geared up to chant, “I’m so sick of you/ so sick of me/ I don’t want to be with you,” McCrea described them as the type whose “head is about to explode when someone is wrong on the internet. It’s all someone else’s fault, isn’t it? That you can’t control your emotions.”
To those in the middle, not so clearly defined by either direction, McCrea waved his arm definitively, “You know who you are people, it’s been this way in your life for a long time. Here’s the opportunity for you to decide what side you’re on.” A crowd member turned to his friend and asked with faux-aggression, “So are you a sheep or a goat?”
After a brief intermission, fans scrambled to get a spot close to the stage where they could be easily spotted. It was time for the tree giveaway.
After quietly raising her hand and correctly guessing the fruit her gift would one day produce, Sarah from Cooperstown won the Braeburn apple tree, becoming the newest member of the Cake Forest. Her gift came with some important baggage. “This tree is a commitment, it’s a promise,” McCrea said gravely. Every few months, Sarah will have to post a photo of herself with the tree to the Google Map on the band’s website. “There’s a dark side to this whole thing,” he continued, peering at the crowd from underneath the brim of his hat. “Sometimes people just take the tree and disappear into the night. If you don’t see this tree up on our website in a month, you have our permission to hunt her down … with your disapproval.” The crowd went wild.
With that the band hopped back to it, banging out hits like, “Shadow Stabbing,” “Guitar” and “Bound For Mexico.” They even obliged “Short Skirt / Long Jacket” at the encore to follow up their famous Caked-up take on Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.”
The show, organized by Dan Smalls Presents, was the first of a summer-long series in partnership with the Cooperstown brewery and each night provides the setting of a mini festival. The stage provides an excellent view of the band from virtually every angle of the field where hundreds of camping chairs were set up by attendees, settling in comfortably as the sun set. Along the border of the field, volunteers in the expansive beer tent poured out the brewery’s latest and greatest releases and local food trucks treated the crowd to fried dough, burritos, organic chili and fresh-baked desserts. As the echo of trumpet and guitar was replaced by the booming and crackling of fireworks, the crowd turned their faces upwards for a dazzling display of color and light. The threatening downpour of rain never came from the shrouded sky and for the first time this year, it felt like summer.
Cake, May 26, 8PM, Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown