[Editor’s note: This feature is a part of this week’s “Summer Dreams” — our weekly guide to fun, food, and the arts throughout Otsego County. Find it inside The Freeman’s Journal / Hometown Oneonta every week, all summer long!]
It stands to reason that a summer music calendar at Origins Café would be as eclectic, innovative, and fresh as the food on the menu – and that’s exactly what happens this summer as the Cooperstown restaurant readies its 2022 Featured Artist Concert Series featuring tangos, a brass band, world jazz, and thoughtful improvisation over four special nights.
Local bass impresario and musical omnivore Evan Jagels worked with Origins Café owners Kristen and Dana Leonard to bring a diversity of styles to the unique setting – a multipurpose room that features a greenhouse, lush and vibrant plants, and the full-service restaurant. It’s the second year for the concert series.
“Last year’s was such a success that we wanted to do it again,” Mr. Jagels said. He’s enthusiastic about what’s on offer for the summer of 2022, adding, “We want to bring bands to town that people might not think about or think they’d see in a village in upstate New York.”
First up this year, then, on Saturday, June 18, is Latin Grammy-award winner Pedro Giruado and his Tango Quartet. So says their website: “The quartet’s fervent and virtuosic musical style takes elements from Argentine tango, European classical music, and American jazz, and combines them gracefully and organically, bringing something new and exciting to the form while retaining all the lushness and beauty that characterizes the genre.”
Mr. Jagels puts it simply thus: “People may have a preconceived notion of what tango is all about. When an audience is exposed to something like tango at a world-class level, though, they know they love it.”
Along with Pedro Giraudo’s Grammy-winning pedigree, the quartet includes the assistant concertmaster of the New York City Ballet, a Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall-performing solo bandoneonist, and an international piano prodigy now living in New York City.
Mr. Jagels and Kristen Leonard expect an exciting evening on June 18, and again on July 23 when they welcome the Dingonek Street Band to Origins.
“I was driving to New York City and heard a brass band on the radio,” Mr. Jagels said. “There was a brass festival in Kingston and it was just amazing to see. These weren’t marching bands playing traditional parade tunes. There was Afrobeat, New Orleans jazz, you name it. The experience really became the seed for our Origins concert series.”
Dingonek is a six-piece, Brooklyn-based band “dedicated to human culture and sonic adventure,” according to its website. “Built on the celebratory energy and raw spontaneity of the second-line brass band tradition, Dingonek has created a funky, high-energy party music all its own by absorbing and reworking elements of Afrobeat, Ethio-jazz, punk rock, free jazz, and Balkan brass music.”
If that’s not eclectic enough, the Capital Region-based sextet Heard comes to town on August 20, a show the restaurant expects to be ‘great for kids’ with a workshop before the evening’s performance. Of their 2018 album, “Flyaway,” the late and learned musicologist Greg Haynes of Albany wrote this: “Not sure that my ears are big enough to hear all the influences of Flyaway or the multiplicity of voices and instruments … most striking is the vast number of percussion instruments … and while the instruments and voices and the textures they produce are numerous, the music is clear and evocative.”
The final concert scheduled to date in the series is a September 24 performance by Duo Extempore – featuring world-renowned pianist Nicole Brancato and, on bass, Mr. Jagels.
“Like the name suggests,” Mr. Jagels said, “it’s improvisational and extemporaneous. We set out to express the physical space of our surroundings through the music we develop; we’ll consider the room and space we’re in, its history, its origins, and bring that to life with the music we create.”
The duo formed during the pandemic’s lockdown, when the two musicians began collaborating online, meeting in person afterward and deciding to explore different performance opportunities together in the same room. Their next appearance is June 11 at Hyde Hall in Glimmerglass State Park, when they’ll bring to life the building’s history, artwork, and artifacts through an extemporaneous musical performance.
“We’ll be using the mansion’s original pianoforte,” Mr. Jagels said. “We’re studying the history of Hyde Hall, its architecture, its people, the people who worked there and their own traditions.”
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The four concerts scheduled so far aren’t the only music on tap at Origins – Mr. Jagels brings local musicians in for the seasonal dinners the restaurant serves for its reservations-required dinner service on Wednesdays and Fridays.
“We have local music to pair with the food we serve from local farms,” Kristen Leonard said. “It’s a combination that fits perfectly with what we want to do here at Origins and with Carefree Gardens.”
One mile outside of Cooperstown at 588 Beaver Meadow Road, the popular restaurant grew after the Leonard sisters decided to open a food truck a decade ago.
“We outgrew that first truck pretty quickly,” she said. “We got a bigger food truck that we still use today, but we saw the opportunity to take what we have here at the garden and turn it into a restaurant that matched our vision for fresh and freshly-made food.”
Their website spells out the list of local farm partners from which the restaurant sources its food – with menus changing to “share the best of seasonal flavors.” The family has traveled the world learning about sustainability, biodiversity, and culinary arts – a background that creates an atmosphere at the restaurant unique not just for Otsego County, but for visitors who make it a point to make the café a must-do when they’re anywhere nearby. The Leonards share their passion through their ‘Growing Leaders’ program, in place now for 10 years, open to all junior and senior-high school students.
“We hope to have an impact on the next generation of change-makers,” Ms. Leonard said. “We have kids here every year who want to make a difference, starting with plants and food decisions.”
Her program opens students to planning garden space, planting, maintaining, and cultivating the food they choose to grow, and then preparing dishes to serve to the public from the gardens they began with the first seedings as early as April.
“We have them work in what was our first food truck,” she said. “They get the whole experience and it’s completely hands-on for them. We put a pizza oven in, as well, so they can make pizzas to serve during our concert series performances. They love it.”
“We want to inspire entrepreneurs,” she said. “The high schoolers come in here with real passion and we want to help them find their role. They know they are the new activists for food sustainability, healthy choices, and different methods of doing things.”