The Night Eagle Cafe
200 State Street Binghamton, NY (607) 217-7334

Night Eagle Press

Small stage draws world-class music Performers, audience savor intimate venue

By Kathryn Rutz Correspondent Press & Sun-Bulletin Saturday, February 2, 2002

OXFORD- On most weekend nights, cars park in front of the Night Eagle Cafe's small storefront in downtown Oxford. Yellow light shines through the large picture windows draped in grapevines, and passersby glimpse people mingling to the left and a soundboard to the right. Inside, red candles glow on handpainted tables, coffee brews, and people taste and chat their way through cake and cookies. Soon the lights go down, the audience settles, and musicians take the stage. Celtic, blues, jazz, bluegrass, traditional, or contemporary acoustic music may be played, perhaps by a solo performer or even a seven-piece band. But it's always world-class recording artists standing just feet--or inches-- from those who listen. "There's magic in the room," says Tim Drake. A booking agent whose performer roster includes Richie Havens, Janis Ian, Celia Cruz, Leon Redbone and more. Drake has heard his musicians ask to play the Night Eagle even when they could make more money elsewhere. "There is something about that venue and audience that tickles our artists. Only a handful throughtout North America are like the Night Eagle. It's a rare phenomenon," Drake said.

Owner Ken MilletIt's also a labor of love for owner Ken Millett. A board member during its early days as a nonprofit organization, Millett stayed with the Night Eagle through its near-collapse in those days when so many Procter & Gamble employees were transferred to Ohio. Changes to the Chenango County work force sparked a disappointing turn to the venture begun early in the 1990s by Nancy Diamond of Greene and Dan Hayes of Smithville Flats. They opened the coffeehouse and emporium first as a commercial venture, and then as a nonprofit organization. When jobs left the area, the audience also dwindled. It looked likely that the doors would close. Millett chose not to give up, however, "I was looking at what I wanted to do in the community go down the tubes, and I didn't think it should. I was prepared to do anything possible to keep it alive, because I knew it could exist, it should exist."
Millett dug in his heels, took over the business, declined unpredictable grants funding, leaned on a cadre of willing volunteers, and pushed on. Today, the doors still open to a listening room where an audience can experience firsthand the breadth and quallity of live acoustic music nearly every week. A warm, informal mood takes over during monthly Open Mic nights, where performance opportunities are given to local and emerging artists. The long, white walls also provide gallery space, and art openings are held throughout the year. The Night Eagle is not a restaurant, although you can get light desserts before concerts, and it is not a gift shop, although you can buy jewelry and some mineral specimens from Millett's valued rock collection. Neither is it a place where you'll find smoke or alcohol. "I wanted a place where I could sit down and listen to music without the interruption of a spilled drink, or a bar brawl, or a person at the end of the bar talking about the most importand thing that happened to them that week, or having my coat set on fire by a cigarette butt. All things that have happened to me," said Millett. And Drake adds, "Other venues not serving alcohol would have been out of business by now. I mean look where it is!"

It is not always clear how people find the Night Eagle. Any given night will find carpenters, doctors, sanitation workers, lawyers, teachers, clergy and students in line for tickets. Audience members regularly drive in from out of state. Volunteers drove an hour and a half in the snow this winter just to work in the kitchen. And Patrick Ball, one of the world's best known Celtic harpists, recently called Millett to say that he heard about the Night Eagle and would like to play there. Millett shakes his head in wonder: "That sort of thing just leaves me dumbfounded." Media support has certainly made a difference, as has radio. In a time when most people believe the available music is only what they hear on Top-40 or contemporary country radio, progressive broadcasting allows a wider array of sound to fly above the radar. WSKG, FM-91.7 and 89.3, airs recordings by many of the Night Eagle performers, both on its local folk music broadcast and on syndicated radio shows carried by National Public Radio.
Locally, the Banjo Radio Group presents the Americana Cafe on Sunday nights at 9, airing on 94FM, WKXZ. The Night Eagle Cafe Show, including occasional live performances, airs from Binghamton University most Friday afternoons on WHRW, 90.5FM. Presenting the music at the free Colorscape Chenango Arts Festival also introduced these sounds to another potential audience. "This music is very accessible," said Phyllis Barney, executive director of the North American Folk Music and Cance Alliance, "It has an acoustic base (some text missing) after that," she observed, "It is also partly a reaction to massmarketed entertainment." Even so, the acoustic music community nationwide has now garnered multiple Grammy Award categories and launched dozens of record labels. Rounder Records is now the country's largest independent record company, and releases CDs showcasing the diverse sounds that fit loosely under the "folk" umbrella.

Because the acoustic music community is part of the old troubadour tradition where musicians tour constantly, audiences have a chance to hear this music live and up close. When a venue is as intimate as the Night Eagle, said Barney, "people come away with the sense that they participated in something larger than just a concert. They can interact with the performers themselves and chat if they want to." That can be a new experience for both the performer and the (some text missing) experienced performing to a Night Eagle audience packed into a space the size of some backstages were The Battlefield Band from Scotland, Susan McKeown from Ireland, "Prairie Home Companion" regulars Robin and Linda Williams and Their Fine Group, folk pop icons Aztec Two-Step, Savoy Brown founder Kim Simmonds, the English band Equation, 10,000 Maniacs, Leon Redbone, "Wild Thing" writer Chip Taylor, bluesman Alvin Youngblood Hart, and Maria Muldaur. And they all want to come back.

"We've got great ambience, excellent sound, and we try to constantly move forward with the level of performers we bring in," said Millett. At his January concert, the Canadian treasure and Juno award-winner Garnet Rogers expressed his appreciation for the Night Eagle. "I hope this will be here many more years. Ken can (some text missing)

COMING SHOWS (from the article date in 2002)
Today: 8 p.m., The Dady Brothers, $12. Sunday: 4 p.m.,
Stacey Earle and Mark Stuart, $15.
Feb. 8: 8 p.m., Greg Greenway, $12.
Feb. 9: 8 p.m., Leslie Ritter and Scott Petito, $12.
Feb. 24: 4 p.m., Dave Mallett, $15.
Danny Barnes and The Old Codgers will perform March 1, Rory Block on March 22 and Maria Muldaur on May 5.
For more information, check the cafe's Web site, For reservations, call (607) 217-7334.

"This place is important to me."
--Kathryn Rutz is acting publicist for the Night Eagle Cafe and writes its weekly e-mail newsletter, both as a volunteer.

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