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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.
It'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."
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.
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)
"This place is important to me."