Growing up in Grand Island, New York, Cap Cooke was destined to bring his banjo and his songs to Ithaca, New York: He tells how he got his first banjo from his parents for his 13th birthday, found good, old-style bluegrass and old-time music thanks to mentors Sue Galbraith and Dan Palmer, listened to the Highwoods Stringband and Richie Stearns while attending Buffalo State College.
There, he met Cady Fontana through a mutual friend while she was studying Library Science at the University of Buffalo.
“She came to the house with her voice, fiddle and charming personality, and that was it!” Cap said.
When Cady graduated, they moved to Ovid, New York. There Cap began to really sink his teeth into the old-time music that was being shared around this area. By the time wife Cady began her job at the Tompkins County Public Library, Cap had played with Barham Lashley’s Hilltoppers, Aaron Lipp’s Mount Pleasant Stringband, Uncle Joe and the Rosebud Ramblers, among others.
These days, Cady coordinates the amazing Makerspace at the Library and Cap is playing, recording and performing with fellow friends and artists Liz Pickard (Guitar and Vocals), Sam Schmidt (Fiddle and Vocals), Jason Zorn (Bass) in The Flywheels. When not making music, Cap has a job he loves working for Stefan Senders (who plays banjo with Toivo) at Wide Awake Bakery (remarkable bread and delicacies sold throughout this region).
“I am drawn to Southern-style old-time music and bluegrass, and especially the crossroads of those two genres,” Cap said. “I met Sam when I first filled in with the Hilltoppers. The more I got to know Sam, the more I liked him and our styles of playing sounded pretty good together. He likes the old stuff too, has a wonderful feel for this music and can play with that same, right, feel in any key we’ve thrown at him so far. We learned a lot from playing in the Hilltoppers and had an idea to start our own thing once that band disbanded.”
Next, they needed a guitar player.
“I met Liz at the Grassroots Festival, and once she found out I played music, invited me to her birthday party the next week,” he said. “I was blown away to hear her old-school guitar playing and singing. There weren’t any younger people playing this kind of music where I grew up. Anyway, we became friends after that, so when I heard her say that she wanted to be in a band, we roped her into this project.”
For the better part of a year, they rehearsed numerous times and played a few gigs, he said.
“We were on the lookout for a bass player all the time,” he said. “I knew Jason Zorn, liked him and knew he played the bass, and he’s also a great old-time fiddle player (he formerly fronted the West Hillbillies, a great old-time band). We didn’t know if he’d want to take on the bass player role. He rehearsed with us once, played on a couple dates that went really well and in the end was willing to join the band!”
They share booking gigs, Cap said. Liz has a photography degree from IC, lives in Truxton and works at Twin Oaks Farm (an organic dairy there).
“She edits all our photo shoots (my wife Cady or Liz’s partner Kirk is usually behind the camera), and Liz has booked some of our coolest shows,” Cap said. “Thanks to her, we’ve played a viewing for a cattle auction, square dances and fundraisers at the Truxton Community Center, dinners for the beef breeders’ association. … The kind of gigs a band like ours should be playing. In a couple weeks, we are playing in the DeRuyter Fireman’s Parade.”
Cap said Jason and the other members are all important and invaluable to him.
“Jason has years of experience playing music, and I lean on him pretty hard for advice and insight,” Cap said. “He also has a beautiful full-size van (Bubba) he’s converted to run on vegetable oil, which ends up being our tour bus on gigs that are far away and require sound equipment.”
Sam, too, is a pleasure to have around and play with.
“Sam is an all-around great guy and a wonderful musician,” Cap said. “He plays with a bunch of groups around town, and his family has a beautiful greenhouse up in Interlaken (The Magic Garden). He does a lot of our musical arranging and manages our Instagram page. Our first year has been lots of learning and lots of fun.”
Come hear Flywheels on Aug. 13 at 6:30 p.m. along Six Mile Creek, nestled by the water behind the Tompkins County Public Library.
If you can’t make this free concert, check out the band: https://flywheels.bandcamp.com/
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