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Original live music options expanding

by Lauren Mele

The increased demand for original live music has caused an uptick in original shows scheduled at local venues across the county.

Rick Hirsch, a local jazz musician and a staple of the State College music scene, currently plays in three different bands around State College. Hirsch said the music scene has improved over the past few years.

There is a pretty good mix of music available,” Hirsch said. “There is a good amount of jazz, blues, cover bands, original singer/songwriters and bands.”

Jennifer Hoag, director of operations for Dante’s Inc., books the entertainment for local bars like the Saloon, Bar Bleu and Beulah’s in downtown State College. She said the type of bands she hires depends on the clientele.

At the Saloon, our clientele are looking to have a good time,” she said. “They want to listen to a ‘party band’ and sing along. That’s why we are in our ‘cover band era’ right now.”

Penn State senior Kyle Rader said he enjoys hearing familiar songs when he goes out on the weekends.

I like to hear new music, but not when I go out to have a good time,” he said. “It’s fun to go out with my friends and listen to a good cover band while we drink and sing.”

It really depends on what the kids are looking for,” Hoag said. “We have been open since 1976 at the Saloon, so we have had our share of original bands. We used to have blues, rock and reggae there. Now the crowds have changed, and they want to hear different music.”

Small booking companies like Cherry Darling Productions are working to bring more original music to State College. Promoter Meredith Rebar books shows every week.

We book everything from punk to metal to hardcore,” Rebar said. “This month, we have a rap show and even an ‘80s show scheduled. We book shows with something for everybody.”

Original music is drawing bigger crowds than in the past, according to Rebar.

I have definitely seen an increase in the number of kids turning out to shows,” she said. “The crowds are growing, and each night I see new faces.”

Since the Cell Block replaced the Crowbar a few years ago, there has been a lack of venues offering live shows to all ages. Penn State does not normally use its facilities for local acts. Big name acts come through the Bryce Jordan Center every so often, but ticket prices are regularly beyond most people’s budgets.

When booking shows, Rebar realizes that there is an dearth of places for bands to play.

Right now, we book 100 percent of our shows at the Brewery,” she said. “We are trying to expand to other bars in the area.”

Chris Lee, president of the American Federation of Musicians Local 660, recently conducted a survey of local musicians.

The number-one issue with musicians in the area is the small number of venues,” Lee said. “Musicians are looking for a place to play where people can listen and musicians can communicate among each other.”

Newer options for live music across the county include the recently expanded Elk Creek Café and Aleworks in Millheim, which books live music almost every Saturday night; East West Crossings in Lemont, a more intimate venue that hosts newer acts and open mics; and Acoustic Brew, a local nonprofit that organizes folk concerts usually at the Center for Well Being in Lemont.

Cool Beans Coffee House in Bellefonte is a small, alcohol-free venue that has a variety of folk and Celtic acts. Home Delivery Pizza Pub and High Street Pub in Bellefonte host honky-tonk and New Orleans–style music as well.

Closer to State College, Kelly’s Steakhouse in Boalsburg occasionally hosts live music, and in town but not downtown, Hi-Way Pizza hosts Dixieland jazz Friday nights, and the American Ale House in Toftrees also has live music. These venues tend to book acts that appeal to a crowd older than the downtown State College student audience, though many folk and jazz musicians find a following at a variety of places.

Audiences looking for original music in particular will generally find it at the smaller, alcohol-free venues, such as Sozo and Chronic Town, and occasionally at Webster’s Bookstore Café. These venues and others like them turn to original music as a cost-effective alternative to the pricey royalties required to cover other people’s material, explained Chris Byrne, another longtime performer from State College.

For larger bands, bars are often the only places that have proper lighting, equipment and stage space. This cuts out a significant amount of the residents in State College—the under-21 crowd. But Hirsch and Andrew Jackson are two regular performers who draw all-age crowds to Bar Bleu in downtown State College, among other places.

Generally we have an older, adult clientele at Bar Bleu,” Hoag said. “They are looking for more original stuff, not cover bands. We normally book blues and jazz bands to play at the bar.”

Chris Lee said a project is in the works to open a venue for all ages. Creative Café is slated to open sometime in May, and will be a new outlet for live music and art.

Creative Café will be a place for crowds of all ages to see live music, graphic arts and even read poetry,” Lee said. “It will be a smoke- and alcohol-free place to fill the void for crowds of any age.”

The more the merrier for musicians, especially those trying to make a living at it.

I think that if the local press covered the arts as much as it covers sports, it could improve the scene even more,” Hirsch said. “It is really moving in a positive direction.”



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