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The Happy Valley Music Scene Thrives Through the Years

by on April 12, 2016 6:00 AM
State College, PA

A few days ago I awoke here in Happy Valley to the sight out my bedroom window of snow covering everything – everything except the driveway, sidewalk or street. Whew – no shoveling!

(A quick aside... You know, as much as global warming concerns me and millions of others, I think the folks leading that charge have a branding issue. When New York City, the No. 1 media market in the country, is covered in snow in mid-April, I can understand how some people might question the accuracy of the prediction. Just saying.)

Anyway, as I got into my office I logged onto the computer to check email and do a few minutes of morning internet surfing (always thinking of warm weather). In the local pages I was greeted by the news that one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time would be performing here in State College in August.

I’m talking of course about The Dead Daisies.

Just kidding, just kidding.

Sorry, The Dead Daisies will open the show. The musical legends I am referring to, those four guys who just want to rock and roll all night and party ev-er-y day, are KISS. I know, I was speechless too.

Talk about a rush of 1970s memories, the most prominent being the recollection of a bleacher full of KISS Army fanatics in an opposing team’s gym during a high school basketball game. Scary.

This momentous news also reminded me of one of the great benefits of living in State College – the live music diversity available to everyone.

You see, I grew up in what was considered a musical backwater. The biggest live musical event I can recall of my youth was a Three Dog Night concert.

As kids we were excited when we discovered that hooking up the cable TV wire to the antenna connections on our stereos allowed us to listen to top 40 hits from WIFI out of Philadelphia, 150 miles away. It’s a choice I know has many old Philly folks cringing. I’ll also confess that a few years later when I lived in the City of Brotherly Love I spent hours listening to WMMR. Yes, I was a musical philistine.

Arriving in Happy Valley in 1977 was a musical ear-opener for me. Students from metropolitan areas who had been attending concerts since grade school who were only too happy to share their experiences. Live music was in the dorm areas, in the apartments, in the HUB, in Eisenhower, in Rec Hall. I jokingly blame my hearing loss on the J. Geils concert in Rec Hall in 1982. Of course it was in the bars downtown – but that pleasure was reserved for those late juniors and seniors. And everybody had a stack of albums to borrow, immerse yourself in and imagine seeing live.

During those years the national and local groups I was exposed to here in glorious Centre County were many. There were local acts such as Tahoka Freeway, Menagerie, Terry Beard, Backseat Van Gogh, Red Rose Cotillion, DOA, Arthur Goldstein Group, Whetstone Run and W.C. Billhick. There were the regional bands such as Harpo, Daddy Licks, and Billy Price and the Keystone Rhythm Band. And we saw our share of nationally-known performers as diverse as Bob Dylan, Weather Report, The Outlaws, Cyndi Lauper, Graham Parker, Leo Kottke, Renaissance, John Prine, The Allman Brothers and countless others.

Then in 1981 and 1982 the Association of Residence Hall Students (ARHS) appointed me the director of a two-day outdoor music festival called Movin’ On. Working with buddies Tom Hesketh, Paul Bertalan and the late Jim Summerson – whose birthday would have been this Friday – plus ARHS president Laura Cerar, the entire ARHS Board, and hundreds of volunteers who worked for a free t-shirt, we produced two-days of live music on the HUB lawn both years -- as Jeff Glazier, Sam Malizia and others had before us since 1975.

With Tom handling all the stage duties, Paul ensuring that we covered a wide variety of musical tastes and Jimmy taking care of the sound, it was a wonderful culmination of several years of live music indoctrination that has served me well for three-plus decades. Closing the 1982 show was Franke and the Knockouts, who were recorded live for an NBC radio network broadcast. Hey, they were rising stars at the time. You never know in the music business.

And as time moves on, the musical diversity of Happy Valley continues and grows. Movin’ On is still going strong after 41 years. With 45,000 students, a discerning and relatively affluent local population and facilities of any size all the way up to the 15,000-seat Bryce Jordan Center, options for satiating your live music needs regardless of musical taste and genre abound.

You want a Choral concert? Check. Dirty ditties on a piano? Check. Led Zeppelin covers? Check. Grammy-winning orchestra? Check. Current country music superstar? Check. Sing-alongs? Check. Jazz? Opera? Concert band? Bluegrass? Barbershop? Ska? EDM? Check, check, check, check, check, check and check. And many more.

We’re also lucky to have the outstanding musical performances found among any of the area’s various theatre productions. Going to miss American Idol? No problem. Just buy a ticket to any Penn State Centre Stage musical production and listen to the musical theatre students exercise their pipes. The vocal quality is so amazing you’ll forget all about Idol. Full disclosure – as president of the Penn State Centre Stage I could be biased. But I’m not!

So, even if you’re not over-the-top excited about four guys in full make-up, spandex and platform shoes rock-and-rolling you all nite – or your name isn’t Beth – you can still find something to fit your taste in Happy Valley. It's small-town oasis with big-town facilities where live music diversity is the mantra – sans all the big-city hassles.

As I said, it’s another of the great benefits of living in Happy Valley.

 



John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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