Bookends Are Back: Acoustic Trio Set to Reunite at Arts Fest
For 10 days, Chris Mincer didn’t open his mouth. That's unusual for someone known for his vocal harmonies.
The State College resident and co-founding member of the acoustic trio Bookends, was on a Buddhist retreat earlier this month where he practiced Vipassana meditation.
“It’s awesome,” he says about the lengthy silence. “I’m not really into the religious, ceremonial aspect of Buddhism as much as the practical application of the tools it has to offer.”
Mincer will be in full voice this weekend, when Bookends performs at the Central Pennsylvania Festival of Arts. The band will appear on the Allen Street Stage Saturday at 8 p.m.
Mincer began practicing the self-observation meditation in 1996 because of his interest in Eastern philosophy. However, his band mates, Bet Williams and Susie Kocher, joke that Mincer goes on retreat before and after a Bookends reunion because he “has to deal with us.”
The band formed in the early 80s when Mincer and Williams were dating as freshmen at Penn State. One day the couple walked into a study lounge and heard Kocher’s voice and immediately recruited her for the band. After playing some coffeehouses around campus and expanding their set list, the band began performing in bars downtown.
“It was a great life,” Mincer says about playing the State College music scene. “I liked that I had lots of work and that I was making pretty good money for a kid my age. The musicians were all pretty friendly with each other. It was a good way to make a living.”
Kocher remembers being nervous when the band first started playing the bar scene.
“When we first started, I remember standing there with my arms hanging down, thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t want to introduce the next song because I’ll sound stupid.’”
Their onstage antics improved along with their smooth vocal harmonies, which Williams says separated the group from other bands playing hard rock hits or leftover disco classics from the seventies.
As their popularity increased, the trio scored regular gigs at the Rathskeller during the Friday happy hour and Saturday night at Café 210 West. The band entertained fans with cover versions of songs by the Grateful Dead, Joni Mitchell, Fleetwood Mac and Simon and Garfunkel (“Bookends” is the title of a song and album by the duo).
They even tackle a humorous version of Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus with Mincer being forced to hit some of the higher notes.
“There’s really a lot of fun material,” Williams says. “There’s a lot of really great vocal stuff that we’re doing – Susie and I belting at the top of our lungs.”
After college, the trio headed out West in a Chevy van equipped with shag carpeting to perform in different towns and cities, supporting themselves by playing random gigs along the way. They came back to the area and continued to play before calling it quits after one of their last gigs, which was at the 1988 Arts Fest. Bookends reunited a few times over the next two decades, but it wasn’t until last year that the band made its return to the festival.
“Arts Fest was always my favorite gig of the year,” Mincer says. “It was just always a great performance because it’s not in a bar and you have all ages from young to old. They’re just really listening to you and it’s great.”
“We just have such great memories and we’ve had such wonderful times there,” Williams says. “It’s really exciting to come back and see people we’ve known over the years.”
This year’s performance will be even more special for Kocher. At last year’s Arts Fest, Kocher was unaware that she had cancer. She was diagnosed a few months later and, after three surgeries and multiple treatments, she is cancer-free and ready to sing.
“This year is going to mean so much to me, I can’t even tell you,” she says. “This whole weekend I’ve been looking forward to for a long time and I’m back to feeling great.”
The band mates haven’t decided if they will perform at Arts Fest next year, but it’s never out of the question. It’s simply a matter of making sure everyone’s schedules line up. Williams continues her music career in Berlin, Germany with the Bet Williams Band. Mincer lives in Lemont and teaches Suzuki guitar, a teaching method for young children and their parents. Kocher lives in Tryon, N.C., and works at a pharmaceutical company while raising horses.
The miles may separate the trio, but their music and shared college hometown continue to bring the band back together.
“I’m extremely grateful for that,” Kocher says about meeting her band mates at Penn State. “It’s one of my happiest memories. I learned so much about people and about being brave by singing in front of people.”
“They’re like my family, and what I love the most is that I don’t even have to look at them when we’re playing. I can feel exactly what’s going to happen. I’ve never found that again.”
Bookends will perform Saturday, July 13 at the People's Choice Awards in Boalsburg at 2:30 p.m; at Arts Fest on the Allen Street Stage at 8 p.m. and at the Arena Bar and Grill at 10 p.m. The band will also play an additional show Sunday, July 14 at the Elk Creek Cafe in Millheim at 5 p.m. Bet Williams will be playing a solo performance at Webster's Bookstore Cafe on Friday, July 12 at 10 p.m.
Click HERE for a list of all Arts Fest events.