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Summer's Best Music Fest Rocks Downtown

by on June 29, 2014 6:00 AM

The sound of rock and roll swelled down Allen Street Saturday afternoon as music echoed off storefronts at the Summer’s Best Music Fest.

Olivia Jones, the singer for local band J.R. and Olivia, swayed to the sounds of country-tinged rock and roll during their set on the Allen Street stage. Listeners watched and enthusiastically applauded, while others browsed the stands of merchandise and food set up in the street by local businesses.

Jones, though a talented singer and member of the Pennharmonics a capella group, had never been in a band until partnering with Café 210 West owner J.R. Mangan last year. She says she "feels blessed" for the chance to perform in the J.R. and Olivia Band, adding that Saturday's outdoor show felt different than a bar show. 

“The breeze is phenomenal and it’s so much more open, with nothing confining you,” Jones says. “It’s a very freeing feeling.”

For the last eight years, the State College Downtown Improvement District has organized the Summer’s Best Music Fest. The festival is both a street bazaar and outdoor concert, with four stages and tables featuring everything from sandwiches and noodles to antiques and jewelry.

Aaron Soboleski recently moved from California to State College with his daughter Jadyn. He says “it seems like they celebrate a lot here,” and enjoys the opportunity to spend time with his daughter. Jadyn, her face painted like a butterfly while carrying a balloon tied in the shape of a flower, says she had fun at the kid’s activities station behind St. Paul’s United Methodist Church.

“The kid stuff was really a surprise,” he says. “She likes to dance and listen to music, so we’re here to have fun.”

Anna Crane says that the Summer’s Best Music Fest has helped draw attention to her family’s shop, the Crystal Cave on Calder Way. A number of people came up to her and, after looking at her family’s distinctive handmade jewelry, asked her how long the shop had been open.

“We’ve only been around a year and a half," Crane says. "Because we’re so new to this, this has been a great way for us to put ourselves out there and let people know what we’re about.”

Just down the alley, traveling baker Ethan Rose from Cincinnati manned a mobile brick oven. From it, the smell of pizza and smoke drifted through the street.

Already struck by the beauty of the town and Penn State campus, Rose was further impressed by Saturday’s festival and says he’d never seen anything like it in Ohio. Rose, whose father runs the largest independent bakery in Ohio, ran the oven for local business Gemelli Bakers as the second stop on a trip across the east coast, having started in New York.

George Powell, owner of GP Audio, began his day of running the event's sound systems at six a.m. on Saturday, showing up early to help set up the stages. He says he’ll “hopefully be done before midnight,” as he stays behind to help pack equipment away. Powell played a crucial role in Saturday’s events, running between stages to help ensure each band sounded clear and crisp.

Downtown Improvement District executive director George Arnold says planning for the annual festival began seven months ago. During that time, the committee made the decisions to add a fourth stage and a headlining act. 

Jason Michael Carroll brought his nationally recognized country stylings to Happy Valley, which Arnold says helped attract an even greater number of visitors to “really experience downtown State College.”

J.P. Mangan says the Summer’s Best Music Fest plays an important role not only for music lovers in State College, but also for the local music scene.

“There’s such a diversity of music in this town, and with an event like this you can have almost everything in one place,” he says.


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Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for who covers local government, the courts, the arts and writes the Keeping the Faith column. He's a Penn State alumnus, a published poet and the bassist in a local indie rock band.
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