A busy summer for live music in the area gets started on Friday with the first night of Happy Valley Music Fest.
The Downtown State College Improvement District's two-day festival will feature 16 bands -- a mix of local acts and nationally touring groups -- across four stages, with headliners the Spin Doctors on Friday night and Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires on Saturday night.
This year's festival marks a continued evolution for the event formerly known as Summer's Best Music Fest.
"The committee took a look at the festival the way it existed in the prior form and started looking at how can we start drawing not just local people but people from beyond the State College area into town," said George Arnold, DSCID executive director. "We felt that if we start adding some national acts to it, that would be the ticket, so to speak."
The changes started to take shape in 2015 when the festival moved from entirely local acts to a 20-act lineup with one ticketed national headliner, country singer-songwriter Jo Dee Messina. Last year brought 10 up-and-coming national acts along with local performers and a move from one day to two days, along with the addition of beer gardens for the first time.
This year, the ticketed festival takes the evolution further, with two bigger name headliners in Spin Doctors and Charles Bradley, rock mainstays Marah, and a host of other national acts including SIRSY, The Commonheart, Bastard Bearded Irishmen and The National Reserve.
They're joined by local and regional bands Spider Kelly, Velveeta, Jackie Brown & The Gill Street Band, Tyne and the Fastlyne, Miss Melanie and the Valley Rats, Ted McCloskey and the Hi-Fi's, The Nightcrawlers, Chris Rattie and Mama Corn.
"We wanted to still maintain our festival as being a showcase for our local musicians and the local talent we have in the State College area," Arnold said "We felt we could do that and also start trying to capture the up-and-coming national artists. We’ve brought back some of those up-and-comers... but then we’ve got a group that’s been around a long time, Marah.
"Then of course we have Spin Doctors, who have that name recognition, and Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires who have been lighting up the soul genre for the last eight years."
Tickets for the festival are $10 for Friday's four performances and $20 for Saturday's 12 performances. Ticket holders get access to the four stages (two on Garner Street and two on Locust Lane), as well as the outdoor beer pubs for those 21 and older.
Arnold said that as the festival committee decided to move the event in a new direction, a consultant told them it would take three years of transition "to get this thing going where you really want to go," as a boutique destination music festival." Still, he was pleasantly surprised by the support the festival got in its first true year under a new model last year.
"I was amazed last year," Arnold said. "We saw last year as a transition year but we saw people from Pittsburgh, from Philly. I spoke to a gentleman and his friend from Detroit who traveled in to see our Saturday night headliner [Doyle Bramhall II]. They were particularly interested in our Saturday night headliner and were looking at where they might see him up close and personal. They figured our festival was the best chance of that."
He estimated that about 25 percent of attendees in 2016 traveled two hours or more.
The goal for DSCID is to provide a spark for the downtown in the month of June, which is the month that is lightest on big events that draw people from outside of the region.
"June is a slow month in downtown State College," Arnold said. "We’ve attempted to figure out how we can make a difference and create an event that will draw people into downtown for a couple of days and help with the slow month of June for our downtown businesses. As we’ve looked at that mission we felt this in particular makes all the more sense for us to continue with the direction we’re going."
It's not the only music event that will draw visitors to the area this summer. Blake Shelton headlines an all-star lineup of country artists on July 8 at Happy Valley Jam, Beaver Stadium's first-ever major concert event.
And the new Karoondinha Music & Arts Festival at Penn's Cave and Wildlife Park in Centre Hall is bringing a full, three-day lineup of major artists such as John Legend and Chance the Rapper to Centre County July 21-23 in an event on-par with established national multi-day camping festivals.
Back in April, meanwhile, Tussey Mountain hosted its first ever Springfest, headlined by hip-hop artists Kirko Bangz and Post Malone.
Arnold said the influx of new music events is a recognition of what the area can accommodate.
"I think what you’re starting to see happening is people recognizing how great this area is and what can be done here," he said. "For years the local community has thought it would be great if some big events could come to Beaver Stadium. Folks with Karoondinha have been around other festivals and thought State College would just be a great place to do something like this. I think it’s people continually seeing the potential of the area and what can be done."
In addition to Happy Valley Music Fest, DSCID also will host its monthly First Friday event from 5 to 9 p.m. in downtown State College. This month's event includes a pop-up event in front of The Branch and The Vine, Avant Garden and Funky Trunk on Calder Way, with a variety of vendors selling handcrafted and vintage wares.
There's much more going on too, with wine tastings, coffee tastings, art exhibits, more live music, Schlow Library's 60th anniversary Mid-Century Memories Panel discussion, an author talk, a workshop at The Makery and special deals at a number of businesses. For the full schedule, check here.
Happy Valley Music Fest Schedule
Spider Kelly, 5-6 p.m., Garner Side Stage
SIRSY, 6-7 p.m., Garner Main Stage
Velveeta, 7-8:30 p.m., Garner Side Stage
Spin Doctors, 8:30-10 p.m., Garner Main Stage
The Nightcrawlers, 1-2:30 p.m., Garner Side Stage
Mama Corn, 1-2 p.m., Locust Lane Stage
Bastard Bearded Irishmen, 2:30-4 p.m., Garner Main Stage
Chris Rattie, 3:30-4:30 p.m., Locust Lane Stage
Jackie Brown & The Gill Street Band, 4-5:30 p.m., Garner Side Stage
Ted McCloskey and The Hi-FI's, 4:30-6 p.m., Locust Lot Stage
The Commonheart, 5:30-7 p.m., Garner Main Stage
Tyne and the Fastlyne, 6-7 p.m., Locust Lane Stage
Marah, 7-8:30 p.m., Garner Side Stage
Miss Melanie and The Valley Rats, 7-8:30 p.m., Locust Lot Stage
Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires, 8:30-10 p.m., Garner Main Stage