When the Penn State spring semester ends each May, there is a palpable change in State College. As students head home for the summer, the whole town gets a little quieter, a little less crowded, and it feels like a new season is beginning.
Scott McKenzie believes it is time for State College to start celebrating that unofficial beginning of summer, and he is hoping that the upcoming Birdie on the Mountain Charity Music Festival will do just that.
“It sounds ambitious to say this, but I want this to become the event that launches the State College summer and kicks everything off,” he said.
This new festival is scheduled to take place at Tussey Mountain on May 14 from noon until 9 p.m. The day will feature at least 11 musical acts — including the Triple A Blues Band, Stephen Traedo, The Whatleys, Anchor & Arrow, La Famillia and more — performing on two stages, interspersed with what McKenzie describes as “open mic” performances of stand-up comedy, poetry and short story readings, and perhaps even tap dancing.
Festival food and adult beverages will be provided by Tussey Mountain and local food trucks.
McKenzie said the festival is intended to be a family-friendly event and will include games and craft activities as part of a children’s tent, which has been funded through a $1,000 Awesome Grant from 3 Dots.
Proceeds from ticket sales to the festival will benefit three charities: Centre Helps, Housing Transitions and the Watkins Glen Farm Sanctuary — a nonprofit near and dear to the heart of the late Lisa Sampsell, whom close friends called “Birdie.” The festival, which bears her nickname, will pay tribute to Sampsell, who was a big supporter of music and whose family and friends partnered with McKenzie and his group, Project 1:37, to organize the event.
“It’s a tribute to Lisa, and it is also serving as a recognition of the last couple of years and the people we’ve lost, the time we’ve lost, as a way to come out of a rough couple of years and immediately turn the new spring and summer into a big positive — to celebrate life and joy and happiness and bring people together now that it is safe to do so,” McKenzie said.
McKenzie has been organizing local charity concerts on a smaller scale since 2018, when he invited some musician friends to get together on a random Tuesday to play at the Brewery, where he had worked in the past. He decided to collect a $5 cover charge at the door to donate to Centre Safe.
“Over the course of a month, that went from random musicians playing and charging cover, to a raffle with art and merch and gift baskets donated by local businesses; what I’d originally been thinking would be this thing to do for fun and maybe throw in a couple hundred bucks for charity turned into a $3,000 fundraiser in no time,” McKenzie said.
Out of this experience, McKenzie started what he called “Project 1:37,” whose name comes from the 1995 movie Empire Records. In the movie, McKenzie explained, one of the characters has been putting off telling a coworker that he loves her, until finally he settles on a time — 1:37 — to confess his feelings to her. McKenzie explained that it seemed fitting.
“Musicians almost never get to spend time together, because everyone is always playing someplace different every weekend. It seemed like the only time people got together was when something bad happened,” he said. “We would get together to do a tribute show or fundraiser for that thing, and every time that would happen, people would inevitably say, ‘I wish it were under better circumstances,’ or ‘We should really get together some time.’ So, my motivation became, instead of waiting for bad things to happen to get together, let’s create the ‘better circumstances.’ Let’s stop putting things off.”
Project 1:37 is made up of McKenzie and a few of his friends, and although it is not yet an official nonprofit, the group has been organizing semi-regular grassroots fundraisers at the Brewery and elsewhere, even producing a completely virtual benefit concert during the pandemic.
Some of the other organizations the group has donated to include Pets Come First, the Centre LGBTQA Support Network, and Centre Helps.
Centre Helps is partnering with Project 1:37 in many ways for Birdie on the Mountain and will be collecting event sponsor donations through their website, McKenzie said. People can also purchase tickets for the festival through the Centre Helps website. Tickets are $20 each and will be available at the gate on the day of the event as well.
Birdie on the Mountain will take place rain or shine, and McKenzie said he hopes this will be the start of a State College tradition.
“We came into this idea thinking that this was not going to be just a one-time thing,” he said. “The goal is to make this enough of a success that there’s no question it will happen again next year.”
This story appears in the May 5-11 edition of The Centre County Gazette.