Posted by Nathan Etter on 12/26 at 05:20 PM
After a senior fall semester full of revelry and live local bar music, I have come to find that the State College live music scene is in fact not dead, but alive and grooving. Let me be your guide to State College’s premier live music bar venues and the local artists that—in the memory of Stevie Ray Vaughn—keep the house a rockin’. First up, why not The Phyrst?
There are many fine reasons Penn State partiers and local musicians of all ages alike pack The Phyrst to standing room only capacity every weeknight. Fantastic bartenders. Guiness on tap. Shots on your 21st! Lying above all these unique assets, The Phyrst packs it in because they consistently book local bands that know how to work a crowd and are exceptional at what they do. Call them cover bands, call them whatever you want, the weekly lineup at The Phyrst is the best in town. Every night of the week, you can look forward to a dance floor that is alive and groups of smiling bargoers shouting choruses at the top of their lungs. No other bar brings this kind of non-stop party, and with the talent of the musicians they have locked in to their weekly sing-a-long, it is no wonder. Take a look:
After an eclectic open mic night that features an entertaining variety of acts looking for exposure, local cover band Table Ten often takes the stage. While their cliché pop material can be a bit unsatisfying, the trio never fails to create an uplifting vibe with its acoustic feel and excellent hand percussion (drummer, Antonio Parisi, plays only a pair of congas, bongos, and hand-struck splash cymbal). Head-turning medleys—like a Steve Miller verse going hand in hand with a Shaggy chorus—consistently keep the crowd interested in what surprising lyrics might lurk within the confines of every song. Table Ten’s obvious influences include artists such as Dispatch, Dave Matthews, and Rusted Root. It would be great to hear the band translate their mastery of 90’s acoustic pop-rock into an original voice of equal catchiness.
With a name like Velveeta, it is hard to know what to expect out of State College’s most well-known 80’s metal-rock cover band. In addition to a weekly Friday gig at the Saloon, the State College veterans—the band has been together for over a decade—bring their high energy stage show to the Phyrst ever Tuesday. Covers range from straight-ahead 80’s anthems to prog-metal numbers by the likes of Tool and Metallica. Velvetta makes it no secret that they are a cover band, their witty slogan is “The Original Un-Original.” Despite this, the band finds a way to keep their material fresh and full of personal touches. While front man Brian Kriley’s raucous voice can at times feel uninviting, his suburb guitar-playing and curly mop of hair give him a stage confidence that rubs off on the entire band. Drummer John Harper’s speedy, progressive style of playing is also worth noting, with many gigs featuring an extended solo with only Harper on stage.
For two years now, Wednesdays at the Phyrst have belonged to Go Go Gadget. This experienced cover band, who tour up and down the East Coast when not playing in the bar that will always be home, provide the hottest ticket in town with their unmatched energy and variety. Whether they are playing synth-heavy sing-a-longs, rock classics, or modern hip-hop dance hits, Go Go Gadget pulls them off with professionalism and passion. Few, if any, bands in town play to the young college crowd as well as these guys.
Maxwell Straight is The Phyrst’s veteran rock/funk/blues Thursday band, and my personal favorite from their typical weekly lineup. The band’s lineup includes an unparalleled mix of experienced musicians and prominent local stars. The always-tight rhythm section is led by lefty drummer Jack Wilkinson—who is practically a human metronome—and skilled bassist Rene Witzke. Complementing this superb foundation is the always brilliant Ted McCloskey on guitar, pitch-perfect Natalie Berenna on vocals, and the funky keyboard work of JT Thompson. The band is guaranteed to bring dance-inducing jams, I-haven’t-heard-this-song-for-years covers, and the fullest sound in town. As far as I’m concerned, Maxwell Straight is a big fish in a small pond.
Fridays at the Phyrst again feature the exceptional playing of guitarist Ted McCloskey in his rock trio, Ted and the Hi-Fi’s. With only three members, the band packs a surprisingly powerful punch. Their high energy shows rock from beginning to end with no room for pause; As soon as one song ends, McCloskey instantly transitions into the riff to start off the next. To fill out the sound of the Hi-Fi’s, McCloskey enlisted fellow Maxwell Strait band mate Rene Witzke on bass and the precision of Daryl Branford on drums. Together, the group’s impeccable musicianship and versatility allow them to play head-turning country, rock, funk, and blues numbers with equal comfort and success. McCloskey may be State College’s best all-around solo musician, and Ted and the Hi-Fi’s gives him the opportunity to fly high while leading a professional backing band.
Author: Nathan Etter
Bio: Nate Etter is a senior double-majoring in public relations and political science with a passion for live music. In his spare time he drums in local bands (British Phil, The Twisted Groove), plays basketball, and writes. He enjoys a wide variety of music but remains obsessed with funk in all its forms. Favorite bands include Gov't Mule, Galactic, Incubus, Garaj Mahal, and The Avett Brothers.
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