I grew up in Lancaster, graduated high school in 1995 and ventured across the state to Gannon University. When I left home, I was a dyed in the wool Bob Dylan-ite, having already read three or four of the biographies written about him, and owning just about everything he released up until that point.
As a college freshman, I was mostly new to the Grateful Dead. That is, I was new to the real Grateful Dead — the epic touring band and the cultural and musical genre it created. It was an awakening for me, and I’ve never really cut the cord that links me to the music in that scene, whether it be listening to Dead bootlegs, going to Phish concerts or listening to great jam grass groups like Cabinet, Yonder Mountain String Band and Greensky Bluegrass.
I love those bands. So, it was with great pleasure that I learned of a new band in the State College area that will be filling what I deem to be a void in the scene: a band that jams, as a rule, as a staple, as an integral part of its culture. Obvious Pocket is that new band, and it is providing an improvisational niche to our already thriving scene.
“When we first started playing we wanted to play with other people and get together and jam,” said guitarist and lead vocalist Jim Kassab. “(Our name) speaks to a universal quality of music. When you’re in the pocket, it’s obvious. It’s also the void in the fabric of space-time.”
Although Kassab illuminates the heaviness, the name wasn’t originally intended to have such a deep connotation. In fact, the guys in the band came up with it almost randomly, or at least off the cuff, just like a lot of their jams.
“We were at a show at the Elk Creek Café,” guitarist Dipak Sahoo said. “I was wearing a jacket that had a very obvious pocket and thought, ‘That’s a good name for a band.’ ”
From there, Sahoo and Kassab continued to develop their musical relationships with bass player Greg Mazzara and drummer Jason Halterman, and the synchronicity was flowing at the jams they would attend at each other’s houses. They soon picked up gigs at The Phyrst, The Brewery and The Dark Horse, all State College staples that are not afraid to take on new music to see what kind of scene takes shape.
It has led to an uptick in gigs, including the band’s next performance at Tussey Mountain’s Edges Pub at 4 p.m. Feb. 18, and extending to the Bungle in the Jungle Festival in White Haven the first weekend of May.
“We definitely are looking forward to the next gig, because it’s a four-hour set,” Sahoo said.
That, in and of itself, is impressive. While a lot of bands are stretching to fill two or three hours of music, Obvious Pocket has the opposite concern. The band has so much material it isn’t sure how to squeeze it all in to what the members feel is such a short amount of time.
“We have lots of originals,” Kassab said. “We actually have to reach for cover tunes because we have so much original stuff.”
To hear Obvious Pocket play original songs, such as Halterman’s “Peace of Time,” is to hear a mash of styles, with Kassab’s bluesy guitar licks, Sahoo’s smooth finesse, Halterman’s love of the Grateful Dead and the virtuosity of Phil Lesh and Mazzara’s hard rock roots. It blends together to be a high-energy band built from the ground up for people who like to dance.
“We want to create listenable music,” Kassab said. “We want to create quality music that contributes to the scene. My favorite thing is dancing and having a good time.”
Kevin Briggs is a musician, writer and teacher who performs at venues throughout central Pennsylvania. Contact him at KevinTBriggs@gmail .com.