There are all kinds of musicians in Centre County, not just the well-known, working acts we regularly see at venues throughout the region.
Larry Boggess is a Nashville cat, and when I say he’s a Nashville cat, I mean he’s lived in Nashville and at one point had etched his name on the scene, both as a musician and as an educator.
“About 10 years ago, when I was living in Nashville and working in schools, I wrote a whole slew of original musicals for middle school kids,” Boggess said. “One of them, ‘The Great Storm,’ was brought to the Ryman Auditorium by Amy Grant, whose son was in the show — the story was about persevering through hard times, which resonated with a lot of the parents in the school.”
He brought the same combination to State College years ago, working both as an education professor, a higher-education administrator and as a musician in different formats. Since he’s been living in State College, he’s worked extensively with his long-time collaborator, Keena Corbett, and he continues to come up with new ways to express himself musically.
“I have a few projects going on,” Boggess said. “One is, I’m partnering with Keena Corbett to rebuild the old Keenaband into Highway 65, a six-piece unit playing country, rock, ’80s and other covers. (It’s a) high-energy, leave it all on the stage approach. Another project is my own songwriting — the tap is opened now and then, and after a couple years, the tap is opening again.”
During the past few years, Boggess and Corbett have mostly played duos at venues such as Gigi’s, Big Spring Spirits and Olde New York. Their chemistry is undeniable, and to catch their act is to see and hear Boggess’s mastery of the guitar, as well as Corbett’s animated presence onstage.
“After a few years of playing duos with Keena around town, we both wanted to get into the big band sound we had back in the day,” Boggess said. “We connected with some musicians who were new to town and things clicked. Everybody brings their special ingredient into the mix. The Hearts for Homeless benefit gave us a great goal, especially because the rhythm section also backed up Joe Quick and Adam Yarger, so we had trial by fire, and that gelled us.”
With a new, highly skilled band back together and with Corbett’s sonorous vocals out in front, Boggess is finding space to get back into the songwriting he’s enjoyed for so long.
“About the songwriting, I’ve been writing on and off since I was a kid,” Boggess said. “With recent peaks and valleys in my life, the songwriting has been turned back on in recent years and ideas are just popping up now as I go about my work day.”
Right now, Boggess’s songwriting renaissance is manifesting via a show he is creating, a la his days in Nashville.
“I’ve been onto this musical idea two years, it’s taken that long to incubate,” Boggess said, “and I’m now starting to see the whole show, start to finish. It’s a show about music, playing music and uncovering gender politics in bands during the rise of the guitar gods.”
Boggess takes this heady approach into his songwriting as well, in a very exacting way. What he describes as inspiration and coming from the heart also takes on an air of the clinician, in that Boggess is aware of what works within a song, and is able to stay focused and committed to structural components.
“Over the years, I’ve written a lot of songs, counting originals with bands,” Boggess said. “Singer-songwriter stuff, songs looking for traction in Nashville and the musicals. So, I am fairly locked into standard song formats with verses, bridges and crafted lyrics. I mean, I count syllables and make sure a rhyme isn’t a cheat. That template frees me up to let thoughts and feelings flow, and I know if there’s something worth keeping, it’ll ooze into the format. Songs that I keep are like children ... some beautiful and others ugly at birth and awkward in adolescence. But I believe in them all, and they all grow into wonderful companions, at least to me. I vary the structures depending on the meaning, message, the feel and the rhyme scheme.”
Kevin Briggs is a musician, writer and teacher who performs at venues throughout central Pennsylvania. Contact him at KevinTBriggs@gmail.com.