Ah, Elk Creek Café + Aleworks. Is there anything better?
Remember that scene in “Conan the Barbarian” when the elders ask Conan what is best in life? Conan’s answer pleases the elders and was spot on — for a barbarian. Although I used to play in a band called the Barbarians with Erie music scene stalwarts Josh Jekielek and Tim Bruno, my list is different, and it goes a little something like this: my three extra special loved ones, playing the mandolin and, proudly, the Elk Creek Café.
The place is awesome.
It’s a brewery but not just a brewery. It’s a top of the line music venue but not just a top of the line music venue. It’s a farm to table extravaganza but not just that either. It’s all of those things, and it’s full of awesome people who do and say awesome things, making our world a more awesome place.
One of those awesome things is happening on Saturday night. Erin Condo McCracken and her all-star band — the Hoofties — will perform at Elk Creek with an album in tow and a focus that remains sharply on good vibes and a little bit of Texas.
“We always get up for the Elk Creek,” McCracken said. “I don’t play every night of the week. I don’t even play once a week. I run a business, and I have a family. So, it’s really wonderful that there are places like Elk Creek or The State Theater, and I feel lucky enough that I’m able to do shows, occasionally, maybe once a year or twice a year at Elk Creek. It’s a special event. I can’t describe how special it feels to do that a block and a half from your house.”
I listened to the band’s most recent album, “Love and Lightning,” and it swept me away to McCracken’s Texan land of American sound. The music swings, lilts, rocks, dances and, in the end, it contributes to the overall happiness of the listener, which, once all the skins of thought are shed, is the point of it all: Happiness.
“My first album was much more country,” McCracken said. “It was very much trying to be a country album. It had a pedal steel on it, it had a fiddle, a viola and sad country songs. The newer one is s little bit more dancey. There are horns and there are fun songs on it, so it’s kind of a departure from that country sound, although there are definitely some singer-songwritery type tunes on there as well.”
McCracken started on her musical path as a youngster living in Maryland, at a time when kids were still listening to the radio, and when the radio was drenched with ’80s hair bands. So, naturally, she gravitated toward bands like Skid Row, Dokken, Metallica and the like. Those bands are what propelled her to want to learn how to play the guitar, despite the fact that she didn’t have many female guitar-playing heroes, or even much encouragement from anyone around her to be a female, guitar-slinging phenom.
“I wanted to take guitar lessons,” McCracken said, “so I took some guitar lessons and learned some basic stuff, but there weren’t many women around doing that. There wasn’t much support for that or any kind of real role models. It was ’89 or ’90, and it was just very masculine, even though the dudes were wearing makeup with their hair long.”
Thus the journey began, and after learning the drums and some other instruments, McCracken saw the Indigo Girls in concert, which changed everything.
“They were completely killing it,” McCracken said, “and owning it, and being completely strong and unapologetic about how strong and awesome they were. It was just totally life-changing. It just fit into everything I was doing at the time with activism as a college student.”
From there, McCracken started writing her own songs and linking up with local aces like Andy Tolins to hone and share her gifts. And now, here she is playing at the Elk Creek and The State Theater, two Centre County music gems.
“Erin Condo is a great songwriter and performer,” Elk Creek owner Tim Bowser said. “Her band is comprised of some of the best local musicians in the region, and she always brings that killer horn section for these gigs. Plus, she lives two blocks from Elk Creek ... can’t get much more local than that.”
Erin Condo and Hoofties and Horns takes the stage at 8 p.m. on Saturday night.
Kevin Briggs is a musician, writer and teacher who performs at venues throughout central Pennsylvania. Contact him at KevinTBriggs@gmail .com.