Entertainment

With Rathskeller’s closure, local musicians mourn loss of historic venue

Rathskeller, a popular live music venue in downtown State College, is set to close at the end of January.
Rathskeller, a popular live music venue in downtown State College, is set to close at the end of January. Centre Daily Times, file

After the Beatles broke up, they went their separate ways and started formally carving out their individual paths. While they each had commercial success, George Harrison blossomed most dramatically and went deeper than the other three.

He ceremoniously released his triple album release, “All Things Must Pass,” and transitioned out of the Beatles and into self-actualization. The title was perfect. It ended one thing and commented on the nature of everything. Nothing lasts forever. All things must pass, and — more importantly — all things will pass.

Harrison’s Eastern-laden wisdom has come to fruition in State College this month, with the announcement that two State College icons — Spat’s and the Rathskeller — are closing after 35 and 85 years, respectively. It was a shocking announcement for sure, and people have gone to social media to express their surprise, regret and outrage. There was even a petition circulating on Facebook designed to keep Spat’s and the Rathskeller open, and there was another movement to mobilize Penn State alumni to buy both places with a minimal investment.

However, the future seems clear. These two awesome places seem destined to close early in 2018, and it’s not certain if or when they will re-emerge. What is certain is the way the announcement has impacted local musicians who understand more than anyone else what the Skeller means to the musical community.

“The Rathskeller embodies the innocence of the college experience during the Paterno era here in State College,” said multi-instrumentalist Andy Tolins. “There’s a loyal group of alumni that came of age at this bar, and others.”

If musicians didn’t cut their performing teeth at the Skeller, they answered their own call to adventure there, as it helped them discover their impetus to perform.

“I experienced my first live bar music at the Skeller,” said guitarist James Gingrich. “The passion of the performance and the vibe of the environment left an impression on me that later became a reason I got into playing live music.”

Resoundingly, local musicians, while saddened about the closing, have a bit of Harrison’s wisdom regarding it.

“For me, it was such a great experience being able to perform in such an iconic venue,” said singer and guitarist Brad Fey. “We got to know the staff very well and it was so much fun being there as part of the family every Saturday night. I’m sad that it’s closing, but things change. Other venues that we play at close and changed as well.”

And that seems to be the prevailing wisdom. In a small area that has an incredibly robust assortment of talented musicians, good gigs are hard to get, so when a great, historic place closes its doors, it ripples throughout the scene.

“As a musician, the saddest part is to lose another venue,” said singer and guitarist Natalie Race. “I have chosen to maintain a positive outlook and hope the next owners will consider keeping it a place for live music. Anymore, we see wall to wall televisions replacing a stage. Of course, there is some heartbreak when losing such an iconic piece of State College, but that’s why the memories and stories are important. Didn’t we feel this way when the Scorpion closed, or even more recently Toast? Change is inevitable. Let’s embrace it.”

One thing is likely, and it’s that 2018 is bound to bring some resolution. Hopefully, that resolution will involve the Skeller space remaining a place for live music, and maybe the Spat’s space can as well.

Kevin Briggs is a musician, writer and teacher who performs at venues throughout central Pennsylvania. Contact him at KevinTBriggs@gmail .com.

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