The thing is, Centre County’s an awesome place. It has a bit of most things you’d ever want, like a thriving arts and music scene, a steady local economy, great restaurants, the wondrous encasement of the Seven Mountains, seemingly endless natural spaces to explore and a really big university.
Along with all of these great aspects, we can look at the municipalities throughout the county and see even more abundance in places like Millheim, for example, which is known for its thriving music and arts scene, businesses like Elk Creek Café + Aleworks, the Green Drake Gallery and Arts Center and, of course, what amounts to a burgeoning colony of local artists and musicians.
“Millheim is a community of resourceful creators,” Nomad Food Truck owner and Millheim resident Meghan McCraken said. “I have lived in many places around the country, in large cities and other small towns and I don’t want to live anywhere else. I want to be here and to grow my small business here and to raise my daughter here.”
As for the musicians, even those who have made their bones outside of Centre County, outside of Pennsylvania, outside of America, choose to call Millheim home. For Marah’s super hip roots rockin’ Serge and Dave Bielanko, it’s a decision that comes directly from the heart. It is steeped in their personal history and is steeped in their stew of life, brewed with their bones.
“My stepdad and my mom live over in Sugar Valley, which is also where Dave lives,” Serge said. “Honestly, I started coming up to this area when I was 16 years old. My stepdad was a member of a hunting camp over in Sugar Valley.”
Getting to Millheim came by way of traveling the world and living in two of the biggest cities in America, Philadelphia and New York, so after that kind of touring schedule and living in those kinds of places, with wanderlust and perhaps that part of the ego satiated, their heart space shined and led them back home.
“I’ve been so many places though, and I would say honestly this is the one area that I always knew in the back of my head, I’m gonna live there. I gotta live there — like, I could die there,” Serge said.
So, Marah’s here, and it sounds like the Bielanko brothers are here to stay, at least as far as they see it. But that doesn’t mean they left touring and creating music in New York, Philly or Paris.
“We’re leaving in late April for a tour of Europe, to hit, like, Ireland, the U.K., Spain,” Serge said. “And we’re beginning a new record this year, you know, we’re writing new songs. This will be our first new record with me back in the band. It’s exciting. It feels like the possibilities are endless for us. We’ll do it right here in Dave’s house. It will be born and raised here.”
While they’re busy creating music and planning their tours, Serge also has his cup full of love and responsibility with his three children, who are often at least indirectly the subjects of his popular blog, Thunder Pie, and his writings on sites like Babble and YourTango.
“That’s my side band,” Serge said. “They’re the most important part of my life. Uncle Dave is a huge presence in my kids’ lives. They don’t even get it as far as the music goes. As far as me, I’ll never leave home for a month or two at a time. I know many musicians who don’t do that, but we’ve found ways to make it happen without having to do that.”
Still, the fabric of the music’s ether still resonates with Serge and Dave, aside from family, responsibilities, history and geography. The music is like a a kind of sacred temple where they go to lay down their souls for the listeners, for their loved ones, for each other and, in the most honorable way, for themselves.
“Things are happening that are so DNA, in a way,” Dave said. “It’s very weird. It’s this sweaty, urgent state where you’re actually communicating with this group of people.”
Serge took it from there.
“I’ve never felt more alive than I feel when I’m in the middle of a song during a show,” Serge said. “It’s the same thing as if a stock car driver tells you I’ve never felt more alive than turn three of Daytona, you know. That’s it.”
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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