Karoondinha loss felt in local music scene

Local musicians had been slated to play the Karoondinha music festival.
Local musicians had been slated to play the Karoondinha music festival. adrey@centredaily.com

We were so close. It almost happened. We were weeks away, but, in the end, siblings Kaleena and Paul Rallis pulled the plug on the Karoondinha music festival.

It’s too bad. In fact, it’s way too bad. The scene was set for an epic first run, with an ideal setting out at Penn’s Cave, a slew of top shelf acts including The Roots, John Legend, Chance the Rapper, Odesza and, of course, a who’s who of our local music scene getting the chance to rub shoulders with industry big wigs and artists.

The official statements released by the Rallises sound transparent and forthcoming. It was a classic overshoot. They came home, they went big and they couldn’t quite pull it all together, despite what, by all signs, was a heartfelt effort intended to throw a big party in their hometown.

“From the beginning, our vision was to create a unique destination experience that brings music fans and artists together for an amazing weekend in a beautiful setting. ... We are fully committed to returning and are working to confirm alternate dates and arrangements,” a statement on the Karoondinha website said.

The festival seemed to emerge out of nowhere a little less than a year ago, and there was a healthy local buzz. However, it was going to take more than local interest to make it a success, as the Rallises were hoping for 30,000 attendees. With approximately 40,000 people in State College and around 160,000 in Centre County, local interest alone would not be enough.

So, it was a festival marketed on a national scale, with music industry powerhouses like Billboard reporting on the cancellation. The Billboard coverage also reported on the cancellation trend occurring this festival season, most notably the cancellation of the Fyre Festival, which was supposed to be held in April and May in the Bahamas, and catered to celebrities and/or wealthy festival goers.

I don’t know much about organizing a festival. I’ve played a handful in various bands in which there were at least regional acts who were headliners, and one in which a member of music industry royalty graced the stage, but I’ve never been involved in organizing one. It seems like it would be a bear. What I can do is write about the festival and quip about what it would have meant for our local community.

First, I’ll say it was really cool to see announcements from Pure Cane Sugar, Eric Ian Farmer, Erin Condo McKracken, Miss Melanie and the Valley Rats and Chris Rattie about having an opportunity to play the festival. For some of these local musicians, it may have been the big break they are waiting or hoping for.

Honestly, I started thinking a few of them would be scooped up by someone, or at least John Legend would go back to whomever his people are and tell them about, say, Farmer’s soaring vocals and energy or Pure Cane’s heart-melting harmonies. That would have been a jolt to our entire scene, and maybe would lead to a resurgence of local opportunities to play, since now they are at what is an all-time low since at least 2009.

Either way, it’s off the table, and what was going to be a great local event will hopefully be rescheduled for sometime in 2018. If it is, I hope the Rallises bring the same commitment to local music — which is also irresistibly affordable, albeit less marketable — and find the sweet spot in the balance between our local aces and the big-budget performers.

Centre County and all its amazing businesses and residents will welcome an upscale music festival with open arms, and it’ll be a great, big party for all involved.

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