Cafe 210 West grows its live music offerings

Lespecial will perform Friday at Cafe 210 West in downtown State COllege.
Lespecial will perform Friday at Cafe 210 West in downtown State COllege. Photo provided

Cafe 210 West is a really special spot in State College, that’s for sure.

I’ve been saying for a while now that it has the potential to be one of the premier live music venues in downtown State College, along with The State Theatre. It has an awesome stage (which is a rarity downtown), a lot of space and is located right on College Avenue. It’s just a matter of focus and intention, like most things.

“We mostly support local bands but love to have original bands when we can,” Cafe owner JR Mangan said.

That’s definitely the scene at Cafe. When it’s warm out, music ping pongs from the back deck to the main stage, featuring cover bands, original bands, dance bands and even Mangan’s band, which performs most Fridays for happy hour. When it’s colder, the stage rules and Cafe often rocks.

There’s a new push though, at Cafe, and it has something to do with a buzz around the scene in general. It’s a push to grow. Friday, for example, Cafe will host an after-party as a complement to the Cabinet show at The State Theatre, featuring the ascending Boston area band Lespecial. After-parties are a thing downtown, and different bars and clubs vie to host them. So, the fact that Cafe is currently winning the after-party game — at least for this week — is a sign of its evolving vision and overall health, and also of its emerging partnership with local promotion company Thickhead Productions.

“Sarah (Decker) from Thickhead Productions approached me about the show,” Mangan said. “We have had Cabinet here in the past and brought a great crowd. We are excited about having an after-party; (we’re) looking forward to the show and working with Thickhead Productions in the future. We have a lot more planned.”

Cafe, isn’t, however, the only place in our area partnering with Thickhead productions. Thickhead has been around for a few years and is gaining momentum thanks to the leadership of Decker, Emily Boone and Alex Neal.

“We’ve done a few shows at Cafe now, so we’re excited to be throwing another event there,” Neal said. “It’s a great bar venue, with a nice stage and good sound. Our show will begin at 11:30 p.m., just after Cabinet ends.”

Cabinet ticket holders get free entry into the Lespecial show.

“Our goals as Thickhead Production have always been to bring new music into town, and to shake up the usual weekend bar scene by doing so,” Neal said. “We want to contribute to the live music scene in State College, and grow as it grows. Cafe 210 and Zeno’s Pub, who we also work with often, are the two venues we sort of revived the company with.”

Take Lespecial, for instance. Friday’s show at Cafe is going to be something different than the usual State College suspects, who are fantastic suspects, but often playing around town nonetheless. Reading Lespecial’s self-description from its website is enough to set the mood.

“Born in the woods of Connecticut and raised in the wilds of Boston, Lespecial has established themselves as innovators and tastemakers on their own unique trajectory,” it reads. “The aggressive death-funk dance trio explodes with energetic live sets, tapping into a primitive past distorted through the lens of contemporary technology.”

So, there will be an aggressive death-funk dance trio plying an explosive set at Cafe on Friday, which sounds exceedingly doable, and new, unique, and, frankly, essential viewing and listening.

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