Is there anything Chris Rattie can’t do? There must be, but when it comes to music your guess is as good as mine.
In the past year, Rattie and his band, the New Rebels, released the critically acclaimed album "Porch," toured once, played locally a slew of times and is now on tour again. He’s a hardworking musician who knows what it means to write original music and what it means to perform that music on the road.
“We've been hitting the road hard since April as one last push to promote our album 'Porch,' ” Rattie said, “and also to show off the newest formation of this band with the addition of Nate Cutshall. We have a few more regional dates and then the whole thing culminates with our Arts Fest show on Thursday, July 12 on Allen Street and a big ol' final show/summer blowout at The Bar on Friday, July 13.”
And that’s the beauty and charm of Rattie. Copies of "Porch" in hand, he and the New Rebels have played all over the eastern seaboard, this time covering a range that includes Philly, Washington D.C., Charleston and Cleveland, spread out over 14 dates. Then, after it’s all said and done, the band makes a ceremonious return home to rock the stage at Arts Fest and the hometown musicians’ favorite spot, The Bar in Boalsburg.
“First, let me say we love coming home to play,” Rattie said. “Being on the hometown turf, with people who know the band and know the songs is the best. Our hometown fans are extremely supportive and we're fortunate to have them. Every town has its own unique music scene, its positives and negatives.”
Rattie is a hometown guy for sure. He has a great family, he is immersed in the local music scene, he runs a recording studio in Millheim and he’s busily involved in a variety of projects in our area, so it’s easy to root for him. But, questions remain. Why tour? Lots of local musicians are content to play local gigs week after week and for whatever reason aren’t concerned with branching out, so what’s the upside of doing so?
“I mean, we're a band. It's what a band must do,” Rattie said. “Even in this internet age, where you can make your music available to everyone immediately, you still have to get fans the old fashioned way. Live music is the human connection and much more powerful than typing into a search bar and clicking a link. As a band, we love performing and we take it very seriously. I think people respond to that on a gut level.”
It’s so refreshing, and Rattie’s clarity on the topic gives me an idea for a future column entry about why musicians who could branch out don’t. To frame it in a more positive way, why are great musicians happy to stay in their local area as opposed to hitting the road? Maybe they don’t want to sell out. Maybe they don’t know how to piece it together. Or, maybe it has to do with expectations.
“Expectations are everything,” Rattie said. “What can you really expect when you roll into a city 500 miles from home where no one has heard of you? The truth is once you can consistently pull 150-200 people into a room over large geographic area, you have a solid career. My hope is we are on that path of turning more and more people onto what we do without completely losing the shirts off our backs.”
It’s the plight, or maybe more accurately the invigorating task of being an original artist. You go out and put yourself on the line. You reach as far as you possibly can. You look people in the eyes, open yourself wide open, show them your innards and hope they get what you mean. Even better, you hope it serves as some kid of mirror for them, so you can share in the glorious fragility of authenticity, and so you leave people more inspired than you found them.
"We wear our hearts on our sleeves,” Rattie said, “we mean it. I think that comes across in the live performance.”
I’ve been there listening to Rattie and the New Rebels and it does come across. You can tell they mean it. They’re legit. The good news is, they’ll be coming home soon and us locals’ll get lotsa’ of what they’ve shown and learned on the road.
“After our Arts Fest weekend shows, I think we're going to take some time off of playing live,” Rattie said. “We've been talking a bunch about doing some acoustic shows and digging deeper into the meat of our songs. So keep an eye out for that. I suspect it won't be too very long until we get the itch again and are loading up the van, but for now I'm looking forward to sitting perfectly still on my porch for a little bit.”
Kevin Briggs is a musician, writer and teacher who performs at venues throughout central Pennsylvania. Contact him at KevinTBriggs@gmail.com.