New State College band looks to build a community around its music

Christiana Athena is the frontwoman of Athena and the Night Owls, a new band that performs at venues around State College.
Christiana Athena is the frontwoman of Athena and the Night Owls, a new band that performs at venues around State College. Photo provided

There’s something new in the air in the Centre County scene, with State College-based Athena and the Night Owls quietly, steadily putting together a slew of original songs to go along with its already stellar show.

The new band is led by Christiana Athena — a singer-songwriting drummer turned piano player, and a recent stalwart on the Boston music scene, where she gained notoriety in the band Paper Waves.

“This is the first time I have been the bandleader and songwriter,” Athena wrote in an email. “I have written the originals and arrange the covers. The current group is made up of myself on the keys and lead vocals, Kevin Sims on drum set, Chunyuan Di on ukulele and vocals, Simon Gomez on bass, and Ty Nelson on guitar.”

I had the opportunity to check out the band Saturday night during an intimate house performance at Nelson’s home, and it was wonderful. The band is new, but is clearly well-rehearsed, consistently playing in sync on each of the six original songs it performed. Each member has an important role, whether it be Di’s understated ukulele playing, Gomez’s heartfelt approach to the bass, Nelson’s steady and rhythmic guitar or Athena’s charisma and tasteful approach to the piano and vocals.

“We do have some slow ballad songs but we are building up a danceable repertoire too,” Athena said, “so I hope people will dance. Our first show (at Webster’s Bookstore Cafe) had some swing dancers that jumped right up for the first song, and it kicked it off with fun energy and made me feel so happy.”

Athena is the energetic epicenter of the band. As new as she is to piano, she plays very precisely, and it’s clear she has a background in drumming, as her long fingers gently kept the beat while simultaneously providing texture and enhancing the melodies. She was in command of her role and was the conductor of the band, and all the while she was putting on a show for those of us in attendance.

“I have been writing songs for about five years and it came time to put the collection of songs into action,” Athena said. “I finally built up the confidence I needed to lead a group and be a frontwoman. I have been a drummer since I was 11. As soon as I got a drum set I joined a Nirvana cover band with my friends and I have been playing in bands ever since.”

Athena’s musical goals in Centre County are clear: She wants to write and arrange her music and she wants to perform her music on a regular basis.

“My goal is to perform about once a month in the State College area,” she said, “and to make the events special by building a community of people who not only come for the music, but even more importantly to see each other, and feel a sense of community. I like to play with other bands too and get to know the local scene. There is a lot of incredible talent in this town.”

Athena has lived and played music in numerous states, and even gained some musical influences from time she spent living in Mexico with her mother, but, in the end, Athena maintains it all boils down to an experience that supersedes time and space.

“There is nothing like playing music with others and synergistically locking into the groove and feeling that sense of synchrony,” she said. “It is the most powerful form of meditation that I have experienced. Music is mystical, ephemeral and fleeting so if you have the fortune to feel it that is what it is like to be completely present. It requires so much focus and mindfulness and it is the most rewarding experience.”

Athena and the Night Owls will be performing at a few private functions in the near future and the Jason Adams-led “From the Source” series at Webster’s. Visit www.facebook.com/AthenaAndTheNightOwls for more on upcoming events and check out songs at christianaathena.bandcamp.com.

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