How the defunct Karoondinha festival connected this band to downtown State College

Bad Bad Hats will perform Saturday at Zeno’s Pub.
Bad Bad Hats will perform Saturday at Zeno’s Pub. Photo provided

The atmosphere in Zeno’s Pub is one of the best parts about the often celebrated music spot in State College, and it’s just about to level up.

On Saturday, Minneapolis-born Bad Bad Hats will bring its atmospheric sound to Zeno’s, a stop on the band’s 13-stop tour of the mid-west and the northeast. It’s the band’s third time at Zeno’s, manager Dave Staab wrote in an email.

Bad Bad Hats is an interesting three-piece band that includes Kerry Alexander, Chris Hoge and Connor Davison, and they’ve released two, full-length albums so far. The latest release is “Lightning Round.”

As atmospheric as the music sounds, Bad Bad Hats’ website describes the band as playing a different kind of music, honoring “classic pop songwriting, with nods to ‘90s rock simplicity and pop-punk frivolity.”

This show is a long-time coming, going back to when Penns Valley’s now somewhat mythic Karoondinha Festival was abruptly canceled. Bad Bad Hats were slated to play the festival, but ended up playing at Zeno’s instead in July 2017, since they had already planned to be in the area.

When listening to the Bad Bad Hats, it quickly becomes clear they are gifted songwriters, definitely bordering on pop, but very textured music that reminds me of The Unbanned’s local album release last year. You can initially hear what’s happening, but the more you listen the more you realize what’s going on.

Getting the Bad Bad Hats back was an easy decision for Zeno’s, and was based on the band’s affinity for Zeno’s (literally) underground scene.

“They enjoyed the room,” Staab wrote.

It isn’t every day that a State College bar gets an act that is surging on a regional or national scene, but the Bad Bad Hats fit the bill nicely, and combine to make up a one-two punch of entertainment following Ian Hendrickson-Smith’s sensational show at The State Theater on May 10. Although not quite Grammy Award-winners (yet), the Bad Bad Hats are holding their own.

“They have climbed the national exposure ladder, playing the late night talk shows,” Staab wrote.

The show is yet another example of how Zeno’s pushes the musical envelope in the Centre County scene, offering fantastic local shows up to five nights per week including but not limited to Haystack Lightning, Spider Kelly, Triple AAA Blues Band and Pure Cane Sugar typically on a weekly basis. Sometimes, there’s a Tuesday evening show for which local artists like Eric Ian Farmer, Chris Rattie and the New Rebels, and Cone of Silence perform.

Whatever the case, Saturday is the Bad Bad Hats night.

“The band has nicely crafted, catchy tunes with a wry pop sensibility,” Staab wrote, “and the songs are delivered live with the very personal touch of a storyteller.”

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