Good things can come in small packages, so the saying goes.
It’s an insight that applies to Elk Creek Café + Aleworks, one of Centre County’s premier eating, drinking and entertainment venues, and one that will continue to ring true Sunday starting at 5 p.m. when the Elk Creek hosts up and coming Americana-roots band Fireside Collective.
“They’ve been making a lot of noise,” Elk Creek managing owner Tim Bowser said. “I had some people tell me they had seen them at festivals and we really should try to get them. The more I looked into them the more I realized the opportunity was going to pass us by because I think they’re going to blow up into something that isn’t going to fit in the Elk Creek real soon.”
One look at Fireside Collective’s touring schedule verifies Bowser’s point of view. Between the Elk Creek gig and early September, the band has over 20 shows from as far north as New York, as far west as Wisconsin, and as far south as North Carolina, with the majority of the shows being in the mid-Atlantic region.
“We’re glad to be able to get them while we could,” Bowser said. “This is the only opportunity in 2019 they had for us. They’re doing the Smoked Country Jam festival (June 19-June 22), so it was kind of convenient. This was is the last stop they’re making before they head back to North Carolina.”
The band gigs a lot, and they do so at some of the biggest festivals and stages in America, including the nearly mythical Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, which is among a handful of truly epic bluegrass and roots music festivals in America.
It’s no wonder why Fireside Collective gets those kinds of gigs. The band’s sound is polished, innovative and fun, with Jesse Iaquinto’s vocals leading the way, and a full arsenal of top-‘o-the line instrumentalists, including Iaquinto on mandolin, Tommy Maher on dobro, Joe Cicero on guitar and Carson White on bass. The songwriting is stellar, both lyrically and melodically, and the ornate instrumentation decorates just about every crevice of space that calls for a lick.
“I call it kind of hard-charging,” Bowser said. “They really don’t call it bluegrass and I don’t either, but it’s that instrumentation. It’s hard-charging but melodic, really nice songs, interesting stuff. These guys really are doing something I haven’t heard much of.”
And that right there is what the Elk Creek is — increasingly — all about, especially these days. It’s a small venue in an even smaller town, but of all the great, more heavily populated locations in our area that would be suitable for an awesome music venue, the Elk Creek gets it done in Millheim, where, let’s face it, there simply aren’t that may people. But, it doesn’t matter. The Elk Creek draws clientele from throughout our region, serves heady farm to table food, makes and sells its own beer, regularly books local musical acts, and sells out shows for legit touring bands, albeit with a rootsy flair.
“We do a lot of string band and roots/Americana,” Bowser said. “I try to get people in here who are doing a unique take on that. We have a nice, intimate listening room. It’s interesting stuff. Americana covers a with swath. There’s some interesting songwriting in that realm.”
Tickets for the show are $12 in advance or $15 at the door. Tickets can be purchased in advance via the Elk Creek’s website, https://elkcreekcafe.com/.
Along with booking bands that have a unique take on rootsy/Americana string band music, Elk Creek offers an ever-evolving menu loaded with locally-sourced ingredients, and recently hired a new head chef, Daniel Cutshall, who will continue the Elk Creek’s culinary evolution.
“We’re doing some different things,” Bowser said. “We try to get every possible (local) thing we can. Of course, that’s a very seasonal proposition. A lot more folks are buying from local farmers, which is a good thing. I think more is good. I guess the uniqueness of it is not what it was at one point, but I think it still defines who we are and it’s a big reason people come to us.”
That deep commitment to innovative food choices and preparation helps position the Elk Creek to push in bigger directions, especially musically, which is exactly what is happening.
“Musically, our reputation has been building with fans and agents,” Bowser said. “We’re attracting folks that maybe we’re punching above our weight a little bit. I’m hoping that the music heads more in that direction. We’re interested in all kinds of authentic original music.”