Remember that picture of Johnny Cash making a really intense face while holding his guitar in one hand and giving the camera the finger with his other?
It’s perhaps a pictorial representation of the underground essence of what it means to play rock ‘n’ roll, even though Cash played country. That spirit is alive and well with a new monthly music series called Rebel Music Club, set to begin Tuesday at Zeno’s Pub.
“The idea is to bring the bands that we really love back home for y’all to hear,” Chris Rattie, frontman for Centre County’s Chris Rattie and the New Rebels wrote in an email. “We’ll be splitting the night and sharing the stage with some of the best underground original music out there.”
The series is an attempt to support the local music scene by featuring original musical artists in State College, and it immediately has a lot of legs, because Rattie’s band has been touring extensively over the past year or so, rubbing shoulders with bands all over the northeast and southern states.
“It was our idea to make an effort to expand our local scene,” Rattie wrote. “We want to do everything we can to make our scene legit.”
According to Rattie, featuring bands in this way can be a shot in the arm.
“Let’s be honest,” Rattie wrote, “how many of us local musicians are out there playing a whole night’s worth of their own material? It’s a small handful. We want to do this to show aspiring songwriters and original bands that this is entirely possible.”
When I was looking to change careers a few years ago, I remember reading somewhere if the job I’m looking for doesn’t exist, I should create it, which is akin to the idea behind the Rebel Music Club. There is a well-documented, culturally and financially-driven phenomenon, locally, of featuring entertainment that helps venues maintain a bottom line. It’s a fixed mindset. The bottom line is a safe, possibly anxiety-ridden goal, but worshiping it leaves little space for things to take off. If we strive to be just enough, we’ll be just enough, right? Rebel Music Club is designed to deconstruct this mindset, effectively creating an opportunity for the Centre County scene to step into a new dimension, with no cap on the upside for musicians, music fans and venues.
“We are doing this to literally create our own reality,” Rattie wrote, “to make it happen, to show it can be done. We’re bringing in touring bands to say ‘look at these guys, they’re doing it too.’ It’s called Rebel Music Club because in truth, it is going completely against the grain of the downtown scene. We’re proud of that. We’ll wear that like a badge of honor. We’re excited that Zeno’s is willing to wear that badge along with us.”
The first band, Sean K. Preston and the Loaded Pistols, is a high-energy rockabilly band from Baltimore that will close the night.
“We travel to all these other towns, play with all these other cool bands,” Rattie wrote. “We’ll be hosting every show, which means playing a set to warm things up so people know what to expect from us.”
Although Rattie is the promoter and spokesperson for the new monthly series, it can be viewed as an outgrowth of the work he and the New Rebels have been putting in. They’ve recently been hitting the road and the studio pretty hard.
“There is a ton happening,” Rattie wrote. “We should be hitting over 100 dates played by the end of the year. We’ve been all over the Northeast and the South, and it feels like there’s some real momentum behind us.”
Part of that momentum includes more new recordings.
“We recently recorded in an amazing studio out in Pittsburgh,” Rattie wrote. “We’ve got some new material that we’ll be releasing on all the digital streaming services starting with our new favorite song ... (‘Culture War Casualty’). Look for that release on Spotify, etc. in early September.”
It all ties in with Rebel Music Night in that it’s about newness, originality and artistry.
“You’ll just have to be open to the idea of hearing something you’ve never heard before,” Rattie wrote. “This is definitely a night for open minds. It’s a night for the searchers, explorers and true fans of music.”