Singer-songwriter Eric Himan had good reasons to skip last year’s Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts.
The 2004 Penn State graduate tries to make it back to State College for an annual summertime gig, but the direction of his music career caused him to miss 2013. Himan has been busy winning awards, opening for and touring with international musical acts, landing endorsements, releasing a new album and perfecting his burgeoning chef skills with his online cooking show “Trial and Eric.” Above all, he has perfected a new sound with a new group of musicians, known collectively as EH3.
“I have my awesome band now and I was like, oh my god, we have to play, there is no way we’re not playing the festival this year,” he said.
Now joined by bassist Matt Hayes, drummer Brandon Holder and Beau Charron on guitar, pedal steel and keyboard, Himan said he is excited to bring his new sound to Happy Valley. The Tulsa, Okla.-based musician said members of his new band have ties with serious musical talent, moving him to opening-act status for performers including Leon Russell, Patti Smith and Edwin McCain.
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“I think it’s so much fun to be able to have different things to work with, and these guys play with so many big people,” he said. “Since I started working with these guys, I am on the road with different people. I was touring with someone I saw at the Eisenhower Auditorium while in college — Ani DiFranco — and here I am opening for her and touring with her.”
Himan said the addition of three accomplished musicians and the fact that he taught himself how to play piano has seen his music move in a new direction on his newest album, “Gracefully.”
“It’s taken my music to another place,” he said. “These songs come from a different place and have different structure. I don’t have to tell these musicians what to play. I write the words and play it on guitar and piano and they all add a different element to it. By the time it’s done, it sounds completely different. That’s the thing about good musicians, you don’t have to tell them what to do.”
In addition to Himan’s return, this year’s band lineup for Arts Fest is heavy on performers with links to State College and regulars to the downtown music scene.
“We have a mix of locals and out-of-towners,” Arts Festival Executive Director Rick Bryant said.
The Arts Festival schedule features sets by Centre County music scene regulars, including Miss Melanie and the Valley Rats, Archie Blue, Tussey Mountain Moonshiners, Pure Cane Sugar, Heritage Brass Band, AAA Blues Band, Ted McCloskey and the Hi-Fis, My Hero Zero, Velveeta and annual festival closers The Earthtones. A newcomer to the festival, California bluegrass band The Brothers Comatose, features State College native Phil Brezina on fiddle.
“Ever since we started this band, I’ve wanted to play Arts Fest,” Brezina said. “It’s a reason to get them into State College. You kind of want to share the hometown flavor.”
“Phil wrote all the instrumental melodies, and it didn’t have any official lyrics for a long time,” said bassist Gio Benedetti of “The Van Song,” an ode to the band’s wagon. “It saw two rowdy live performances where we all just made up verses on the spot. We finally wrote some real lyrics and had to record it. We love our van in a way that is borderline obsessive.”
Kids practicing in their garages today might just be the big draw at next year’s Arts Fest. Bands hoping to perform at future festivals first need to submit a press kit.
“We look for people we can afford and who are within our technical abilities. ... If you require lasers, it’s not gonna work,” Bryant said. “The act has to be something that resonates with the audience. We do pay attention to what the audience wants.”