Good Life

Arts Fest music lineup features variety, first time festival performers

Rick Bryant always tries to make sure the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts’ music selection has something for everyone.

From pop to rock to bluegrass to alternative to classical, Bryant tries to book a wide variety of artists for the weekend’s indoor and outdoor concerts.

This year is no exception, but there is never a set formula for exactly which bands will be booked.

“I don’t know that you could ever say it’s standard,” said the festival director, adding that there usually is only a small number of bands that are booked from the previous year.

One first-time arts festival band, Bovine Social Club, began with an alternative-country sound, but has evolved with all different kinds of flavor.

The band features myriad old-school acoustic stringed instruments, interspersing jazz, bluegrass and gospel melodies, among others.

Vocalist Samuel St. Thomas said the genre can be a little rough around the edges, but the finished sound always works out.

“You can’t be strict or you end up stifling creativity,” he said. “Can’t be too strict, can’t be too loose.”

Thomas said there are differences between playing indoors and outside. Sound doesn’t travel as well when playing to the open air, but it’s not something the band is concerned about.

Rather, the members are looking forward to it.

“There’s nothing better than playing outside in the summertime,” he said.

The group, consisting of Thomas, Jeff Barg, Seth Mandel, Johnny Smith and Joe Borthwick, is scheduled to take the Festival Shell Stage at 8 p.m. Friday.

The weekend also will be a first Arts Fest performance for the Lancaster-based band The Slackwater News, but drummer Matt Blank knows what to expect.

Blank, a Penn State alumnus, is no stranger to the festival, and is excited to get the chance to take the stage with his high school friends.

“It’s a really, really big honor for me to go back and play my own music in State College,” he said.

The group plays music in the rock realm but adds a psychedelic pop feel to the sound, in the vein of the Beatles music of the ’60s, Blank said,

Blank and his band-mates JJ Gammache, Matt Johnson, Daniel Ramirez and Dan Zdilla, have been playing together for five years, and they are looking forward to hopping in the van to drive to State College.

The Slackwater News will be playing on the Festival Shell Stage at 3:30 Friday afternoon, and Blank hopes to get the people dancing.

Other weekend acts include No BS! Brass Band, Archie Blue, Cassie and Maggie MacDonald, Mac Arnold and Plate Full o’ Blues, JP Harris and the Tough Choices, Bethesda, Naomi Seidman and Jonathan Dexter, Pure Cane Sugar, The Four Bitchin’ Babes, The Sweetback Sisters, My Hero Zero, The Earthtones and Velveeta.

Bryant said most of the concerts are free to the public, but some require an entrance fee.