Summer’s Best Music Fest draws visitors to downtown State College

Bill Strayer performs with Josh Troupe on drums and Denise Strayer on accordion during the Summer’s Best Music Fest on Saturday.
Bill Strayer performs with Josh Troupe on drums and Denise Strayer on accordion during the Summer’s Best Music Fest on Saturday. CDT photo

Jason Michael Carroll did what any person would do after going to bed past 3 a.m.

Sleep in the next morning.

The country star and Summer’s Best Music Fest headliner hopped off his tour bus around 11 a.m. Saturday and walked over to Starbucks on South Garner Street with tour manager/bassist Shaun Smith.

When he ordered lemonade, a Starbucks employee said she never had a customer order just that before.

“That’s what they told me last time I was here,” Carroll said as he introduced himself and shook hands with the barista.

Carroll has been to State College twice this year — the first times he’s ever been to the area.

He first performed at a sold-out show at Levels Nightclub in February, and made it back Saturday after Levels owner Tim Crockett helped book him for the eighth annual event.

“It been a welcoming place, so yeah, it’s good to be back, and do what I love and get a lot of support for it,” Carroll said. “I can actually go for one of them grilled stickies over at The Diner.”

The Downtown State College Improvement District annually organizes the Summer’s Best Music Fest and Street Bazaar.

The event’s mission was to promote State College and bring foot traffic to downtown businesses — something guests thought provided a nice chance to see what downtown had to offer and business owners said was good for sales.

“I think it’s great anytime we can do something, especially in the summer, to fill up downtown, bring people to local businesses, and get them in our restaurants and hotels,” Crockett said. “That’s what we’re doing here.”

Executive Director George Arnold said the event started as a sidewalk sale with local businesses before adding music to the mix to attract more guests.

“It was like a late spring cleaning,” Arnold said. “They’d clear merchandise for summer and fall items.”

Arnold said the fest attracted between 3,500 and 4,000 people each year for the past two years. This year, he estimated that number doubled — partially due to a major headlining act.

Other musical guests included Big Coronas Band, Biscuit Jam, Cone of Silence, Copperlily, Jackie Brown and the Gill Street Band, Mama Corn, Man Alive, Miss Melanie and the Valley Rats, Pure Cane Sugar and The Royal Noise.

For the first time, the event also had a “kids zone,” where youth performed throughout the day, at the parking lot of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church.

Clowns and members of Discovery Space and Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science & Technology were also present. CPI held demonstrations with heavy equipment machinery.

Joe and Maryl Costigan walked around most of the afternoon checking out shops and listening to musicians.

The couple checked out guitars on display by Alley Cat Music and purchased a cowboy hat with a sheriff’s badge on it from Growing Tree Toys for their 5-year-old grandson, Ty.

“We’d never go here unless something like this was going on,” Maryl Costigan said.

Appalachian Outdoors owner Geoff Brugler said that this year’s event has been the busiest he’s seen.

While his store was selling gear aimed toward the cold weather — during an afternoon that was 84 degrees and partly sunny — items were still flying off the shelves, Brugler said.

“It’s a fun, festive event in a great community,” Brugler said. “I think people are enjoying that spontaneous entertainment.”

Around 10:45 a.m., Carroll’s band was just finishing up sound-check at the Hiester Street stage. He took the stage around 6:30 p.m. to a packed parking lot at the Hiester Street-Calder Way intersection.

“We want to make sure it’s good for us, but even more importantly, its ready for those bands before us,” Carroll said. “We were in their shoes before and want to show them all the same respect we hope to get back.”

The morning setup was a treat for guests like Lily Potter and her boyfriend, Billy Conway Jr., from the Philipsburg area.

“It’s nice to have a big act here this year,” Potter said. “It was certainly a draw for us to come out here.”