Thaw Festival marks 1st weekend with plethora of performances

Axel Shultz, left, and Kyra Kennett play drums during the Penn State Taiko demonstration during the inaugural Thaw festival in downtown State College.
Axel Shultz, left, and Kyra Kennett play drums during the Penn State Taiko demonstration during the inaugural Thaw festival in downtown State College. CDT photos

The inaugural weekend of the Thaw Festival was greeted with a drumroll on Saturday afternoon courtesy of some very enthusiastic young performers.

Volunteers from Penn State Taiko were guiding a group of small children through the fine art of making noise. The pint-sized percussionists banged ferociously at a set of Japanese drums, raising a cascade of thundering sound that carried out of the lower level of State College Presbyterian Church and into the parking lot — much to the delight of their parents.

The event was one of the many on the festival’s schedule aimed at engaging the State College community and drawing families downtown during a weekend typically dominated by college students.

“Thaw was developed by community members who recognized a gap in programming during February for residents and visitors of all ages to enjoy the downtown scene,” Courtney Hayden, communication and special projects coordinator for State College borough, said.

Alongside Penn State, the borough coordinated with the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts and the student-led Performing Arts Council to develop a selection of offerings consisting of both professional and student entertainment. Saturday featured titles from the College Town Film Festival, improv by the Full Ammo Troupe, and a performance by State College Area High School senior vocalist Anna Pearl Belinda.

“The product that we’re putting on is great. I’m proud of that,” Arts Fest Executive Director Rick Bryant said.

Bryant and his staff helped to secure some of the variety and regional acts visiting the festival from out of town, providing residents with an opportunity to see things they may not ordinarily get the chance to during any other weekend.

“It’s one of those things that’s supposed to happen in a college town. You’re supposed to be able to go see Japanese drummers on a Saturday afternoon,” Bryant said.

Student performances were coordinated through Performing Arts Council, an umbrella group that represents the 82 different arts groups on Penn State’s campus and provided the services of clubs like Penn State Taiko and Penn State Performing Magicians.

Illusionist and Penn State senior Justin Valenti worked the young crowd at State College Presbyterian, performing card tricks and teaching his small apprentices the meaning of the word “telekenesis.” Valenti enjoys working with kids, who he said are a lot less skeptical than adults.

The children at the performance clapped eagerly as their parents looked on. Kevin and Cara Rice, of State College, brought their two young kids to the show because the family was looking for something to do in the cold weather.

“The kids have enjoyed it,” Kevin Rice said

Brian Gutierrez, co-founder of the Performing Arts Council, believes that Thaw provides an opportunity to form closer ties between students and the community and to prove that having a cohesive organization for student arts is a good idea.

“It’s proof of concept,” Gutierrez said.

The festival will wrap up on Sunday with TEDxPSU’s fifth anniversary conference in Penn State’s Schwab Auditorium. Beginning at 8 a.m., the event is scheduled to last all day and feature 15 speakers, including Penn State football coach James Franklin.