1. Original Music is indeed a community interest.

    Chad Becks raises the dilemma that many genres of guitar including the jazz and classical varieties are experiencing a lack of growth in comparison to other more popular genres. Though I’ve not observed an actual decline of interest in classical or jazz guitar within the musical community, I can certainly relate his observation to the acceptance and support of musical creativity. Becks’ observation between pop music and jazz or classical guitar differentiates between two vastly different levels of creative complexity within written music, and is analogous to the continually growing popularity of cover-bands versus lesser-supported original music at the local level.

    Having lived in Centre County now for eight years, I can certainly say that musical interest among the general public favors popular music over original music – or at least the typical downtown band line-ups selected by our venues make it appear this way.

    With State College holding a large population of the county, it’s common to hear local musicians blame the venues and their student patrons for this lack of variety. True or not, many naturally relate the demand for sing-along bands to the thirsty student patrons that stimulate the borough’s night life economy. On the contrary, bluegrass – an example far from sing-along pop music – has much local support not only from musicians but more importantly the community. So it is not truly fair to say that State College night life only caters to popular music. Though bluegrass’ local popularity may be largely attributed to its American roots, other roots genres such as blues and jazz do not share the same steady niche that bluegrass holds in and around State College.

    Again using bluegrass as our example – there is another reason for why it is a more successful contender than jazz in a community where pop seems to flourish. Centre County already has numerous popularized gathering circles for bluegrass music. They are hosted on a regular basis by local churches and cafes and offer a free open-to-any-skill-level environment to learn how to play bluegrass music. The circles provide a unique opportunity for musicians to collaborate and meet each other, and it’s my belief that these circles have created an unintended movement over time. The result is a stronger community foundation for bluegrass to thrive in the county. American root genres or not, the same cannot be said for jazz, blues, jamband, and funk, though, some intimate downtown atmospheres such as Zeno’s Pub (and occasionally Bar Bleu) show that there is a consistent interest in such creative music styles.

    For whatever reason, there are not many gatherings in Centre County to bring attention to jazz guitar and much more generally, original music. I too agree with Becks, and generally speaking, I believe that it is up to our musical community to establish localized “cells” of musicians to hold playing circles that encourage growth of original music in the community. Numerous local organizations and venues already exist to thrive on the music and musical relationships generated at such creative music circles. Though, much like the circles that assist the interest in bluegrass among the public and local musicians alike, I believe the original music circles must occur regularly and encourage participation at every skill level to successfully increase awareness that original music is indeed a community interest.

  2. Tackling the Zeno’s Passport

    Among the many things to accomplish before leaving State College, one that a beer taster should seek is to get their name on a plaque in one of the bars downtown. Zeno’s Pub offers this opportunity as a reward for savoring 80 different beers. To take the challenge, all you need is a dollar which gets you the famous Zeno’s passport. I’ve been here for almost seven years now, and decided on July 4th that it was time to start the quest.

    The majority of pages in the passport list beers from the United States, Canada, England, Germany, and Belgium to name a few. There’s also a healthy list of beers from Pennsylvania breweries. A number of the beers throughout are common to most Pennsylvania bars (Molson, Guiness, and Yuengling for example), but the list is full of bottled surprises that – at least in this town – can only be purchase at Zeno’s.

    Some of the beers on the list are seasonal, and may not make it back to the Zeno’s tap for some time as they are known for their selective and broad tap rotation. This won’t stop you from completing your 80 because the back of the passport has a few blank pages for tasty craft brews like Bell’s Expedition Stout and Dogfish Head’s Palo Santo.

    Upon completion of the passport and getting your name on a plaque, you also get a Zeno’s tshirt. If you really want some name recognition, I’ve heard you can get your name on a red plaque by drinking 80 beers in 48 hours.

    Since starting my passport, I’ve completed 16 out of 80 beers. Listed in approximate drinking order, they are:

    My Zeno's Passport
    My Zeno's Passport

    1. Dogfish Head Aprihop
    2. Newcastle Brown (bottled)
    3. Anchor Steam (bottled)
    4. Troeg’s Dreamweaver
    5. Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout (bottled)
    6. Yuengling Porter
    7. Victory Pils
    8. Samuel Smith Nut Brown (bottled)
    9. Troeg’s Rugged Trail
    10. Shiner Bock
    11. Dogfish Head Palo Santo
    12. Stone Smoked Porter
    13. Molson Canadian
    14. Chimay White
    15. Dogfish Head 90 minute IPA
    16. Red Hook’s ESB (bottled)

    Any on the list above not specified as bottled was on draft. Stay tuned through the year as I continue down through Zeno’s beer selection. Any beer suggestions you have for my passport are welcome, so long as they are actually available at Zeno’s.