A Look Inside Penn State’s Fastest Growing Music Hotspot
Student Benson Chong said he hoped for the best when he decided to turn his 623 W. College Ave home into a part-time music venue earlier this year — crowning it the Liza Minnelli House.
“I’ve always just wanted to live in a house and just put on shows there,” Chong, a junior microbiology major, said. “I wanted to name it something cooler, but I didn’t quite get around to naming it yet for the first show, so I just called it the Liza Minnelli House so people could identify it and the name kind of just stuck after that.”
The house, which is easily recognizable thanks to the murals of celebrities like Liza Minnelli and Charlie Chaplan painted on its exterior, originally opened as a café in mid-September. It has since become a highlight of the local music scene and grown a large student following on Facebook, where the shows are generally announced about twice a month.
Chong organizes the shows himself with little help.
“The manager of a band will contact me and then we work with each other to put the whole show together,” Chong said.
Shows are generally well attended, a luxury that Chong said didn’t always come easy. When the first show featuring local band Lenina Crowne took place in September, Chong wondered if anyone would even show up.
“The first show didn’t start until like an hour and a half after we planned on having the music start,” Chong said. “Just because there was like no one there.”
These days Chong worries that too many people will turn up, and oftentimes shows are packed wall-to-wall.
Set-up generally begins a few hours before each show starts. The living room and kitchen furniture is cleared out, giving the bands space to set up equipment. String lights and tapestry are hung around the room to get the right atmosphere.
I attended a show headlined by Philadelphia band The Skin Cells. The whole set-up reminded me of smaller shows I’ve been to in New York — there was no stage, and at some points the band was actually within the crowd.
It was surprisingly packed. There was such little room that when the audience got particularly rowdy, I nearly fell on top of the guitarist. Everybody seemed to be having a great time despite the tight space, with some even taking the opportunity to crowd-surf.
Shows never have a cover charge, meaning anyone can get in for free or pay an optional donation to help bands for travel costs.
“If you’re coming out to support local music and coming to see these bands, then you should come in here for free,” Chong said.
Chong plans on continuing to host shows until he graduates next spring.
“I kind of want to keep this legacy going, but I don’t know who’s going to move into this house — I graduate next year,” said Chong. “I guess that’s the end of the Liza Minnelli House after that, but for now we get to keep it going for another semester and a year.”