OS Staff Picks: Our Favorite State College Bar Bands
Penn State is chock full of opinionated students, and that becomes extremely evident when discussing State College favorites. From a preferred bar to your burrito place of choice, Staters are rarely neutral. In the latest edition of our OS Staff Picks series — in which our writers break down a personal favorite related to the university or town — we collaborated to discuss the best bar bands in State College. Here’s what Onward State’s staff had to say on the subject:
Zach Berger — Maxwell Strait and/or Ted & The Hi-Fis:
I know I had to pick one band, but the reason I picked two is because I genuinely don’t care who else is on the stage as long as Ted McCloskey is there. Don’t get me wrong, both of these bands have extremely talented musicians in them. Molly Countermine, the lead singer of Maxwell Strait and a Penn State professor, is incredibly awesome and can sing just about anything. Her husband plays bass in both bands and does so flawlessly most nights. J.T Thompson, who plays keys for Maxwell Strait, is a legend. But McCloskey’s mastery of the axe is what takes the cake for me. Whether he’s playing more modern rock with the Hi-Fis or jamming out some improvised solos with Maxwell Strait while playing classic rock, it’s hard to look away when McCloskey is on stage.
Let me try and put this another way. Here are some guitarists I have seen live: Eric Clapton, Derek Trucks, Steve Winwood, Warren Haynes, Keith Richards, Trey Anastasio, Dickey Betts, Pete Townshend, Carlos Santana, and Bob Weir. No, I’m not going to tell you that McCloskey should be on the Rolling Stone’s Top 100 Guitarists list, but I will say — and I honestly, 100 percent mean this — that he could take the stage with any of those guys and hold his own. You can call me crazy, but go to The Phyrst on Thursday and Friday nights and hear both of these bands play three sets apiece. Once you do that, try and tell me that this guy isn’t a ridiculously talented guitarist.
I could keep going and going, but I’ll leave you with one last thought about these bands. On Friday nights, during the Hi-Fis’ second set, they play a rendition of The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” that is just life-changing. It lasts a solid seven or eight minutes every time, and Ted does this thing in the middle where he turns it into an entirely different song. It’s an adventure and you’re guaranteed to enjoy every minute of it.
Jon Deasy — Skoal Brothers:
The Skoal Brothers know how to throw a party. Every Saturday night, the Rathskeller dishes out $3 Jack drinks and puts the best band in State College on its stage. As if cheap Jack Daniels drinks weren’t enough, the Skoal Brothers serenade you with incredible covers ranging from the likes of Pink Floyd to ZZ Top. Jason McIntyre and Julian Allatt lead the five-member group with amazing guitar talent that mimic a bluesy-rock type sound, something that’s not typically heard at any of the other local bars in State College. For whatever reason, it’s the perfect sound for a rustic bar like the Rathskeller.
Upon first discovering the group, my roommate felt the immediate urge to buy them a pitcher of Yuengling. He was that blown away. Also, aside from the music they create, they are all chill dudes and will gladly grab a beer with you after their first set. Ever since I first ventured into the Skeller that one Saturday night, the Skoal Brothers have made it a priority for me to go back every weekend, again and again.
Noel Purcell — The Rockets:
The Rockets are everything cliché and obvious about a cover band. They are so very much a stereotype of their job description, you often wonder whether they’re self-aware. That is what makes them so great. With high-energy, singalong performances, the Rockets make Sunday Phunday at the Phyrst an awesome experience. They’re a talented cover band, and they’re not trying to be anything more or less than that. They play an incredibly diverse set, “everything from Linkin Park to Build me up Butter cup and everything in between” their site proclaims. Stick around, and you’ll hear them impersonate the sounds of just about anyone who has ever made a song that hit radio airwaves. Instead of making themselves sound like a cover band, they do their best to stay true to the original artist, and the result is State College’s best bar band.
Greg Schlosser — Lenina Crowne:
Perhaps the best thing about Lenina Crowne is that they’re not a cliche bar band. They don’t rely on current pop hits to boost their set list, and they leave the elaborate/nauseating light show to My Hero Zero. Instead, Lenina Crowne is best at playing popular singalong indie music that you wouldn’t typically hear at a bar, which is a refreshing change of pace for someone who hears 3-4 shitty renditions of “Blank Space” a week. Lenina Crowne is perhaps at their best while covering The Killers’ “All These Things That I’ve Done”, and their “Hey Jude” cover is great at well. Also, they’re the only bar band in town (that I know of) with a saxophone player.
Tim Gilbert — Lowjack:
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