Arts Crawl 2015: A Retrospective
SOMA’s Arts Crawl has become a spring tradition, acting as an opportunity for local bands and artists around the State College area to offer up a showcase for the Penn State community. Those who come are not only blessed with the beautiful gift of live music, but also multiple art galleries, put on by different art clubs and organizations at Penn State. Our staff came ready to offer up their thoughts and opinions, and both newbies and veterans are here to tell you their stories from Arts Crawl 2015, along with a photo album from the entire day.
If it weren’t for Onward State, I likely would never have heard about the SOMA Arts Crawl. Thankfully I did, because the event was one of the coolest I’ve been to at Penn State since I’ve been on campus.
The first band I saw was Myrrh Myrrh, though I was bummed because I only caught the end of its set. The three-piece group dubs its genre “doom pop,” which is the perfect identifier for what I gathered to be a slightly more upbeat version of grunge-era bands like Nirvana. A bit of a music nerd, I was impressed that the band was able to achieve such a bass-heavy sound without a bass guitar, utilizing two guitars and a drum set instead.
Following Myrrh Myrrh was Nam Le, a group of guys who I would not have thought were all in a band together if I saw them walking down the street. I’m glad they are though, because their unique combination of guitar riffs that could fit easily into a Walk the Moon song, and screamo backup vocals in the choruses made for a sound that I never would have thought could work so well.
Though the stage was not the biggest, there was a crowd of at least 40 people. My personal favorite song was one called “Acton/Boxborough” off of Nam Le’s self-titled record. The upbeat jam featured call-and-answer riffs between the group’s two guitarists, as well as dual lyricists going in different styles throughout the chorus.
Not to be overlooked was the part of Arts Crawl that you can’t hear before you enter the building: The student art work. Though I’m typically not one for strolling galleries and taking in the abstract and realistic pieces, the talent of the students’ work blew me away.
In particular, a sculpture by Caitlin Ungar caught my attention. The piece resembled a human face, but was made up of hundreds of flat pieces of cardboard, methodically assembled to reflect light in a way that makes the expression come more to life. Additionally, if you look closely at the sculpture, the edge of each piece of cardboard is numbered, so that they could be assembled in the proper order in the future.
There were also a variety of more obscure pieces, including some that were up for sale. Have you been looking for a ceramic pipe in the shape of a human foot? Well, had you been at Arts Crawl, you would have had a selection of a variety of designs, as well as more traditional pieces.
In the words of a kid who walked past me smoking a cigarette (like so many crawlers seemed to be), “Arts Crawl is whack!” He meant the good whack, and I couldn’t agree more. I’m glad to have discovered this event as a freshman, as I will definitely be back next year… And the year after that, and the year after that.
I didn’t know what to expect as I walked into the Palmer Art Museum for admittedly the first time in my life. There were two small rows of plastic chairs lined up facing a few amps and a microphone in the Acoustic Room of the museum. A few minutes later, Cecil Blutcher introduced himself to his crowd, consisting of 11 people.
If you don’t know Cecil Blutcher’s name yet, I’m willing to bet you will in a few years. He has that organic energy that is easy to spot, difficult to explain, and impossible to fake. The rapper’s sub-genre is purposely undefinable and he likes it that way, describing labels as a limit to creativity. He found ways to pump up his intimate viewership throughout the 20 minute performance, and this extension of his own energy to the crowd felt like a gift.
Although the crowd wasn’t the largest, you could tell he didn’t care. He made the most of the situation and just seemed happy to be doing what he loves. The audience, filled with people from all walks of life, played along, entertaining Blutcher at first but eventually having fun of its own. Most of us were strangers, but sitting there felt like hanging out with friends, listening to our talented friend jam out. People were screaming (well, saying loudly) “Goddamn!” and clapping along with his flow.
My favorite part of Blutcher’s songs is the introspective vibe they all give off. “Blast Off” does an incredible job at describing the relatable feeling of just wanting to escape your current life and go anywhere else. As a recent Penn State graduate, Blutcher often captures the uncertainty of post-graduate life. At times, his music featured a catchy call-and-response aspect which he explained stems from growing up in churches. He performed his song “I’m Fine,” and the chorus hasn’t left my head since.
Blutcher didn’t stop there; he showed off incredibly smooth dance moves to compliment his music. He was gliding across Palmer, even graceful when he jumped on a plastic chair and almost fell. I left floored by the talent coming out of Penn State and inspired by the creativity of my fellow students.
I came into this years Arts Crawl with pretty open eyes. As a freshman, I had no idea what to expect. I’m a huge proponent of live music and art, so this event seemed like perfect match. I have a ton of respect for SOMA, the organization that puts on this event, so not only did I want to enjoy some free shows but I wanted to show the club support.
My journey began with me dragging my friend Steph up to North Campus, where we started our day. We were trying to figure out exactly where the event was when we got into the North Campus Arts Building, and immediately heard Bread Pilot playing a solid set in the front lobby stage. We ventured over and began listening, but eventually left and adventured around the buildings that make up the crawl’s locations.
We began to explore the Arts Building and I quickly realized how cool it is. You go up a level, and each room is filled with drafting tables, unfinished projects, and all sorts of other cool stuff. The rooms are incredibly open and designed with huge windows. We kept moving, hoping to find the next band playing, and I quickly realized that the layout of the thing is super confusing. Or maybe I’m just an idiot.
Luckily, Steph saw a sign that showed where next artists was playing. The next act was outside, and it was perfect weather for an outdoor show. When we walked out, the warm spring air let us know this would be a memorable experience. After a strong performance by The Warmingtons, we moved and sat on the wall and watched as a mystery band, which did not introduce itself and was not scheduled for this location at this time, put its talents on display.
I couldn’t help but be slightly disappointed with the crowd despite its size. This was not the headliner, sure, but it was a way too lax of an environment for my taste. People were appreciating the band’s efforts, but it didn’t seem like they were enjoying themselves. There was quality instrumentation, even if the vocals left something to be desired for me. The performance was quickly over, and we followed the crowd over to where Tobacco would soon be playing.
I had hoped that there would be more excitement, but I thought wrong. As Tobacco started up the crowd still wasn’t really into it (his chill set not an excuse for a lack of enthusiasm), despite the quality of the performance.
It was definitely a different experience and I’ll be attending next year for sure, but at the same time it seemed like it left something to be desired in my relative short experience. However, next year presents plenty of opportunity.
Though I’ve covered my share of concerts and shows at Penn State, one thing I hadn’t experienced yet until Friday was Arts Crawl.
To be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect — I’ve heard of the daylong festival but never had a chance to attend it. With Movin’ On being somewhat of a sister Penn State music festival, someone new to Arts Crawl like myself may think it could have a similar vibe. But my expectations were blown away, and I immediately regretted not attending this sooner.
As I set foot into the Visual Arts building to watch the Mute Cities set, Arts Crawl became a magical experience for me. Though I’ve heard Mute Cities via its debut album, this was the first time I had heard the band live. It’s one thing to hear one of the best bands in State College through headphones, but another to hear it play right in front of you.
I’ve never been one to willingly listen to rock music on the regular, but something about Mute Cities made me change my outlook. The debut EP, “Strong Work,” sounds even better live than it did on Soundcloud. Utilizing the keyboard to create the sound effects, such as the marimba in “Salt,” lead singer Derek Williams effortlessly worked every bit of the small Sculpture Stage. The band clearly loves the music that it plays — the audience can see it and therefore enjoys the show more when they see the band getting excited.
A cover of “Call Me In The Afternoon” by Half Moon Run, which Williams said they mostly learned the day before, sounded like they had practiced it for months. Once perfected by the band, it will definitely be a key addition to its sets. It is clear to me now why Mute Cities won Battle of the Bands for the opening act spot for Movin’ On this year.
Student producer and DJ Keegan Tawa took to the balcony of Stuckeman Family Building for a two-hour set. I’ve heard Tawa play before at the Penn State Music Awards, where he won Best DJ and Best Producer, but an outside setting like this for electronic dance music to resonate throughout the north end of campus is an ingenious idea. Another frequent Arts Crawl performer, Tawa always puts on a great show, and I wish more people would have been there to appreciate the unique setting.
The Acoustic Stage was set in potentially the best place on campus — the Palmer Arts Museum lobby. I got the chance to see Tapestries play later in the evening, and I’m glad I did. Featuring student songwriter Olivia Price, the band pushed the boundaries of acoustic music, utilizing drums, keyboard, and acoustic and electric guitars to mix into a blend of folk and indie sounds.
Zach Kramer of Mute Cities came in to help out the duo, and though he learned the songs a few days prior, his contribution to the band was perfect for the band’s set for Arts Crawl. The highlight of the set was “Older,” where the trio beautifully harmonized over the acoustic guitar and light drums. “Abstract” was still a work in progress with lyrics, but Price sang simple melodies as her fellow bandmates jammed out.
When I heard headliner Tobacco was an electronic artist, I was kind of excited, thinking the hour-long set would be full of spirit and a vibrant, colorful attitude. But for a headliner, I was expecting a bit more energy to round out the day’s event. Little did I know that Tobacco’s appearance would be a chiller set than that of what I watched earlier in the day — not that I can’t appreciate Tobacco’s musicianship and artistry. His montage of various 90s videos paired with the mellow, synth-y electronic tracks was entertaining — for a bit. But for my first time at Arts Crawl, I expected the headliner set to blow my mind.
However, I can see Arts Crawl becoming a weekend long affair one day if enough bands request to be a part of it, and that’s something I can get behind. SOMA puts in a lot of work to make this happen, and I have full faith that they can make Arts Crawl even better next year.
I was thrilled to see the sun out for Arts Crawl this year after three consecutive years of shoddy weather. I was also excited to see that student attendance was much improved from last year as well. This was probably partially due to the sun, but also because the lineup was kick ass this year.
First I made my way to the Sculpture Stage to see student favorite, and winners of the Movin’ On Battle of the Bands, Mute Cities. It’s evident why the band won after watching its performance — it’s definitely got its act together. The band’s indie-pop sound reminded me of some popular bands now, namely Neon Trees and alt-J. Mute Cities drew quite the crowd, packing the art-filled garage that made up the Sculpture Stage. The band was just as catchy as I thought it was last year, but a lot more polished.
Most bands seemed to get off to a late start. I would only get to see a song or two before having to leave in order to catch another band. Then those bands would also be late. I ended up watching a lot of bands set up, but not actually play. It got better as the day went on.
I also got the chance to see Philadelphia-based band Coahoma Soul at the Klins Visual Arts Courtyard. It was super high energy and brought a blues feel to an overall rock sound. The lead vocals were really strong and accompanied by harmonica every couple of songs. Probably one of the most memorable performances of the day.
Student band Tapestries was also a highlight. They played in the Palmer Lobby, which was used for the acoustic sets. The band, made up of students Oliva Price and Rashmit Aurora, mixed keyboard, drums, and guitar to create a memorable set with the help of Mute Cities drummer, Zach Kramer. Though it wasn’t wholly acoustic, it was definitely intimate.
I also got to see headliner Thomas Fec, better known by his stage name, Tobacco. He’s also happens to be the frontman of Black Moth Super Rainbow when he’s not playing as his electronic-based alter ego. He paired his electronic synth-y tracks with random, and somewhat creepy, videos from the 90s. During his set images of women blowing bubblegum and McDonald’s mascots played on loop. It was interesting to say the least.
For an electronic show, it was pretty mellow. For the most part, songs maintained a steady rhythm without any of the drops I usually associate with electronic music. I can’t say it wasn’t memorable.
All in all, I had a great time. It’s always nice to see Penn State embracing the arts, and I’m sure it will only be better next year. Shout out to SOMA for doing an amazing job.
Arts Crawl 2015 had many different positives, along with areas to build on for next year. However, no one can argue its importance in supporting the creative arts at Penn State. With this year’s edition firmly in the books, we can look forward to next year already. Which local bands will emerge as local celebrities? Which indie fan favorite headliner will grace University Park with its presence? Only time will tell.
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About the Author
If you’ve been brave enough to leave your dorm or apartment, we hope you had the good sense to build a snowman.
Onward State staffer Ethan Kasales reflects on the past few years and everyone who helped make his college experience so rewarding.
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