West Beaver Arts Collective Re-Invents What It Means To ‘Jam Band’
One of the great things about the variety of bars downtown State College has to offer is the equaled opportunity to discover talented, local bands right outside your doorstep. West Beaver Arts Collective (WBAC) is one such local band that has slowly been making a name for itself with its unique, eclectic sound.
The band is comprised of percussionist Sam Miner, guitarist Sean Heffernan, drummer Rich Stever, vocalist/guitarist Sam Milz, and saxophonist Mikael Montemaroon. They play a medley of jazz, funk, rock and blues music in a way that’s reminiscent of the Grateful Dead. Plus, they’re good. Like, really good.
“We try to be authentic, but at the same time we have to cater to people in town,” Stever said. “We try to play some stuff people will recognize, but not necessarily play it to a tee.”
WBAC formed back in August 2018, and true to the nature of its name, the group met quite “collectively.”
“I used to have a house on West Beaver. I would have people come over and play. These guys started coming through and it just felt right,” Stever said.
In fact, that little house on West Beaver Ave., is how the group eventually found its name. The group had a gig coming up and was still nameless, with time running out they had to think fast.
“It was a process. We didn’t know what to call ourselves and then our old bass player, Paul, mentioned ‘West Beaver Arts Collective,'” Milz said. “We were like, ‘Alright, that sounds good.'”
Whether it was through friends of friends, or late nights talking at Zeno’s, the band’s dynamic slowly began to take shape. All of the guys had been a part of bands in the past, but wanted a fresh start with a new group, working on a new sound.
Despite forming in August of 2018, the band didn’t get its first gig until December of that same year. They played at Zeno’s per the request of their friends from another local band, The Roof, and things just sort of took off from there.
Then starting in the fall of 2019, WBAC began playing at Zeno’s regularly every Thursday night. For the band’s members, Zeno’s is the place that started it all — both literally and figuratively.
“When I moved down here I didn’t know anyone and that was it,” Miner said. “Zeno’s is a a real special place for me. It’s my home away from home. It’s where we had our first gig and where I met a lot of these guys.”
Since the band’s only been around for about a year and a half, it’s still trying to figure out the right balance that works for its members. In the future, they’re hoping to play more original music and consolidate their sound. But one thing they’re certainly not having any trouble with is finding the rhythm that works for them.
“You have to shut your brain off to what you’re doing and then just try to hear what everybody else is doing and trust,” said Milz. “Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t work, but that uncertainty makes it even better when it does.”
As a group of talented, young musicians, finding that rhythm is something they’ve slowly learned to do over the years. Now, it’s almost second nature.
“One of my old saxophone teachers likened it to driving a car. You have to trust yourself when driving a car or playing the guitar, or saxophone,” Montemaroon said. “The mechanics of playing an instrument becomes secondary to responding to what’s going on around you.”
As a collective with a variety of musical tastes, it should come as no surprise then that WBAC’s inspirations come from a plethora of different artists. From the Grateful Dead to the Talking Heads to Miles Davis, all of these artists played a part in shaping the five-member band into who they are today.
“I think what makes us stand out from other people is that we all have so many different personalities, but we all kind of have the same concept of what we’re trying to do,” Stever said. “We don’t try to stomp on each other’s toes. We let everyone’s personality shine through through their instrument.”
As WBAC matures, the group is hoping to break further and further away from the “jam band” label. In their opinion, all bands should jam. They shouldn’t have to be stuck with such a label. For them, being in a jam band just means playing some hits and putting their own spin on things.
If you’re interested in hearing West Beaver Arts Collective for yourself, be sure to stay tuned to their Facebook and Instagram pages for updates. Plus, you can always check them out on Thursday nights at the bar they call home, Zeno’s.
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