This Sentence Really Pisses Me Off (In Defense Of The Harrisburg Music Scene)

I read a blog post earlier tonight about a new record label forming in Harrisburg. It’s a nice story. I know all the guys working on the label. And I think they’re going to do very well.

The purpose of this post, however, isn’t to spotlight the new label. I’m not even going to link to the post that described the new label. Rather, I’m going to harp on one sentence. The sentence that led the post. And the writer isn’t 100% at fault for typing this. It’s an easy target. The story about the new label led with this sentence:

“Any musician or music fan in the Harrisburg area knows that the local music scene leaves much to be desired.”

As a person who earns a full time living producing concerts and events in virtually every local and regional music and music related venue, I take issue with that statement. The “local music scene” is a direct reflection of the local demography. And the local demography simply lacks the population to support anything more than what we generally have to appreciate here in the Susquehanna Valley.

And the term “local music scene” – what is the writer referring to? Simply the city of Harrisburg? One would be remiss to exclude York, Lancaster and even State College from the regional offerings of live music in the midstate.

Constant comparisons to major metro areas like Baltimore, Philadelphia or even Pittsburgh are absolutely unfair when talking about a local music scene.

Sure, a music fan would likely have to travel more than sixty miles to catch some of the bigger shows – and by “bigger” I mean some of the hotter, most relevant national acts on the circuit. Plain and simple, we do not have the million-plus population to make the Harrisburg region a must-play market for many touring bands. But get this- we often get some of the bigger names months and years before they break, but it’s up to the causal music fan to go out more often than once a month to catch those acts on their way up (or down).

Let’s talk our immediate region for a second. In Harrisburg, York and Lancaster, we’ve got the following venues hosting live, touring bands four or five nights per week – Chameleon Club, American Music Theater, Whitaker Center, The Strand Capitol and Cap Live, The Abbey Bar, The State Theater, Cafe 210, Championship, Midtown Scholar Bookstore, Gullifty’s and dozens more bars, pubs and coffee shops too numerous to list. On those dozen or so venue’s calendars is the full gamut of touring and local talent and it’s all happening nearly every night of the week.

Years ago, I had a discussion with my good friend Sara B Simpson. The gist of my argument at the time was “man, the Harrisburg music scene sucks.” (Not unlike the writer of the post I’m pissy about right now). And she made the completely valid point that the scene is just fine – it’s out there, but you have to find it. And if it were more mainstream and over populated, people would bitch that there are too many meat heads at shows. And then we’d argue that nobody is happy, no matter what.

So break it down for me- what, exactly, is there to be desired about the “local music scene”? The quality of the local bands? I wouldn’t necessarily argue with that. But think about it – if a band has the chops enough to do something valid and career bolstering, why would they hang around Harrisburg when Brooklyn, NY is merely three hours away? Or Asheville, North Carolina? Or Nashville, TN?

The writer of the post wasn’t being malicious. Or spiteful. Or vindictive. And his viewpoint is understandable. But I’ve traveled to some cities that one would think there would be a jumping music scene…but there simply isn’t. There aren’t a dozen venues – legitimate, stage and PA and light rig-having music venues with dedicated pages on their websites promoting their individual calendars and a staffed sound and light technician and someone dedicated to booking their calendar…like there are here in Central Pennsylvania.

I used to work in a pretty hardcore direct marketing job that drilled the sales force on the importance of having a great attitude. We heard it every day. And it’s stuck with me because it’s absolutely true. Want great results? Have a great attitude. Want bad or mediocre results? Have a bad attitude.

It’s really as simple as that.

I came to terms with the reality of the fact that Harrisburg and Lancaster and York aren’t home to any major league universities with tens of thousands of students living within the city and starting student and youth-centric businesses and influencing the business landscape enough to support multiple rock clubs in the same city having five nights of music per week.

But we’ve got a dozen. A dozen legitimate music venues in our region. And they all have great stuff on their calendars three or four nights per week. And the other two or three nights per week there are dozens of bars and pubs and coffee shops hosting open mic nights, pickin’ parties and other music-themed events.

But you have to look for them.

This region’s music scene is what you make of it.

It’s out there. And we’re fortunate to have the number of options that we have.


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