Have you noticed how bars and restaurants all around Williamsport are like beehives buzzing with the crackle and hum of mics and amps? Walk into any bar or restaurant, especially in Center City, and you'll probably be greeted by the sounds of strummed chords, thumping bass and crashing cymbals with voices singing above the din.
It's an exciting time. Each weekend, music lovers can walk into nighttime hotspots in Montoursville, Loyalsock Township, South Williamsport or downtown Williamsport to hear bands perform.
This fact is music to the ears of area bars and clubs like Barrel 135, 135 W. Third St., that are looking for ways to keep revenues flowing smoothly during a nationwide economic slump.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF JEFF SCHROEDER
Weekly entertainment continues tonight at Barrel 135, with up-and-coming guitarist Tyler Spooner, followed by singer-songwriter Jeff Bottrell next Thursday, the Americana country-folk stylings of Mallory Scoppa and The Tall Tales Oct. 20, and the acoustic-electric guitar duo mix of Zac Baggett and Isaiah Britton Oct. 27.
Barrel 135 general manager Sal Vitko said live music is a fun way to get people out to enjoy downtown, adding that people are staying in more and they need a reason to go out.
"We've already made Barrel a destination for great food and drinks, now we're adding weekly music shows," Vitko said.
Against an unlikely backdrop of a burgeoning natural gas boom, the Susquehanna Valley is transforming itself into a swingin' little arts and music mecca. Best kept secret in the state? Maybe. But, shhh, don't tell.
With weekend showbills being filled as rapidly as they become available, the local venues are stretching music into other nights as well. Recently, Barrel 135 began weekly free live music on Thursdays.
"The owners and I had a conversation on the fact that there wasn't any live music on Thursday nights," Vitko said. "Typically, downtown and the area, except maybe for the Bullfrog Brewery, focus their attentions on Friday and Saturday shows. Seeing the void in Thursday night shows we thought it might be something worth pursuing."
Barrel 135 also is part of a growing trend of venues offering live music without a cover charge. That can be an incentive for those who don't want to shell out $3 to $5 to enjoy live music. It doesn't seem like much, but in a tight economy, that money can go toward bills.
"We decided to do free music instead of charging a cover because charging a cover is an extra expense," Vitko said. "A night out for many people is a special occasion, not a regular thing, especially now with everything that has been happening with the economy. It's just a way to draw more business without passing on an extra expense to our patrons."
It doesn't affect the band or musician either, since they agree to a pre-determined price for the gig, regardless of cover charges. Most artists also have a tip jar for patrons. The establishment makes its money back with food and drink purchases.
In that regard, Barrel 135 usually doesn't offer any beverage features or specials on Thursday night, but the kitchen will remain open until 10 p.m.
To schedule a time to play, the musicians and bands can approach the lounge about playing there. They stop by and talk to Vitko to find out what dates are available, and then see if their schedules are open on that date.
Because the lounge has featured live music over the years and is active on First Friday with music and events, Barrel 135 has a solid reputation in the music scene.
"It's a pretty tight music scene in town, so word of mouth is huge for us when it comes to getting artists booked," Vitko said.
In Center City, a pretty concentrated area, there are a half dozen or more places offering live music and vying for attention. What makes Barrel 135 - a smallish space with no stage - a desired place to play?
"I feel that the size of Barrel 135 makes it a very intimate setting for live music and this allows for a closer artist-listener connection," Vitko said.
The musicians who play there agree.
"I like playing Barrel 135," musician Zac Baggett said. "It's a fun place to play because of the proximity to people sitting at the bar and tables, plus there's always good-size crowds in there."
Barrel 135's Thursday night live free music shows will run 8 to 11 p.m. or 9 p.m. to midnight. Vitko leaves it up to what the artist thinks is best and the amount of material they have to fill the time slot.
"We don't really have any title for the series unless the artist has something they would like us to put up," Vitko said.
It's an eclectic mix of talent playing in front of the picture window at the lounge.
Tonight it's up-and-coming guitarist Tyler Spooner. He is followed on successive Thursdays by singer-songwriter Jeff Bottrell next Thursday, the Americana country-folk stylings of Mallory Scoppa and The Tall Tales Oct. 20, and the acoustic-electric guitar duo mix of Zac Baggett and Isaiah Britton Oct. 27. There's no lack of music talent in the Susquehanna Valley.
Vitko agreed, saying, "I feel that the music and arts scene in Williamsport and the surrounding areas is alive and well. There are many great local musicians and acts that want to play. I think that promoting area music is a great thing to get behind."
Barrel 135 also has some other events going on in October and November. For First Friday this month they will feature artist Rob Pierce. His works will hang on the walls of the lounge through the month.
On Saturday, Barrel 135 is part of the fourth annual Bar Stool Open, which features nine-hole mini-golf of four person teams. It's $10 per person to register with nine "holes" at local bars. All proceeds go directly to the Wounded Warrior Fund to support veterans.
Next month is shaping up to be a busy one as well. So far Vitko has booked Sean Farley, Cardinal Sims and a return gig from Spooner for the upcoming Thursday night free shows. Works from artist Tracie Curtis will be showcased on First Friday in November.
A veteran of the local music scene, Vikto, who also has booked shows for the Old Corner, is a music fan at heart and is really looking forward to Thursday nights at Barrel 135.
"They are all great musicians and truly put their all into their craft," Vitko said. "I always enjoy hearing live music. The energy, as well as commitment the acts bring, is always appreciated and well received."
For more information about Barrel 135, visit www.barrel135.net or its Facebook page.