In the Foo Fighter’s ongoing documentary series on HBO, “Sonic Highways,” famous ex-Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl and his crew of bandmates drive across the United States to explore what makes America’s music so special while recording their new album. So far they’ve sang the blues in Chicago, riffed hardcore punk in Washington D.C., and twanged country in Nashville. These separate music scenes are all so special in their own way, but they all make up what makes our collective American music sensibilities so important.
Success always has to start somewhere. Every band has its origin, and every artist has his or her roots. Even Nirvana owes a large bit of debt to their local music scene of Seattle, the motherland of grunge.
West Chester, Pennsylvania, is no different. There is a thriving music scene right under our noses, just waiting to explode. Its close location to Philadelphia creates great opportunities for young bands to start up and find success of their own. I recently sat down with Mitch Koehler and Kenny Miller, two individuals who are working to improve the scene along with others by creating Kindergarten Shows, a collective that is booking a variety of different shows and opportunities for bands in the West Chester/Philadelphia area. Their most recent event featured the bands Casual, Ratburn, Pocket, and Uncle/Father Oscar at Fennario’s on October 24.
“Like most of my ideas, I made a stupid joke. And then I think about it until it’s finally a reality,” said Koehler regarding the formation of Kindergarten Shows. He then went to Miller, who he had known for many years because both of them have been playing in the area for many years. “We have always seen eye to eye when it comes to building an inclusive music scene in town,” said Miller about their idea.
Koehler, 22, grew up in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, and is currently a student at WCU where he has been “living rich” for about a year. He currently plays bass in the band Scuzbot, who have been together for about 4 years. Scuzbot, who plays gritty, guitar-slaying punk rock, have released one record and are getting ready to release another that they have just finished recording. Koehler said it will be out by “mid 2015.” He also plans on releasing music with Andrew Huston.
Miller, 23, is originally from Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and has been playing music since he was 12 years old. He plays in multiple bands: Brokehead, Spumoni, and Piranha, but also releases music under the names Between Days and Glenn Matthews.
Regarding the state of the West Chester local music scene, Koehler said, “It doesn’t get enough credit.” Venues such as Fennario’s up on Church Street and the West Chester VFW located near Paoli Pike offer great locations to see local or touring bands in the area that Kindergarten Shows has booked. “My Parents’ House, The Note, and The New Button all came and went, but I hope Kindergarten Shows can serve the same purpose,” he said.
“I think that in some cases, having a lack of venues can dampen a music scene, but in West Chester, I don’t think that’s the case,” said Miller. “West Chester has music lovers within the town limits; they just don’t always know that the music is happening. Before you even know it’s there, a great spot like My Parents’ House disappears and you missed out.” This “community of music” is part of what makes Kindergarten Shows so special: individuals going out of their way to bring music to the people in any way possible.
“I think that the strength of community lies within the people that it consists of, not the nostalgic value it holds or the personal ambitions of individuals that contribute to it temporarily. At the same time, I’m entirely conflicted by those strong feelings of nostalgia and ambition outside of West Chester,” said Miller. “It’s what makes a local music scene such a delicate community effort.”
Also, bars such as The Social Lounge and Landmark offer open mic nights and jams for a more diverse audience.
West Chester’s close location to Philadelphia also offers great opportunities for bands attempting to get a name out there. However, what people do not know is how important West Chester’s scene is to Philadelphia as well. “Philadelphia has a lot going on, but West Chester is a cleaner, more secluded town,” said Koehler. “I feel a little closer to the town because Scuzbot has been playing a lot of the Philly house shows, but I’m a fan of the suburbs.”
“There are lots of great bands from West Chester that play out in Philadelphia,” said Miller. “One of my goals is to make that relationship reciprocal,” Koehler said.
West Chester has everything that is necessary for a music scene to thrive: the people, the places, the environment, and the music. “I think people appreciate what we’re doing as far as live music goes,” said Koehler. All it takes is a group of people in the area who want to find that “community of music” and carve West Chester into the greater American musical history.
Some upcoming events Kindergarten Shows wants locals to know about are as follows: Nov. 15 at the Golden Tea House in Philadelphia, with Scuzbot, Mike Bell, Danger O’s, Lures, and Spumoni; and Nov. 21 at the West Chester VFW featuring Good Times, Steel Nation, and many others.
If you are a band looking to be booked by Kindergarten Shows, send an email to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find them on Facebook as well along with information and the music of the various bands that will be playing at the shows, such as Scuzbot and Brokehead. Even if you don’t play in a band and just want to help out the scene, get in touch with them for upcoming shows and spreading the word.
Some advice that the guys from Kindergarten Shows offered individuals trying to get started in the West Chester music scene: “If you can’t put your instrument down and all you hear is music in your head then run with it and do what makes you happy,” said Miller. Koehler said, “Anyone can start a band, really. Bands only get better as they perform.”
By going out and supporting your local music scene, one can find more than just new, exciting music. “I felt included by strangers who had no obligation to include me, which was a new feeling for me,” said Miller. “I was inspired by that.”
“There are only so many of us keeping the torch alive,” said Koehler. “Either way, things are picking up. As long as shows happen every month, it keeps the fun around the college and West Chester in general.”
Tyler Asay is a third-year student majoring in communication studies. He can be reached at TA791988@wcupa.edu.