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2017-03-01 / Features

The Heart of Rock and Roll

Local musicians take the stage for one night of power ballads, puffy shirts and philanthropy
Kevin Briggs | Photos by Heidi Lynne Photography

JR  and Olivia BandJR and Olivia Band

One night a year State College goes back in time.

More specifically, those inside The State Theatre on April 1 will spin back to the time of Jams, jellies, perms, Keds, synthesizers, fluorescent garb and, if the crowd is lucky, a hair-raising “Rebel Yell.”
The Bob Perks Cancer Assistance Fund Rock the 80’s Benefit Concert, now in its fifth year, is both a fundraiser and a head-banging trip down memory lane for concertgoers. But for the bands that perform 15-minute sets of ’80s favorites, it’s a chance to give back to the community that has supported them — and have a great time doing it.     

“Being able to perform at this event is amazing,” says Brad Fey, frontman for The Feats of Strength.

Bob Furmanek and Doreen PerksBob Furmanek and Doreen Perks“Once a year we get to perform for a packed house of 500 people or so at The State Theatre that are 100 percent into the concert because they love the music and they love the cause. When you walk out onto the stage and see all those people cheering and waiting for the band to play its first chord… it’s incredible.”
Along with The Feats of Strength, this year’s Rock the 80’s lineup includes short sets by local bands Mr. Hand, Frackwater Jack, The Long Afternoon, Cone of Silence, Velveeta, Spider Kelly, The JR Mangan Band with Olivia Jones, Tongue ‘n’ Groove and Left of Center. All the money raised goes to the Bob Perks Fund, an organization that offers financial assistance to families who are struggling due to a cancer diagnosis.

In the weeks leading up to the event, members of the bands check in to a private Facebook group to coordinate set lists.

“You want to pick the quintessential hits that define the ’80s, that’s the point of the cause,” says BrianCone of SilenceCone of Silence Lubrecht, who fronts Mr. Hand. “And people really get into it. You’ll have people in the front row with their hair spiked up with too much Dippity-do.”

Mr. Hand, which typically covers tunes from the ’90s and 2000s, has performed in every Rock the 80’s concert, doing classics like “Rebel Yell,” “Jesse’s Girl” and “I’ll Melt With You.”

“You try to engage the moment, translate the past and nostalgia and euphoria,” says Lubrecht, who’s been known to don a skinny leather tie a la Rick Springfield. “One band will do really good hair metal stuff. Someone did Genesis last year. Someone did Bowie. A band did Motörhead’s ‘Ace of Spades.’ Someone does ‘Start Me Up.’”

Besides dressing up like ’80s rock stars and playing some of their favorite songs, the bands look forward to congregating in the downstairs backstage area to share their love of music and support one another.

“I love the camaraderie,” Fey says. “Backstage we have so much fun hanging out. I’ve known many of the musicians for years, but we rarely get to hang out together because we are all in different bands. So, once a year it’s like a local musicians’ reunion, and I love meeting new bands and musicians I’ve never met before.”

“The outpouring of support from this event is evident in the camaraderie of our community, the amazing local bands, the buzz of the packed house at The State Theatre, the spirited outfits of the evening and of course the rad musical fest that it is.  It’s a pay-it-forward night with fun and flare. How do you say no to that?”   —Janet Heim

The musicians also enjoy spending time and performing in a place where Lucinda Williams, Colin Hay, Yonder Mountain String Band, The Wailers and Los Lobos have recently played.Brian LubrechtBrian Lubrecht

“All the people in the production putting on the show at the theater are completely professional,” Lubrecht says of the coordination that happens backstage to make sure everything runs smoothly and the band members have what they need. “It makes you feel like you’re an actual rock star. It’s a great venue.”
While bands are sharing equipment, trading stories and watching one another’s performances on a TV screen backstage, audience members are enjoying one big heavily hairsprayed party. They dress up, let loose, and rock as hard as they can while the bands feed on that energy in their performances.

“The Bob Perks Rock the 80’s is one of my hands-down favorite events in State College,” says concertgoer Janet Heim. “The outpouring of support from this event is evident in the camaraderie of our community, the amazing local bands, the buzz of the packed house at The State Theatre, the spirited outfits of the evening and of course the rad musical fest that it is.  It’s a pay-it-forward night with fun and flare. How do you say no to that?”

The PerkolatorsThe PerkolatorsThe musicians feel the same way. “I’m very fortunate to be a big part of it,” says Cone of Silence bass player James Miller. “It’s a wonderful collection of musicians from a wide variety of bands and different walks of life that all come together to make this happen. It’s a great cause and Doreen [Perks] has been extremely grateful and supportive of us. It’s a very satisfying and meaningful experience.”

The Bob Perks Fund was established in 2006 after State College resident Bob Perks succumbed to cancer, leaving behind his wife, Doreen, and their children. Bob was involved in Coaches vs. Cancer, so a fund in his name with the mission of helping families struggling with cancer was a natural fit, his wife says.

Eventually Perks partnered with local musician and Cafe 210 owner JR Mangan to start a fundraising event called Rock the 80’s. Mangan had been looking for ways to produce and promote an ’80s music night at The State Theatre featuring local bands that typically play around Centre County. But he wanted a deeper purpose than just a good, nostalgic time. He wasn’t interested in making a profit; he wanted to give the money to a worthy cause. The Bob Perks Fund quickly became the obvious choice.

“Once a year we get to perform for a packed house of 500 people or so at The State Theatre that are 100 percent into the concert because they love the music and they love the cause. When you walk out onto the stage and see all those people cheering and waiting for the band to play its first chord… it’s incredible.” — Brad Fey

“I had a brother who was a year older than me and he died from leukemia,” Mangan says. “I know the struggles of not having money and that kind of thing.”
Mangan approached Perks with the idea, and a new partnership and event was created.

“It was phenomenal,” Perks says of the first Rock the 80’s concert in 2013. “We couldn’t have asked for it to be any better.”

That first year, Mangan was focused on performing at the event and getting his friends’ bands to play too, including ’80s hair metal bands like Tongue ‘n’ Groove, and other bands that do interpretations of ’80s songs, like Velveeta.

“I did say to the bands, ‘Please try to keep it upbeat,’” Mangan says. “I really didn’t try to tell people what to play. I kept saying to the bands, ‘Don’t be the band that when you’re playing something, everyone goes to the bathroom.’”

The Feats of StrengthThe Feats of StrengthAfter five years of ’80s hits, Prince impersonations and teased hair, Mangan isn’t in any hurry to fix what isn’t broken.

“We have run around the idea of the ’90s, but the ’90s aren’t as definable as the ’80s,” he says. “You know, we really haven’t tapped out the ’80s thing yet.”

Whatever the theme is, Mangan is confident the event will continue to be a success, due to the collective humanism of the State College community and the strength and values of those involved in the local music scene.

“I’m surprised and proud of all the people who bring it together,” Mangan says. “I just came up with the idea, and to see it happen every year, it’s just a satisfying feeling. It’s a real reflection of the music scene. Everyone is so giving.” •SCM


Reason to Rock

Last year, the Rock the 80’s event raised $17,000 for the Bob Perks Fund, which has been helping people in our community for years — people like Centre County resident Laurie Stover.

Stover was diagnosed with colon cancer Sept. 29, 2015, and by November of that year she began chemotherapy and radiation before having colorectal surgery in March 2016 to remove the then-flattened tumor on her colon. Then there was an ileostomy bag, more chemo and other twists and turns in her treatment.

For awhile, Stover managed her sick time and Family Medical Leave Act time with the State College Area School District, where she is a para-educator. But when her sick time ran out, so did her family’s money. That’s when the Bob Perks Fund stepped in to help.

“They put some money on my husband’s credit card and paid some money towards the [medical treatment] bill,” Stover says. “They gave us a gas card from Sheetz. I don’t know what I would’ve done. They were a big help.”

Getting the needed assistance was easy, Stover says. Pam McCaren, a Cancer Navigator with Cancer Care, contacted Perks and shared Stover’s story.

“I just contacted Pam. She did all the contact work,” Stover says. “I just can’t thank them enough.”

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