2017-05-01 / Start Here

Festival Spirit

Local siblings bring the music world to Centre County
Dana Ray

When one parameter for choosing a date for a new music festival is that it must be between Arts Fest and Grange Fair, you know it’s locally made.

And that’s exactly what the Rallis siblings, Kaleena and Paul, are: locals returning to the area to create something new. They might have spent their young adult lives in Los Angeles and New York, but they are clear on this one thing — Central Pennsylvania keeps calling them back.

This summer, the two have teamed up to create the inaugural Karoondinha Music & Arts Festival at Penn’s Cave & Wildlife Park in Centre Hall July 21-23. The camping festival is designed to connect people: to the landscape, to each other, and to music. “We wanted to create something that keeps our peers in mind but has a feeling that everyone is welcome,” Paul says. “No matter what age you are, there will be something you enjoy.” And by “everyone” they really do mean everyone — they’ve run the artist lineup, which includes The Roots, Chromeo, Mavis Staples and John Legend, by their younger cousin and their grandmother. It’s all been approved by multiple generations.

Two years ago, Kaleena and Paul Rallis started to take the steps to make this festival a reality, though they can’t remember where the idea for the festival came from. “[The idea] was like a best friend you can’t remember meeting, because you feel like they’ve been a part of your life from the start,” Kaleena says. “We just knew in our hearts this was something we had to do and we fully committed ourselves to it.” And so they’ve added “festival founders” to the long list of business ventures they’ve had as entrepreneurs.

“We’ve always been entrepreneurs,” Paul noted. “We don’t know how to not work!” At ages 5 and 7, the pair launched their first business selling their great-grandmother’s fudge at their family’s business, Edgewater Acres Country Inn & Resort in Alexandria, Pennsylvania. They’ve had a good work ethic modeled and taught to them at an early age. “All we ever knew was that our parents worked seven days a week, with longer hours in the summer during our busiest season. It was normal for us to spend the majority of our time together at the country inn while we all worked. I followed my dad everywhere and wanted to be right by his side working with him,” Kaleena remembers.

Now at ages 27 and 29, the Rallis siblings have ideas — and they know how to get things done. From childhood selling candy to teenage years working at Penn’s Cave & Wildlife Park, they launched as young adults in fast-paced Los Angeles. For the last 10 years, Kaleena has worked in the entertainment industry, first in casting and then as a talent manager in her own company. Paul has worked in architecture and later opened up his own firm. “We laugh when people tell us to have a great weekend. What weekend? Saturday is no different than Monday to us,” Paul says. Though, as Kaleena notes, it doesn’t feel like work. “As an entrepreneur, you get to choose your work, so you love it. It doesn’t feel like a burden!”

The landscape is also part of the draw to build something unique in Central Pennsylvania. Locations like Penn’s Cave & Wildlife Park might not feel special for those who’ve grown up nearby, but it’s a transformative experience for those who find it later. “Being here helps me to stay at peace. Places like Los Angeles can erode that very quickly,” Paul says. “It’s something you have to leave the area to realize fully: This place is truly unique.” Plus, they say it’s easier to see what ultimately matters in life when they’re here.

Family is a core value for Kaleena and Paul. “We wouldn’t be doing this without our family,” they say.

“It means so much that they’ve supported us and this project from the start. They are all involved one way or another. Our family is really something special.” And it is. When Kaleena was 12 and Paul 14, their father, James Rallis, died from brain cancer. Later, their mother, Terri, married William Schleiden, whose family has operated Penn’s Cave & Wildlife Park since 1908. Their father’s family, their mother’s family, and their stepfamily have come together to function as one and continue to stand behind Kaleena and Paul on all of their entrepreneurial endeavors. It’s also clear that Kaleena and Paul have a tight-knit sibling relationship, one that is based on teamwork, respect and supporting each other’s dreams. There’s a lot of love and trust there.

Karoondinha is shaping up to be the festival that Kaleena and Paul Rallis have envisioned: an experiential destination event that goes well beyond music. “People might come from far away, but the goal is to make this something the local area can feel proud of and call their own. We are very thankful that we have been able to do this and contribute to the place where we grew up and love so much.” •SCM

Dana Ray is a wordsmith, community storyteller and idea wrangler. She works as a thinker/doer at Rowland Creative, a strategic marketing and design agency in State College.

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