This is how local singer-songwriter and activist Tara Stark explains the power and wonder of underground music.
In late April, I caught a performance that Stark gave at Harrisburg’s Underground Bike Shop. The venue certainly wasn’t underground in a literal sense. Situated along N. 3rd Street in Midtown, it was a very accessible location, still maintaining a feeling of obscurity and almost a “home-away-from-home” atmosphere.
It was no different inside. Bicycles of various styles, prices and applications were centrally placed on a rack, and there was no shortage of accoutrements and accessories for patrons to window-shop and purchase, if they so desired and could afford.
I arrived at 8 p.m. to see Stark setting up, doing a sound check. After a short, five-minute break, the artist opened with “Some Days,” a jaunty little song that set the tone for how the set would proceed. Full of exuberant strumming and the occasional screaming, it got the entire audience up and moving—a testament to the power of a good song.
The performances weren’t always perfect, more like the DIY punk of the ‘80s or early ‘90s or the “guerilla gigs” somewhat popular in the early 2000s indie scene (in which a band or artist would announce a location and time via social media at random, spontaneous moments).
“When playing live, forget about perfection,” Stark explained. “Learn to love everything that doesn’t go as expected, because the beauty of live performance is that it’s ethereal. No two notes will ring the same, no two rooms will resonate the same, no two crowds will have the same energy, and even on camera, no performance will truly leave that moment. If you do flub, laugh at it.”
As with many original artists, Stark made sure to include tributes to those who have offered inspiration and help. So, I wasn’t too surprised that Stark included a cover of The Killers’ 2004 smash “Mr. Brightside.” But what got me was the personal style. Intriguing rhythmic turns and an almost off-rhythm vocal pattern leant a fresh new groove, reviving a piece of pop that, like Toto’s megahit “Africa,” has become something of an Internet cliché.
But what does Stark feel makes the independent music scene so crucial—not just in Harrisburg, but other places as well?
“First of all, community,” Stark said. “And underground and DIY communities can try new things and push the envelope in ways that the larger, profit-driven musical scene—or ‘the industry’—can’t afford to risk.”
It would be a lie to say that community and those who are a part of it are the only reason anyone makes art. At the end of the day, artists create for themselves, and ultimately, that’s really how their day should begin.
“I’m still playing my music for me,” Stark said. “But it is a hope, and I’m excited to see how just doing my thing could help others find their voice.”
Then Stark said something that, in a way that echoes the sentiments of every creative person, from some kid in Minnesota with a Bandcamp account, to the highest-paid rock musician in the world.
“I want to make something I love and can be proud of. And I hope to inspire folks the way they inspired me.”
Listen to Tara Stark’s music at tarastark.bandcamp.com.
Find Stark on social media: @TaraStarkMusic (Music-only, on all platforms)
or @TheTaraStark (Personal, on all platforms)