Fog draped hillsides laid at the end of rows and rows of farmed fields lining both sides of the valley as we drove east. The waning sun created a sepia toned landscape as it drooped over the western horizon. Each stone or brick home that we passed could have been straight out of my great grandmother’s picture book. Generations of families have lived and worked on this land, leaving a rich heritage that I cannot imagine. We quietly pulled into Millheim after careening our way along Highway 45 through these central Pennsylvania farm lands. Two story buildings lined the shoulders of the “one road” town before colliding with endless farm lands just a few blocks away. Each building has been built off the exterior wall of its neighbor, as if it needed to lean against it for support. Bricks were laid, windows were placed, roofs were attached, and the front door hid true lives behind them all. The eyes of an older woman watched me as I strolled into the comforts of her hometown. There were no questions that she wanted to ask of me; who I was or where I was coming from, but rather offer me a comfortable reassurance with her homely smile.
A rambunctious clamor of conversation and festivities spewed from Elk Creek Café and Aleworks as I opened the glass front door. My eyes darted around the great front room as I was immediately intrigued with the energy that had been packed in like a can of sardines. A stage was set with a multitude of stringed instruments against the far wall, three rows deep of thirsty individuals stood off of the varnished wooden bar, and all of the seats in between had long been claimed with people anticipating the bluegrass that would be dancing around our ears soon. My friends and I happened to sliver our way through the masses and unexpectedly fall upon a table for three. There was no hesitation as we climbed onto the empty seats, and were shortly thereafter asked if we would like our first taste of their delicious home brewed beers by our new friend Monica. With smiles crested upon our faces and cold amber colored pints in our hands we let glasses clink with our cheers to the evening. We were not only overly pleased with the variety of ales (Blue Heron Pale, Elk Creek Copper, Poe Paddy Porter & Double Rainbow IPA) that continued to stream over our taste buds as freshly filled glistening glasses were brought to our empty hands, but Monica also felt that it would be rude not to indulge in what Elk Creek calls
their Nouveau Dutchie Cuisine™. Chef Mark Johnson has taken great satisfaction in keeping locality close to his heart, and has written homage to his local purveyors within every line of his
menu. With simplicity being the focus and flavors being the pride you come to find yourself gazing over plates such as Apple, Cheddar, & Bacon Salad w/ sunflower seed vinagrette; Cheddar & Valley Ham w/ ginger peach chutney and ale mustard; and Peanut Butter Pie with Pretzel crust.
Strums and thumps started to come from finger picking musicians that were ready to give way and release their joyous musical notes upon our waiting patience. There were several bands that would be taking the stage to pay tribute to the late great Jerry Garcia this evening. As I heard the deep echo of the standup bass intertwine with the soft melodic twinges of the mandolin, and the stringy notes jump from the banjo there was nothing left to do but jingle and jangle my dancing bones. Listening to songs such as Peggy O, Bird Song, and Jack a Row in a small pub in Pennsylvania transcended me 15 years prior when I first heard these same notes peel off of my dad’s record player. However the raspy tones that filled my ears tonight were not from age old dusty vinyl, but the rattle of microphones being tormented with live musical talent. Lyrics to all the songs echoed from wall to wall as everyone sang in unison, and I could feel the hard wood floor quiver under our my feet. Live music easily excites me, but when I saw a seven year old prodigy lay a rosined bow across his fiddle strings I was befuddled. I could do nothing more than stand gawking with my lower jaw resting on the floor below, and when he stopped to bow his bleach blond head I felt that the explosion of applause that had erupted would bring the walls down around us. The evening was brought to a finale with all of the musical members gathering upon the tightly packed stage for a final “Fair Thee Well”. Musical notes that had brought many individuals together over the years were working its magic once again. Elated smiles surrounded me as I scanned all that stood singing along for the encore. Once all was said and done; I am sure that Jerry and I both shared the same smile as the masses spilled into the quiet midnight streets of Millheim.