For State College-based blues band Miss Melanie & the Valley Rats, there is one voice that has become their defining attribute, ushering the band in as respected members of the local music community.
That same voice will help establish why downtown State College venue The State Theatre has opened a cabaret-style concert room, known as The Attic, in order to help showcase local bands through intimate performances.
That voice, belonging to the band's lead singer Melanie Morrison Zeigler, will be heard at 8 p.m. Saturday in that new room when she and the Valley Rats take the stage.
Miss Melanie &?the Valley Rats, (from left)?James Harton, Melanie Morrison Zeigler, Jack Wilkinson and Mark Ross, will be playing at 8 p.m. Saturday at The State Theatre in State College. Tickets are $10.
But what audience members and fans may not know or believe is that her voice was rarely ever heard before the band formed in late 2010 - the first band the childhood athlete turned stay-at-home mom has ever been in.
"The whole time I was growing up, I would always just do my chores and sing and perform for the windows, really," Zeigler said, adding that the only time she sang in public was occasionally for friends and in high school for her church choir. "But ever since I started singing [publicly], people said 'You should do something with that.' But nothing ever felt authentic enough to be worth the risk."
That was the case until she met Valley Rats guitarist Mark Ross, a 30-year veteran of the State College music scene, most notably as a member of Queen Bee & the Blue Hornet Band. Ross recognized Zeigler's talent and formed a band around it.
If you go
What: Miss Melanie & the Valley Rats
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: The State Theatre, 130 W. College Ave., State College
Details: Tickets are $10, and can be purchased by calling the box office at 272-0606 or online at www.thestate
"She has great quality and tons of soul," Ross said. "She's as good as it gets."
Though she was a lifetime lover of R&B and funk music, Zeigler's first lesson in the blues was through singing them for the band. Miss Melanie & The Valley Rats play several standard and unexpected blues covers from Walter Washington, Etta James and Robert Cray, along with their catalogue of originals.
"I didn't really realize just how much I understood the blues until I started doing it," Zeigler said, adding that she also finds inspiration from modern-day singers like Amy Winehouse and Adele. "I never knew just how wide the scope of the blues is, and also how much the music that I grew up loving and listening to came from the blues. It was a very natural progression for me."
After regularly gigging around the area and releasing an album of live recorded covers and studio engineered originals called "Slow Down" in May 2011, Miss Melanie & The Valley Rats have become a well-known local staple.
"It's very odd to go out to the grocery store and be recognized and have people tell you that they sing along to your CD in the car, and which songs that you've written are their favorites," Zeigler said.
Miss Melanie & the Valley Rats is just the type of band that The State Theatre has been looking for to play their new attic venue - local bands that have enough of a following to fill the 60-person space but who might have trouble drawing a crowd to support the main stage.
"We wanted local musicians to play here, but we always hit a wall," said Richard Biever, executive director of the State Theatre. "That's when this idea came up, and it turned out to be way better than anyone anticipated. It's a really exciting new venue in town."
In The Attic, concert lovers can come in to hear an intimate, unplugged show like the one Miss Melanie & The Valley Rats will give at a lower ticket price than what one would pay to see a bigger act at The State Theatre. The audience also has the option to grab a drink from the theater's full service bar, but don't have to worry about that option overshadowing the performance.
"In The Attic, it's about the music and you can get drinks, whereas everywhere else [downtown], it's about the drinks and then 'Oh yeah, there's music playing,'" Biever said. "Here, it's not the background, it's like a concert. You come to see a concert, but in a more relaxed setting."
Ross said he's excited for the intimacy the show is sure to provide.
"It's a great room, and you don't even need a PA to play it properly," he added.
Zeigler added that their calm, subtle acoustic set will show off the uniqueness of this new space, as well as entertain the local audience.
"If someone is a lover of the blues, they can come and hear some songs that won't be what they're expecting," she said.
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.