Stepping into the Launchpad concert hall in Philipsburg is like stepping into the brain of Shawn Inlow, the mad genius who imagined and created the space.
First impression: there is a lot going on. Bursts of color, larger-than-life characters, and a myriad of patterns blend everywhere, in the lobby, around the bar, in the bathrooms, and, of course, in the playhouse. After you settle in, however, you realize that, just like in the very vivid spirit of Inlow, everything has meaning, has layers, and is there for a reason. Often several reasons.
“Joan Jett keeps the women’s bathroom, because it takes a tough girl,” Inlow says as we pass a giant Sharpie drawing of the rock star hanging on the wall.
Highlighting the boldly painted doors, Inlow offers a brief commentary on Piet Mondrian’s color theory.
“Everyone was painting women who were very plump on the beaches and stuff, and he was doing like squares of bright colors,” Inlow says.
To say the Launchpad space is “unexpected” doesn’t do the place justice. Inlow spent two years transforming the century-old building into the live music/theater/entertainment/rental space it is today, infusing the “crazy influences” it has had over the years – after a stint as a journalist and a career in law enforcement – in the place he’s been eyeing for 16 years.
From crappy to creative
The Launchpad really started to take shape one day as Inlow moped in his cafe about how he needed to find a place for his band, Stoneman, to play.
Jenny Horton, the top hostess at Poppy’s Café and Catering, offered Inlow the floor of her restaurant. She gave Inlow a tour, and although the place was “dirty, dirty, dirty, crappy, just Ugh!” Inlow was undeterred.
“I got super carried away,” he says. “One idea after another just kept coming.”
At the height of COVID, Inlow spent his days completely transforming the place that once housed the Philipsburg Elks Club (now based at the Philipsburg Country Club), and briefly where Jazzercise classes were held (until the rooftop falls in one day). Inlow pulled out “decades of stored trash” and dumped it in a giant dumpster above the fire escape. He removed the blown insulation, removed the drop ceilings, added windows and turned himself into a pretty top notch handyman.
He also transformed the neglected old junkyard from a storage space into a place that people constantly compare to an artsy loft you’ll find in Brooklyn. The main music room is full of intimate “mini lounges,” with a collection of comfy sofas and armchairs, coffee tables and personal mood lamps, pillows, stuffed animals, and “a bunch of Mr. Potato Heads”. You know, weird stuff!
The musicians themselves are sometimes set up in a distinctive style, spread throughout the space, rather than performing on a traditional stage. The drummer, for example, is placed in the middle of the room when Stoneman plays.
“No matter where you sit, you get a front row seat,” Inlow says. “The group is not installed in a small corner somewhere. It was part of the design – we took and dismantled this paradigm in music and theater [that dictates] the audience belongs in its place, and the entertainment belongs in its place, and there is usually an empty space in between. This proscenium, this invisible and imaginary wall, is an unwritten rule in performance. What I wanted to do is have everyone on stage with you. What we’ve done here, as you move around the room, you hear the music differently. You are the tone controller. If you want to look over the drummer’s shoulder, you can do that. You can change the way you hear music depending on where you are.
Inlow also hired Philipsburg-Osceola High School student Bailey Lukens, who runs his own sound company.
“He’s brilliant,” Inlow said. “I told him I wanted the best stereo you’ve ever heard. The music comes from the roof. None of the speakers are pointed at you. When you come here, you’re going to hear something you’ve never heard before.
Today, the Second Street structure is still the bustling hub of locals enjoying the homemade specialties and warm hospitality of Poppy’s from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays. On weekend nights, however, The Launchpad comes alive, inviting patrons to experience something that’s a refreshing refuge from typical bar cover bands.
Philipsburg’s hip spot
Since opening last fall, The Launchpad has hosted a wide range of local artists, from rock ‘n’ roll to Appalachian roots to contemporary Christian music. Plans are underway to add a wider variety of performers – comedy clubs, local youth groups – to the lineup. Inlow wants The Launchpad to be a place not only to launch their own ideas, but also to serve as an outlet for other artists and to launch Philipsburg further into the creative enclave it is becoming.
“Philipsburg desperately needs nightlife, and we’re reimagining it,” Inlow says. “People want to have it so badly. They want to stop watching Netflix so badly.
Local folk musician Megan McGarry recently performed The Launchpad for the first time with her band, The Megan McGarry Trio.
“I didn’t realize he was going to be as big as he is,” she says. “I walked in and you see the drums right there, the little corners, all the lighting – I was blown away. Big space! It’s nice how everyone is sort of scattered. It’s that perfect combo. You feel like you’ve stepped out, but there’s that living room vibe. It’s really comfortable, I like it. It’s a great place to open. We are delighted to be here.
This was McGarry’s bandmate Mark Preve’s second gig at Launchpad.
“It’s like playing a concert at home,” he says.
And McGarry’s cousin Ken Radzieta, who flew in from Clearfield to support loved ones, reacted to the space with the common, “Whoa! It’s in Philipsburg?!”
Launchpad offers affordable all-in-one entertainment. It’s BYOB (so you always have your favorite drink), with refrigeration service, frosted mugs, and waiters to refill glasses. Poppy’s also offers a food service, so you can grab a bite to eat, listen to music and hang out. Even chat if you want. Inlow says the old wood and brick walls, with their cracks and crevices, absorb sound perfectly. The acoustics are excellent for artists and spectators.
“You want to stay a while, you don’t want to spend a million dollars on drinks, you don’t have to,” Inlow says. “This town used to go back to the 80s, man, and now there’s literally nothing. This town needs a live music venue, and I’m doing it the right way, I think. This city deserves it and needs it. You don’t have to go to State College to find entertainment.
Although you never know what kind of sound you will hear coming from the speakeasy spot, you know it will be original.
“We’re breaking a lot of rules, and I hope people will understand that they’re doing something to Launchpad that they’ve never done before,” Inlow says. “I want a place where musicians can play new songs, artists doing their thing, really interesting acts.”
Inlow is also a seasoned actor, director, and theater technician and is planning The Launchpad’s first theater season. Additionally, Launchpad is available to rent for private parties and other events, and Inlow serves as a DJ on request. His group is also available by reservation.
“We’re building our own little mountain scene, if you will, here in Philipsburg,” says Inlow. “It would be pretty cool for the city, I think, to talk to the folks at State College – ‘Hey, there’s a really cool, slumming thing you can do in Philipsburg if you really want to get out there and do something you don’t. ‘re not used to, and having a good time – that’s it. T&G
Teresa Mull is a freelance writer who loves living in Philipsburg. This story appeared in the March 2022 issue of Town&Gown.