Unlocked: Ataloft's definitive guide to the sights and sounds of Berks County - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
Ataloft at Main Street Music | Photo courtesy of the artist

Last Saturday, Ataloft played a short but inspired set at Main Street Music in Manayunk for Record Store Day. It was a fun day, a chance for us to play our new songs, promote our May 3 album release show at Ardmore Music Hall and maybe gain some new fans.

For this final installment of our Unlocked series, XPN gave me the go-ahead to talk about whatever I want. It got me to thinking about RSD and the T-shirt that our keyboard player Cory Heller was wearing that day. “Reading PA, no one likes us, and we don’t care”.

Reading fell on hard times, was kicked while it was down and was subsequently branded the poorest, most dangerous city in America. We got a bad rap. In reality, Reading/Berks may actually be on a cultural upswing—and the surrounding county is beautiful and diverse. There are plenty of reasons to like us, and secretly, we do care. Here’s my definitive guide.

Places of Interest

The Pagoda – We don’t know why it’s here or what it means, but it is uniquely ours and we love it. The Asian-inspired Pagoda offers spectacular views of Reading and the surrounding countryside. Conversely, from most points in the city or county, you’ll know exactly where you are by locating the Pagoda high atop Mt Penn.

The Sacred Oak Tree – a 500-year-old yellow oak tree with magical powers? It stands in a farmer’s field in the Oley Valley. (Ask around to find it.) According to Native-American legend, the wife of a powerful chief became very ill. Desperate for a cure, the young chief traveled to the Sacred Oak and there prayed to the Great Spirit for his wife to be saved. When he returned to camp, his wife was well again. Great spot for first dates and curiosity seekers.

Roadside America – Go to see “the world’s greatest indoor miniature village”, stay for the beyond surreal patriotic nighttime pageant.

Christmas Village – Whether you’re a teenager enhancing your buzz or a family of four with young children, this Bernville mecca doesn’t disappoint. There must be more than a million Christmas lights, and the walking path is jam packed with corny, kitschy holiday displays.

Hawk Mountain – Hike the 2.5-mile Rim Trail from Pulpit Rock to The Pinnacle for truly spectacular views. Plus, you have a high likelihood of seeing a copperhead, a bald eagle or a naked hiker.


El Puente Mexican Store – BEST chorizo tacos anywhere. ($1.50) Tamales at the counter on weekends for a buck, an authentic meat counter in the grocery store and a slightly different take on guacamole.

Hong Thanh Vietnamese Restaurant – From its beginnings on Chestnut St in Reading to its new home in the big-box megaplex of Wyomissing, Hong Thanh is a true indie success story. Lime & ginger sauce, black bean sauce, vermicelli bowls, veggie dumplings, crispy whole fish—it’s all good!

Honorable mentions: Black Dog Café (Stouchsburg) Muddy’s Barbecue (Pricetown, Rd), The Porch (Millardsville), Ranch House (Whiskey Ditch)


Bands: Ataloft, Frog Holler, Dem Hills (Bruce Siekmann), Manatawny Creek Ramblers, La Overtoner, Ike Wilder, The Youngers, New Trio, Poor Luther’s Bones, Total Quality Institute, L’Astronaut, Hillbilly Shakespeare, The Barren Wells, Jonathon Monument. Below, watch Frog Holler with scenes from Moonlight Forest, a rehearsal space and recording studio in Berks County.


Dave “Big Dutch” Nally – “All of the big things—love and religion, god and universe, and this and that—can be taken apart, and then put back together in a drawing,” says stream of consciousness artist and my hero Dave Nally. A steel maker by trade and an artist by temperament, he’s trying to make sense of the world. Watch the YouTube video, then Google his work.

Michael Lavdanski – Painter, jewelry designer, my partner in music for the past 17 years and the most consistently creative person I’ve ever met.

Also Jen Lindsay (photography), Marylin Fox (folk art).)


John Nelka – On Mondays from 6 to 8pm on 91.3 WXAC (Albright College), John plays everything from Wye Oak to The Beach Boys to Melody’s Echo Chamber. He’s also the host of “Cinema Chat” on our local access channel BCTV.

Jack’s Backyard – Every Saturday morning from 8 to 10AM on 830 AM WEEU, Jack Holcombe talks backyard birds, wildlife and all manner of things with Reading and PA Dutch call-ins.


Union Jack’s Summer Concert Series – Nearly every Sunday 6-9PM from May through September, you can catch acts like Frog Holler, Hezekiah Jones, Tin Bird Choir, Manatawny Creek Ramblers, Mason Porter, Brad Hinton and Society Beat on this great restaurant and craft beer bar’s outdoor stage.

Landhaven B&B – Spring/Fall Concerts – set in an 1800’s general store, Ed & Donna Land are fine folks and this Huff’s Church, PA stage has hosted, Stray Birds, Malcombe Holcombe, Mary Gauthier and Frog Holler every September.

Virginville Film Festival – You’ve got one final chance to catch this Reading gem as it celebrates it’s 10th and, sadly, final fest on June 28, 2014. Located in the middle of nowhere, entrants range from NYU film student films to local home movies. Commercials for local businesses are a always highlight.

Record Stores

Young Ones (Kutztown)
Vertigo Music (West Reading)

Recording Studios

Ameoba Audio / Bruce Siekmann (Fleetwood, PA)
Moonlight Forest Recording / Daniel Bower (Fleetwood, PA)


Kutztown – My town and home to Global Libations (coffee), Echo Hill Country Store, Mr. Food, La Cucina Mexicana, Pop’s Malt Shoppe and Renninger’s Farmer’s Market (where there’s a good chance you spot NCIS’s Mark Harmon this weekend for Extravaganza, no lie)

West Reading – There’s a lot happening in West Reading including Sunday Farmer’s Market (B&H Organic Produce), Papillon Brasserie (fine French cuisine), Alladin (middle eastern cuisine plus authentic belly dancing), Vertigo Music, IA Club, Russo’s and more.

Ataloft is the featured album in this week’s installment of Unlocked. Download “The End is Nearer Than We Know” in Monday’s post, read yesterday’s album review, watch a video performance of “Old Jones” in yesterday’s post , and read our interview in Thursday’s post. And check back in the future for more Unlocked features from The Key!

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