Ernie Garcia takes the stage with his guitar and starts strumming an intro. “I wrote this song on the way down here,” he jokes. Someone in the center of the crowd starts shaking maracas to the rhythm.
A few beats later, someone on the far side of the audience takes up percussion on the back of a folding chair as Garcia starts to sing with the deep, rugged voice of a mountain man.
His earthy lyrics reveal the influence of ’60s American folk music.
Up on stage, Garcia’s unrefined style and untamed mane give him the air of a merry pirate. On closer inspection, his weathered cheeks and long, gray beard evoke the mystic countenance of a wizard.
If Garcia looks familiar, perhaps you recognize him from one of the cult-status film roles in which he has performed. Teenage boys everywhere know him as Captain Ed from “Tenacious D.” Those who were young in the 1990s will remember him as Big Emilio, the vampire whose beating heart was ripped from his chest and stabbed with a pencil in “From Dusk till Dawn.” Garcia has been at the business end of Ray Liotta’s gun, he’s been locked in a deadly staring contest with George Clooney.
Though Garcia is not currently playing support roles for A-list actors, he is supporting a creative community that nurtures musical and artistic talent in south-central Pennsylvania.
After living in Los Angeles as a character actor for more than 17 years, Garcia moved to the East Coast after his house burned down in the 2009 California wildfire known as the station fire.
By all accounts, the blaze that started outside of a ranger station on August 26 is the most devastating fire in Los Angeles County history to date.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the Forest Service was negligent in its delayed response, opting not to employ air-tankers to dump water on the fire during the early stages.
There’s plenty of blame to go around, but Garcia is not wasting time pointing fingers. His creative pursuits have given him the inner peace to move beyond the destruction of the fire.
Garcia and his wife arrived just before the January 2010 blizzard dumped more than a foot of snow on Pennsylvania.
The following week, he shoveled out and went to an open mic at the Market Cross Pub, now Ship Wreck in Shippensburg where he met Aaron Treher, a local artist and co-founder of Post Now PA.
At the time, Treher was in the early stages of co-founding The Thought Lot Contemporary Arts Center in Shippensburg.
Garcia says he was inspired by Treher’s talent and their mutual vision for “moving the human experience forward through art.” To that end, he invested himself in becoming part of the growing Thought Lot community, which provided a positive, creative outlet.
Garcia recently had the distinguished honor of seeing his likeness recreated in clay as part of a new portrait sculpture series Treher is working on in at the Thought Lot.
Treher explained that “traditionally, portraits were done to memorialize nobility,” and his intention is to document the lives of people who have influenced his art.
Since the first Thought Lot open mic, he has been playing his music and collaborating with other musicians.
He has also produced two plays on the Thought Lot stage and is writing a third. “Creativity is my drug,” Garcia said.
He works daily on numerous creative projects including plays, music and poetry.
His advice is to “trust your talent, no matter what they say, and keep working.”