Profile: Deutschtown Music Festival (2019)

Almost a decade ago, Cody Walters and Ben Soltesz saw a transformation on the horizon in Pittsburgh and they wanted to make sure their North Side neighborhoods were in on the boom.

“I go to see a lot of live music,” says Soltesz, of Spring Hill. “I just started asking bands I liked – ‘We’ve never done this before. We’ve got no money. Do you want to do this?’ And I was surprised by the response.”

In 2013, the Deutschtown Music Festival was born, featuring 50 bands at a half-dozen North Side haunts. This year, the now-fabled event – Pittsburgh’s largest music festival, which kicks off Friday, July 12 – will showcase nearly 400 bands on more than 30 stages. Admission? Still free.

“For me, personally, the festival was originally more about highlighting the neighborhood,” says Walters, of Deutschtown, who serves as director for the North Side Leadership Conference’s Main Streets program, the festival’s financial sponsor.  “I looked at it as an opportunity to highlight what we had in Deutschtown – live music. In the last few years, though, it’s really been more of a focus on the bands.”

“We were, like, ‘We want to show everybody how great we are and help out the local businesses, too,’” Soltesz says. “Here we are, seven years later. Everybody seems to enjoy it and I think it’s a really positive thing for the community.”

The festival this year has everything – from a 21+ outdoor beer tent and shuttle bus access for the adults, to face-painting and a bounce house for the kids. There even will be a busker’s stage and an artists’ marketplace, for which some 130 vendors already have signed up. And, yes, of course, there is lots and lots of Pittsburgh-based music.

Singer-songwriter Brad Yoder will play at 2 p.m. Saturday at Annex PGH. His 45-minute acoustic set, which might feature a few surprise guest spots, marks his second appearance at the summer festival.

“I’ll be playing as I almost always do – all songs I wrote, with an emphasis on the newer ones,” says Yoder, of North Point Breeze. “It is pretty cool, with people coming and going, checking out different things. It’s really a chance to hear a lot of local music in not a lot of time. It’s a nice kind of Pittsburgh happening that has a fun D.I.Y. vibe.”

The festival’s roster is nothing if not thorough. Members of Rusted Root will play, separately but in succession, in The Jenn Wertz Band, Borstal Boys and Drowning Clowns. Those sets start at 6 p.m. Friday on the main stage. Punk band Fake Accent plays live Friday at 10 p.m. at Max’s Allegheny Tavern. Red Beans and Rice Combo’s jazzy, all-ages set starts at 7 p.m. Saturday at Bier’s Pub. Prefer hip hop? Local provocateurs BBGuns will perform tracks from the new LP, “Help Yourself,” at 9 p.m. Saturday on Skyline Stage on Cedar Avenue.

Raelyn Nelson – Willie Nelson’s granddaughter; yes, THAT Willie Nelson – is set to perform at 8:30 p.m. Saturday on the Highmark/AHN Park Stage on Union Avenue. And Vocal Confluence, a 25-member barbershop-style a cappella group, will perform 1 p.m. Saturday at the North Side’s new fountain, a replica designed to look as the original did in the early 1900s.

“I thought what was appropriate for the fountain was a barbershop group,” Walters says. “Absolutely, positively, that had to have happened there 100 years ago.”

And then there are the acts that blur genre lines.

Go Go Gidget, which interjects Riot Grrl attitude with surf-rock anthems, will make its Deutschtown debut at 7 p.m. Friday at Penn Brewery in Troy Hill.

“We’re looking forward to playing to a mix of familiar and new faces in the crowd,” says Lauren Stein, of Franklin Park, who plays bass in the quartet. “I personally am excited to check out some new bands—I haven’t seen most of the bands that play on our stage.”

Pittsburgh Current will celebrate what has become its finest (and also first) year this weekend with the hottest party of the summer – a 21+ event at The Flashlight Factory, starting at 7:30 p.m. Friday. The event will feature free food from Salt, free beer and wine from local vendors, a photo booth from Some Good Print, and free “pedicab” rides to and from other festival venues. Indie rock outfit, Identity X, hip-hop artist, Moemaw Naedon and R&B/soul songstress, Sierra Sellers (read all about her elsewhere in this issue) all are set to perform at the party. The event is free with registration: bit.ly/2XsEsme. 

“A year ago, the Current made its first public appearance at this very festival,” says Charlie Deitch, the paper’s editor and publisher. “Given that and our commitment to promoting local music through our stories and our online Pittsburgh Current Concert Series, we thought this was the best place to celebrate our ‘Best Year Ever.’ This festival is a really important event to us and the entire city.”

The festival will cap off Sunday with a gospel brunch from 9 a.m. to noon, courtesy of the Allegheny Center Alliance Church. There, in addition to four food stations – BBQ, classic, Pittsburgh-centric, and breakfast – people can take in a little worship and some great music, Walters says.

“If [the gospel brunch] is successful, I think it’d be an interesting thing to expand elsewhere,” Walters says. “It’s like everything we try to do with the festival: we try to do it small and we try to improve upon it each year.”

For the full line-up and more information, go to deutschtownmusicfestival.com/ – Justin Vellucci, Pittsburgh Current, July 9, 2019

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