Fall Fest Preview: Newcomer Johnny Walylko, rap duo Rae Sremmurd primed for Bigelow takeover

Pitt student Johnny Walylko will open for NAWAS, FRENSHIP and Rae Sremmurd at Fall Fest this weekend. Meghan Sunners / Senior Staff Photographer.

As is tradition, Pitt Program Council hosted its annual Battle of the Bands last week to determine who would get to open for Saturday’s Fall Fest acts NAWAS, FRENSHIP and Rae Sremmurd.

The winner, singer-songwriter Johnny Walylko, a music composition major, edged out Pitt rapper Kenny Greene and will take the opening set of the annual on-campus music festival.

After a stint in MMA that led him to the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown wrestling team, Walylko transitioned to Pitt’s main campus as a member of the MMA club, the ROTC program and the Army National Guard. Walylko’s favorite part about music is its endless potential — how there’s always something new to learn and that it can all be put together in endless combinations.

In addition to newcomer Walylko and the rest of the musicians, PPC will bring a cookie decorating station, a photo booth, a live gaming lounge and therapy dogs to the event. Here’s what to expect from Saturday’s slate of acts, which will start playing at 1 p.m. on the Bigelow Boulevard stage.

Johnny Walylko

Walylko’s music combines his precise acoustic guitar work with his bright tenor voice in a style reminiscent of his inspirations: Jack Johnson, Jason Mraz, John Mayer and Ed Sheeran. His lyrics deal with human issues and romance, detailing experiences many people take for granted like walking to school and hanging out with friends. Through his charismatic presence and embraceable lyrics, Walylko puts on a show in which his focus is to connect with the audience on a more intimate level, seemingly enjoying the songs as much as the audience does.


Hailing from Louisiana, NAWAS’ tunes evade genre — its music can be at times Top 40-ready, and at other moments a slow, jazzy blend of swirling saxophones and unintelligible vocals. Look out for their most recent release, “Wrong,” where buzzy synths precede lead singer Jake Nawas’ vexed delivery and catchy hooks. NAWAS will be fresh off a set at last week’s LouFest in St. Louis — where they shared a bill with LCD Soundsystem, Vince Staples and Band of Horses — so expect them to be plenty warmed up by the time they hit Bigelow.


FRENSHIP’s latest EP, “Truce,” dropped earlier this month — a five-track collection that starts with the poppy, electronic-heavy “Carpet” and ends with the acoustic ballad “Kids.” With smooth vocals reminiscent of How to Dress Well and Justin Timberlake, crossed with deep house instrumentals, FRENSHIP should stand out amongst singer-songwriter Walylko and hip-hop-heavy Rae Sremmurd. Its most popular song, this summer’s “Capsize,” finds FRENSHIP working with Chainsmokers collaborator Emily Warren — making for a smooth, catchy track that’ll likely leave the crowd buzzing leading into Rae Sremmurd.

Rae Sremmurd

Tuscaloosa, Alabama-born brothers Slim Jxmmi and Swae Lee are known for their five platinum records, including their bass-thumping trap anthem “No Flex Zone.” Maybe more so than their mainstream success, Rae Sremmurd is famous for their high-energy — some would say near-fatal — performances. Once during a show in New York, Jxmmi climbed a speaker to rally the crowd, but instead fell off and cut his leg open, leaving Lee to finish the shows alone. Assuming both members leave Fall Fest intact, they’ll probably sample tracks from “Sremmlife 2,” their new album that Pitchfork called “the ultimate middle finger to grouches who think [the hook and dance-heavy] brand of rap can’t be complex.”

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