Strip District Music Fest to spotlight local artists


By Stephanie Roman / Staff Writer

Pittsburgh may not boast the famous local music scene of a New York or an Austin, but this weekend, the city will show off its scene-building chops.

The Strip District will house more than 70 local bands and artists in at least 10 venues between noon and 2 a.m. on Saturday during its inaugural Strip District Music Fest

Everybody from metalheads, indie kids and hip-hoppers to electronic aficionados, punks and folksters will find something to chew on, assures organizer Drusky Entertainment. The best part? It’s completely free to attend. Free, however, in the sense that it doesn’t cost anything to get into the venues or see the bands.

Attendees are strongly encouraged to pay-what-you-want — a system designed to pay 75 percent of each donation to the musicians and to preserve 25 percent for next year’s event. 

Donating doesn’t automatically guarantee admittance into a venue, because of either age restrictions or capacity, but it ensures artists compensation and provides a possible incentive to return.

Performing at Altar Bar, Drusky’s main venue, will be the Bastard Bearded Irishmen, a tribute to Irish drinking songs and mandolin-powered rock; the SpacePimps, a delightfully catchy pop punk group; Gene the Werewolf, who you may have heard on the radio with their recognizably classic rock anthem “I Only Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll;” and Identity X, a compelling mix of metal and post-hardcore, among other bands.

Other venues include 21st Street Coffee and Tea, Thin Man Sandwich Shop, Framezilla and Pittsburgh Winery. 

At each location, attendees can browse the works of various art vendors curated by Second Shift Crafters, an organization committed to creating markets for Pittsburgh artisans.

The 21 and up venues will serve Pabst Blue Ribbon, one of the festival’s sponsors, on special, and some will serve discounted Wigle Whiskey from a locally owned and operated distillery located on Smallman St., which is conveniently another venue. 

Food trucks, including Saucy Mamas Italian Food Truck, Southside Barbeque Company and Lomito Truck, will whip up food outside Altar Bar and between Framezilla and Pittsburgh Winery for those less inclined for a bar or sit-down meal. Alternatively, the Strip District boasts many restaurants and cafes unaffiliated with the festival. 

“We’re also encouraging fans to check out some of the other great restaurants in the neighborhood,” Drusky Vice President Josh Bakaitus said.

Some local music fans won’t be joining the festival, however, because of recent controversy surrounding Drusky’s owner and president.

In December, Brian Drusky posted comments on Facebook that some activists labelled as mockery of recent anti-police protests. His posts drew online backlash, resulting in several artists dropping out of the Music Fest lineup, including Roger Harvey, Chet Vincent and the Big Bend and André Costello and the Cool Minors. Drusky has since removed the comments and posted an apology to Facebook

Another Drusky show slated for February with Anti-Flag was canceled because the band refused to stand with those who “belittle the fight” against racism.

This controversy provoked an outspoken “Boycott Drusky” group to arise on social media. Pittsburgh comedian Davon Magwood participated in the boycott before meeting with Drusky in December at a town-hall gathering to open the discussion about race and police violence. But the efforts have left Magwood disappointed. 

“The climate has not changed, there hasn’t been much action on [Brian Drusky’s] end yet,” Magwood said. “And for the black community to feel like he truly means well, he has to show it with his efforts, not what is said. His comments showcased an ignorance that has been allowed to continue in this city for way too long.”

Despite any personal feelings on Drusky’s conduct, Bakaitus said the Strip District Music Fest is intended to showcase Pittsburgh’s recent cultural development.  

The event will “set a stage for the neighborhood as a whole, the culture and development that has been happening over the last couple of years,” Bakaitus said. “I’m also striving to showcase the vibrant and diverse music scene within Pittsburgh.”

One of the festival’s prospective attendees, Stephen Weiss, a strings teacher at Johnstonbaugh’s Music Center, admires the festival for spotlighting a music scene that doesn’t draw the acclaim of those in larger cities. 

“I really love these kind of events because it exposes to Pittsburgh the amount of awesome talent that exists in a city that’s not necessarily as well known for its music scene like New York and Nashville,” Weiss said in an email. “I’m also a big believer in supporting the local artists.”