Pittsburgh musicians set to celebrate Oakland’s 175th birthday at Oakland Forever festival

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Pittsburgh musicians set to celebrate Oakland’s 175th birthday at Oakland Forever festival

By Sam Bojarski / Staff Writer

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A local paper, called the Harris’ Intelligencer, dubbed a neighborhood just outside of Pittsburgh “Oakland” for the numerous oak trees that lined its hills ­— 175 years ago.

Now, that once-rural space is nearly unrecognizable. 

Much Oakland history has been written since then, and the neighborhood has changed in ways that couldn’t have been predicted in 1839. From the Salk vaccine, to the multiple organ transplant, to the first large-scale public library system, Oakland has been a community of firsts — but it has always lacked a major event to bring the community together. Oakland Forever hopes to give the community something around which to rally.

On Oct. 10-11, Oakland will host the festival to mark the neighborhood’s 175th anniversary. The event will include live music, art exhibits, historical retrospectives and lectures, along with food and fashion trucks. Budding regional music acts will headline the festival, providing a full lineup of entertainment from Friday afternoon through Saturday evening.

Joe Grushecky, who jammed with Bruce Springsteen at Soldiers and Sailors this summer, will perform on the main stage Saturday at 4:30 p.m., as the last act on the main stage in Schenley Plaza. The Swag Monkeys, Nameless in August, famed jazz guitarist Joe Negri and blues singer Jessica Lee will set the stage for Gruscheky’s finale performance. 

On Friday, Beauty Slap, Bastard Bearded Irishmen, Lovebettie and Formula412 will take the stage. Oakland Forever will kick off with an opening ceremony at 3 p.m. in Schenley Plaza, before Beauty Slap plays at 5 p.m.

Zach Rock and his band, Nameless in August, will have a tough task playing after the Swag Monkeys, but he isn’t too worried about playing after the talented group of 13-year-olds. 

“They’re an extraordinarily talented group of kids,” Rock said. “They really look like they’re having fun up there and have drawn crowds everywhere they’ve played.” 

The group of youngsters, who fuse funk and rock music, will be the first group to perform on Saturday morning.

Coming off of great shows this summer in Moraine State Park and Johnstown, Nameless in August is becoming more popular in the region. This weekend, they will be exposed to a large audience in the neighborhood just down the road from where they first began as a group. 

“Me and Jason [Buzon], our banjo player, used to host an open mic at a bar in the South Side. Patrick [McGinley], our bass player, used to live above the bar and started playing with us one night. Jeremy [Colbert] and Michael [Brunk], our drummer, joined later,” Rock said.  

While Rock grew up listening to country music, McGinley provides a backdrop for the group’s melodies with his funk influences. 

“I really feel free when I’m up there playing music. It’s a sense of freedom that I hope the audience latches onto,” Rock said. 

When the group started, Rock handled most of the songwriting — when he first picked up a guitar at age 18, he was composing mini ballads from the start. 

However, as the group has grown more dynamic, the other four members have taken a larger share of the songwriting duties. 

“There’s some songs where, in certain parts, I don’t even know the lyrics,” McGinley said with a smile. “But my funk background has made me look at the music, and thus my bass-playing, in a different way.”

Colbert, the group’s second guitarist, is heavily rooted in the Pittsburgh music scene — he also hosts an open mic at Hambone’s in Lawrenceville each month. 

“The biggest thing I have been able to give this group is harmonies. We do two-part, three-part, sometimes even four-part harmonies,” Colbert said. 

Though they all have their separate influences, the band’s live performances come together as a steady, upbeat blend of bluegrass, folk and rock music, similar to Mumford & Sons. The group focuses heavily on the lyrical content of their music but still draws on the sharp twang of the banjo, backed by the steady rhythm of an acoustic guitar to get the audience up off its feet. 

As a drinking city with a heavy Irish population, Pittsburgh was bound to be a logical market for Bastard Bearded Irishmen from the beginning. Though Dan Stocker, the band’s drummer, is hesitant to place labels on the band, he concedes his group’s role as an Irish rock band with stark similarities to Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys. 

“We have more of a punk sound though, a bit more hard-edge,” Stocker said. 

The band is also famous throughout the local bar and festival scene for their outrageous stage banter and general merrymaking. 

“When we’re onstage, we’re having a great time. Our shows have grown more unrefined, in terms of stage banter, as time has gone by,” Stocker said. 

Although the group got started playing gigs of all traditional and cover songs, they have since produced an album containing original music. However, the group’s setlist is still typically centered around their own idiosyncratic cover versions. Don’t be fooled by the mandolin, the banjo or the acoustic guitar — while these instruments may give their songs more of a melody than most punk rock, the group provides an alternative rock twist on most of their songs. 

“There’s a lot of great groups playing at the festival,” Rock said. “We can’t be more thrilled to honor Pittsburgh and this neighborhood.”

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