Small venues foster both rising national and local talent

By Shawn Cooke / A&E Editor

Though Mr. Small’s Theater and the Altar Bar might seem like small rooms in comparison to the mammoth spaces of Consol Energy Center and First Niagara Pavilion, both the roughly 500-person capacity venues house artists who more people than just your cousin from Brooklyn have heard about. In fact, more than a few of those acts have gone on to gain huge, national, “Saturday Night Live”-level exposure. Meanwhile, a few prominent venues in Pittsburgh don’t aim to pull in artists with that popularity — and if they do, it’s purely by accident. Many of Pittsburgh’s smaller performance spaces don’t only focus on showcasing nationally touring artists, but also on fostering the city’s vibrant local music scene.

Warhol Theater

117 Sandusky St.

North Side

Right inside the Andy Warhol Museum, the Warhol Theater serves as a nod to the artist’s relatively famous music career. Though it doubles as the “Film and Video Center,” the theater hosts countless performances through the Warhol’s Sound Series. While many of the artists tend to be on the more obscure, avant-garde side of indie, electronic, hip-hop or international music, every once in a while an artist will sell out the Warhol before being written into the musical history books and selling out much larger rooms. But not everyone can be Future Islands.

The Shop

4314 Main St.


As “DIY” as DIY gets, The Shop is a true hole-in-the-wall in the most endearing way possible. Aside from being just a performance house, this Bloomfield venue doubles as a paint shop and art studio for local artist Lauri Mancuso. But above all, The Shop stands as a haven to Pittsburgh’s blossoming local punk scene. Tight and intimate, but with plenty of room to breathe if you’re not a mosh pit hound, The Shop allows for a tasteful amount of intensity. Aside from local punk artists, The Shop has also roped in some rising national artists such as Modern Baseball and Perfect P*ssy. 


4104 Penn Ave.


This one’s for the grown-ups. Brillobox ropes in a plentiful number of artists — primarily on the indie, punk and electronic end of the spectrum (and any combination of those genre tags) — but there’s a caveat: nearly all of the performances are limited to patrons who are 21+, as the venue doubles as a bar and restaurant. For many young law-abiding college students, like this writer, it’s a deal-breaker. But based on its strong and diverse booking — primarily through Opus One — it warrants a mention. Recently, Brillobox has attracted a strong lineup of artists, including Mutual Benefit, Iceage and Chad VanGaalen.

The Smiling Moose

1306 E. Carson St.

South Side

Much like Brillobox, The Smiling Moose is another bar-slash-music-venue combo. While The Smiling Moose has its share of 21+ entertainment — including their weekly comedy open mic night — it also offers a much wider selection of all-ages shows. Although this South Side restaurant-bar can occasionally book similar artists to Brillobox, it usually leans more on the metal and emo (emo-revival) side of things. The Smiling Moose sports both an upstairs and downstairs stage, with a bar on each level. Some recent and upcoming shows for The Smiling Moose include The Hotelier, Speedy Ortiz and Caspian.