Supporting the scene: DIY music promoters showcase underground acts

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Supporting the scene: DIY music promoters showcase underground acts

courtesy of Brett Shumaker

courtesy of Brett Shumaker

courtesy of Brett Shumaker

courtesy of Brett Shumaker

By AJ Weber / for The Pitt News

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Most nights begin with the sound of a guitar tuning up, amplified feedback and the grin of a performer before strumming a chord.

The routine is wonderfully common to Nate Dietrich and Brett Shumaker, the founders and operators of the DIY music promotion group, Don’t Let The Scene Go Down On Me! Nearly every weekend the two live-music enthusiasts book and organize live-music events for bands local to Pittsburgh and its surrounding areas, as well as small touring acts that aim to permeate Pittsburgh’s underground music scene.

Many of these shows take place right in Oakland, in converted buildings-turned-venues.

“Our shows typically take place anywhere we can find, really,” Dietrich said. “There’s a lot of DIY art spaces. There’s a lot of spaces in Oakland — houses in Lawrenceville as well. Bars, houses … anywhere we can find a home for these shows.”

Students can find shows close to campus at People’s Warehouse on Juliet Street, Sharkweek on Zulema Street and the Bates Hardcore Gym on Bates Street. Many other shows aren’t much further away, like The Mr. Roboto Project — a non-profit, cooperatively-run venue in Garfield — The Night Gallery, a Lawrenceville-based horror-art gallery — and City Grows — an urban gardening shop used for DIY acoustic shows in Upper Lawrenceville.

According to Dietrich, Don’t Let The Scene Go Down On Me! is one of the 15 to 20 music promoters in Pittsburgh that aim to keep the city’s various underground music scenes flourishing. Shumaker, the original founder of the organization, started his promotional work in 2007. As both a former touring musician and promoter, Shumaker sought to find a way to help grow the music scenes he’d been involved in as a performer since age 13, playing in a variety of bands. Now 22, the Pittsburgh native plays in the bands DIVORCE., Killing Thing and Fake Grave, while simultaneously booking shows through Don’t Let The Scene Go Down On Me!

“I was in a band — and I was booking our shows. The band ended up breaking up, but I just wanted to keep booking shows. And that’s pretty much how this started,” he said.

Not long after beginning the project on his own, Shumaker and Dietrich joined forces after attending each other’s shows during their days as touring musicians. Now ­— eight years later — they’re booking weekend shows, confirming dates with venues, finding local bands to fit the bill and promoting each show on social media and around town.

They draw crowds from all over Pittsburgh by booking overlapping genres, ranging anywhere between indie rock to emo. Much of the promotion happens on their Facebook page, where the two post upcoming events nearly every day with homemade posters announcing the acts. Shumaker and Dietrich estimate they put on one to three shows a week, depending on the season.

When it comes to organizing the shows, Dietrich and Shumaker book specific genres individually, according to their respective tastes.

“Nate and I kind of have our different styles,” Shumaker said. “I do a lot of punk, pop-punk and folk punk. Nate does a lot more of the hardcore stuff, or emo.”

The two agree that much of the time their own music preferences overlap, which draws in a wide range of audience members, from middle schoolers to working professionals.

Though much of those who make up the crowd are returning devotees, a significant number of audience members come out to experience the scene for the first time.

Don Doerfler, a junior mechanical engineering major at Pitt, had only been to one Don’t Let The Scene Go Down On Me! show before seeing the Michigan soul-punk band, Jake Simmons, and The Little Ghosts at Howlers bar in Lawrenceville earlier in the month, but was pleased to return to another of the group’s shows. 

“The environment is really inviting. It’s easy to feel comfortable,” Doerfler said. “What’s cool is you don’t really have to know the bands to have a good time. You can just relax and listen, and even then someone’s likely to start a conversation with you.”

But it’s not only the attendees that enjoy the experience. Perhaps the biggest supporters of the DIY promotion group are the musicians themselves.

Jake Stern, who graduated from Pitt last spring with a philosophy degree and plays in the folk-rock band Meridian, sees Shuman and Dietrich’s success extending past the shows. 

“Don’t Let The Scene Go Down On Me! has just been incredibly supportive of us,” Stern said, who frequently plays in Don’t Let The Scene Go Down On Me! shows with both Meridian and his other band, The Otis Wolves. “They really see the merit in helping out these smaller touring acts. What sets them apart too is that their shows seem to really be mostly about the music — rather than just partying. It’s accessible, and a welcoming environment.”

On top of the support and opportunities the organization provides to musicians, Stern said each show is well-promoted and comes equipped with necessary equipment, like amplifiers. 

“They give people the opportunity to host shows when they might not necessarily have the means to,” Stern said.

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