Poster by Joe Mruk
Summer’s in full swing here in Pittsburgh, which means one of the biggest local music events of the year is almost upon us. Deutschtown Music Festival will be taking over its eponymous North Side neighborhood this weekend, July 14th and 15th. And in its fifth year, it’s more ambitious than ever.
Over two hundred acts will be scattered among thirty-plus stages, both indoors and outdoors, and all for no admission. It’s hardly surprising that this event scooped up City Paper’s “Best Music Festival” Award last year, amid stiff competition. “This is an excellent time of year for a festival, and the neighborhood sets up a pretty unique cultural environment,” says Joe Mruk, renowned local illustrator behind the festival’s posters, maps, and logos. “The price is agreeable—it’s free!—and the bands are many of Pittsburgh’s best.”
Chances are, if there’s a local act you dig, they’ve got a spot lined up at Deutschtown. Singer-songwriter fare, rock, pop, folk, electronic, soul, funk, country, hip-hop, metal, and more—it’s all on the bill, meaning there’s bound to be something for every kind of concertgoer. Food trucks, an artist’s market, children’s activities, a beer garden, and more fun surprises (including a marching band and a secretive Sofar Sounds set) will be supplementing the performances as well. “Every year the festival gets bigger and better,” observes Kevin Saftner. Saftner is one of Deutschtown’s original founders, thanks largely to his key role at North Side music hotspot James Street Gastropub. The venue is a festival centerpiece, located on the corner of James and Foreland streets. “There is more organization, which leads to people having a better all-around experience.”
That organization is necessary. To keep admission free for such a massive event requires both sponsorships and a devoted group of volunteers, willing to put in the hard work on their own time to make things happen. As we’ve seen from other successful local festivals, that commitment is easily found in our city. “The music and general Pittsburgh community really gets behind this event,” Saftner enthuses. Hugh Twyman, longtime journalist, champion of the Pittsburgh music scene, and host of local cable program HughShows, adds, “The vision and dedication, specifically from [festival founders] Cody Walters and Ben Soltesz, is crucial. They work tirelessly throughout the year to put this on…I am constantly impressed that this entire festival is a labor of love for these guys.”
Twyman himself is also one such volunteer. After hosting the Wigle Whiskey Stage in 2015 (which he describes as a “bangin’ time!”), he stepped up to the role of Band Coordinator. He clarifies, “Basically, I whittle down the list of over three hundred submissions to just over two hundred, with the help of Walters and Soltezs, and I place the bands at the various venues available.”
This was already no easy task, but several more spaces were added to the lineup this year. “This time around, Kaffeehaus, Casellula, and the Blacksmith Studio will be included among the venues,” explains Mruk. “Lots of variety between bars, studios, breweries and other sorts of locales will keep it pretty interesting throughout.” The Pittsburgh Winery will also be sponsoring two “pop-up” stages: one at Artist Image Resource on Saturday, and one at the site of the former Double R Café on both days. More traditional stages, such as both levels of James Street, Allegheny Elks Lodge #339, and the Park House, will also be utilized to their full potential.
Venue-hopping at such a talent-packed festival has the potential to be overwhelming. Luckily, the majority of performance spaces at Deutschtown are within a few blocks (or less) of each other, making the event very walkable. (Find a complete map here.) Shuttle buses will also be running all day on Saturday, beginning in front of the North Side T Station and making strategic stops throughout the neighborhood. (More details on that, plus parking information, here.)
Another new festival initiative, funded by the community grant-awarding group the Buhl Foundation, goes by the name Zero Waste. This refers to an attempt to divert 90% or more of nonhazardous garbage away from landfills through various alternative measures, such as composting and recycling. Separate, clearly marked bins will be found throughout the festival, making it easy to sort your waste appropriately. Post-Deutschtown clean-up hasn’t really been an issue, but an effort to be as eco-friendly and sustainable as possible is an admirable one.
These logistical precautions reveal both the foresight of the organizers and the ever-increasing popularity of this event. Estimates put attendance as high as 20,000 overall, with over 1,600 people listed as “going” on the Facebook event page, and an additional 5,700 “interested.” The massive interest is, of course, exciting for performers as well as showrunners. “This event is near and dear to every band’s heart,” says Saftner. “For a lot of musicians, these are the biggest crowds they have performed in front of to this point, which helps build excitement.”
You can see a full schedule for Friday’s lineup here, and one for Saturday here. The range in both genres and local notoriety is impressive. Heavy-hitters and up-and-comers are both plentiful, so you can enjoy old favorites and find some new acts to love, too. Mruk shares a few artists he’s particularly excited about: “Wreck Loose, Honey, Andre Costello, Morgan Erina, Bat Zuppel, Slugss, Grand Piano, Endless Mike and the Beagle Club, Molly Alphabet…” before concluding, accurately, with, “…too many good ones to name, really!”
On the “About” page of the festival’s website, it states: “This non-profit, all-volunteer event has remained steadfast in its goal of: 1) fostering economic and community development in the central North Side; and 2) supporting and promoting Pittsburgh’s vibrant live music scene.” Commitment to those goals by dedicated, hardworking volunteers, and a community enthusiastic about its musicians, have propelled this event to what it is today. No matter how long you stay or who you decide to see, a good time is practically guaranteed.
“I’m just really thankful that I’ve been given the opportunity to help out with this festival visually in the last couple of years,” says Mruk. “The town is lovely, and so are the people. There’s a great collaborative atmosphere and positive vibes all around. This year’s fest won’t be one to miss!”
Twyman concludes, “I am not a North Sider. I claim the West. Saying that, I think the whole genesis for the festival was to attract people to the Deutschtown neighborhood, and the North Side overall. And I believe that five years running, mission accomplished… big time!”
Things get started at 5 PM on July 14th and run into the wee hours of the morning on Sunday. Visit the festival’s website for complete details: http://deutschtownmusicfestival.org/ And find them on Facebook here.