Artwork by Joe Mruk
For Pittsburgh music fans, the month of July doesn’t just mean fireworks, grilling, and valiantly fighting the humidity with every trip outside. It means all that, and more: it means the Deutschtown Music Festival is almost here. It will sprawl across the North Side neighborhood on Friday, July 13th and Saturday, July 14th. And in its sixth year, it’s more ambitious than ever. From rock to rap to metal to country to electropop and so much in between—if you’re a fan of it, chances are, Deutschtown’s got it. For free.
Each year, the festival has consistently grown in size, adding venues, stages, and bands—and 2018 is no exception. Both Twyman and Walters confirmed that the number of acts this year tops 350, spread out across 36 stages. New venue additions include the Skyline Stage, situated near the Sue Murray pool with a stunning backdrop of downtown Pittsburgh, as well as three stages at the Threadbare Cider House. The Friday schedule has also been expanded, with music starting at 3 PM and over 120 acts performing that day.
On top of this, out-of-town bands have started to take notice. According to the festival’s recent post in their Facebook event, they received submissions from acts in 26 states and 7 countries. Of these, fourteen were selected to perform, hailing from locales such as Houston, Atlanta, New Orleans, Brooklyn, Washington D.C., and more. And the post implored performers to not let the collaboration stop on July 15th: “Bands, go meet them and book shows with them in their hometowns.”
This widespread interest is a promising sign for our scene’s expansion. Talent alone can’t fully account for this sustained growth (though there’s plenty of that too.) There’s something else—a sense of support, of community, of belonging, and of enthusiasm for the work from all parties involved. This combination makes for an experience that Jon Bindley, frontman of local folk/country outfit Bindley Hardware Company, describes as “the big ole’ family picnic for Pittsburgh’s music scene.” He continues, “Every year I make a new friend or catch a cool new act I’ve yet to see. The experience always leaves me feeling grateful and inspired and sweaty. It’s a holiday!”
Addi Twigg, lead singer of soul/pop band The Telephone Line (and, more recently, Cisco Kid), expresses similar sentiments. “For me, [Deutschtown] has evolved into a tradition of relishing the North Side and its charms, hanging out with our musician friends, and discovering new acts we’ve never heard before,” she says. “If I had to sum it up in one word, it would be ‘unity.’”
For the past three years, Deutschtown’s primary organizers have been Cody Walters, Ben Soltesz, and Hugh Twyman. Of course, it takes a small army to manage and orchestrate an event of this size. But the experience and dedication of this trio have clearly been crucial to Deutschtown’s success. Soltesz observes, “The three of us that organize DMF work very well together, and that makes things easier year over year.” Twyman, who primarily serves as the Band Coordinator, agrees. “I have been getting much more comfortable in my role and my relationship with the other two organizers,” he says. “We are getting into a groove that ultimately makes this festival as good as it can be.”
Their efforts don’t go unnoticed. “Cody, Ben, and Hugh have worked really hard every year to give the artists a good experience,” says Twigg. Bindley concurs. “I continue to be impressed by the hard work of Cody, Hugh, Ben and all the incredible volunteers and venues involved,” he says. “I think what it really comes down to is that those guys and girls really care, they really want it to be authentic and accessible for everyone. “
That accessibility has been extended even further this year. There’s been ongoing conversation about the problems female Pittsburgh musicians (as well as members of other minority groups) face in terms of representation at local concerts and festivals—namely, that there’s not enough of it. “Last year’s Main Stage lineup was sorely lacking in representation from women, people of color, LGBTQIA musicians, and genre diversity,” says Twigg. (And as this year’s recently-wrapped Ladyfest attests, it’s not due to lack of options.) “It came up in some online discussions. I happened to be in attendance at a Fair Play Pittsburgh forum where Cody Walters addressed it directly. He called it an oversight on their part, and while it clearly wasn’t some cartoony, villainous plot to keep marginalized groups out of the spotlight, it was still disappointing to a lot of us that we weren’t naturally considered for the featured spots.”
However, a productive dialogue followed between Twigg, Jenn Jannon-Fischer, Walters, and Soltesz, in which ideas of how to address this moving forward were hashed out. An inclusivity committee was formed to, in Twigg’s words, “ensure artists from various backgrounds were encouraged to submit to the festival and would be considered for the main stage, including acts featuring women, queer artists, musicians of color, and bands from a variety of different genres.”
From the looks of it, the effort was successful. The recently-renamed HughShows Stage on Main and Foreland now features such demographically and musically diverse acts as Dinsosoul (dark indie pop), BBGuns (rap), Buffalo Rose (folk/soul/country), The Buckle Downs (funk/soul/rock), and many more. Twigg acknowledges that this effort is far from finished, but calls the lineups “beautifully eclectic” and “a better representation of Pittsburgh’s communities than in years past.” She continues, “Diversity and inclusion aren’t obstacles to creativity and entertainment; on the contrary, they help make it flourish. DMF organizers listened to critical feedback and immediately acted on it, and I believe the festival will be stronger for it.”
Soltesz himself seems to think so too: “I’m excited about the diverse level of entertainment that Hugh Twyman has scheduled.” He goes on, “We’re just really appreciative of all of the bands that want to participate year over year. Seeing this from behind the curtains, I’m always impressed by the camaraderie amongst the artists. During the festival, it really becomes a big party to enjoy and celebrate local music and musicians.”
While the music is, of course, the centerpiece, Deutschtown offers a fuller festival experience. Family-friendly activities (like a moon bounce, face painting, live ice carving and more) will take place in the park during the day on Saturday. Per tradition, an artist’s market is also on the schedule, as is a parking-lot-turned-beer-garden. And Soltesz notes, “We’ll also have over 30 food trucks and dessert vendors. So come hungry!”
The loss of James Street Gastropub in November was a tough blow to Pittsburgh music fans. But in a happy turn of events, the old building gets at least one last hurrah, with Pittsburgh Winery Stages being set up on all three levels. (I was advised that Walters would know more about how exactly that transpired. Unfortunately, I didn’t hear back from him before publication time.) Regardless, you shouldn’t miss your chance to hear live music in the building again.
I asked everyone if there were particular acts they were looking forward to. The name Snowdonia came up more than once: a young alt-rock band that makes great use of violin and flute. They’ll be taking the Youth Stage (at the corner of James and Susimon Streets) at 8 PM on Saturday. Bindley also mentioned local rapper Livefromthecity, joined by other 1Hood members at the Skyline Stage. Twigg is excited for Brazilian drum ensemble group Timbeleza, playing the Bridge Saturday at 5 PM. And Twyman let us in on a little secret: “Every year, the little gem at the fest is the outdoor Huzsar Stage on Saturday, where there will be blistering, harder bands tearing it up!”
No matter what you’re into, this festival will almost certainly provide an old favorite and a wonderful discovery. And with free admission, all you have to lose is one hell of a party.
“I’ve really enjoyed seeing this festival grow every year while staying true to itself at the same time,” Bindley says. “In all my years of playing Deutschtown…every time it has been a fulfilling and joyful experience. I just love being a part of it.”
He concludes, “I think recent development has got us all a bit worried about the soul of Pittsburgh. Deutschtown is a reminder of what the real Pittsburgh is all about. There is an opportunity and a place for everyone here, no matter what some other jag might say. We’re tough, weird, and we care about each other. Long live Deutschtown Music Fest!”
The music starts at 3 PM on Friday, July 13th and will last late into the night on Saturday July 14th. Free shuttle services are available to cut down on parking congestion as well. You can find Friday’s schedule here and Saturday’s schedule here. Check out the festival’s home page with all the information here.