If you’re reading this, chances are high that you’ve seen at least one show at Mr. Smalls Theatre, or its smaller companion, The Funhouse. These venues and the concerts they host are definitely worth the trek across the river to Millvale (as my sizable Lyft bills can attest), and they’ve brought renewed interest and economic activity to the area. But on Saturday, May 13th, the first-ever Millvale Music Festival intends to celebrate the borough as a whole, and highlight its growing, unique business district. “I think Millvale is a snapshot of the real Pittsburgh, no frills,” says Jon Bindley, of performing band Bindley Hardware Company. “It is a proud blue-collar neighborhood that knows how to cut loose. Growing up here, a lot of people just think, ‘Okay, that’s where Mr. Smalls is,’ but there is a lot more to it. Recently, it seems like the arts community has really taken off.”
That’s what this festival aims to demonstrate. With performances happening from morning ‘til midnight at venues like the Grist House Craft Brewery and Element Church; bars such as the Double L Bar and Bar 3 Millvale; and outdoor stages on streets and in parks, no possible musical space will be left unplayed. (The Funhouse itself will be participating too.) Each stage and lineup is grouped by genre, so whether you’re into metal, punk, folk, singer-songwriter fare, or all different kinds of rock, you’ll find several performers to your liking on the bill. (Click here to see the full schedule.)
Oh, and one more thing: it’s all FREE.
Following in the footsteps of local events such as RANT, Ladyfest, and Deutschtown, Millvale Music Festival has scheduled more than a hundred different acts for the occasion. However, unlike their predecessors, festival runners have condensed this sizable lineup into one talent-packed day. From solo artists such as Morgan Erina and Johanna Chastek to powerhouse bands like Chrome Moses and Jimbo and the Soupbones, the sheer spectrum of performers is staggering. Dan Styslinger, who will be playing a solo set in the afternoon, agrees, elaborating: “I feel like Pittsburgh has so much creative talent per capita, it’s nearly impossible to keep track of everything that’s happening. Festivals like this one help showcase many of the up-and-coming artists from around the area.”
Brenda Leeds, lead singer and guitarist for alternative rock band Old Game, also appreciates the wide range of the featured acts. “It is great to see other festivals popping up in the city, especially those that are more inclusive in regards to gender, race, and sexuality,” she says. “I am most looking forward to seeing my musician sisters on stage around Millvale. And I hope even more of them will be included next year, as our music scene embraces the diversity the talented folks offer here.”
Of course, it’s not only the musicians who will be highlighted. For many, their primary association with Millvale comes from Mr. Smalls, but this event sprawls beyond Lincoln Avenue and into the many charming, cool, and interesting spaces that the borough has to offer. Ryan Kantner, bassist for Bindley Hardware Company (among other bands), explains: “Millvale is like a mixture of the city, the suburbs, and the open country, all rolled into one. It’s a very blue collar neighborhood, with winding back roads, steep hills, and (I assume) secrets and mysteries at every corner.” He continues, “[It] also sports some awesome breweries, like The Grist House. It’s great to be able to play at a place where I like to hang out anyway!” Styslinger summarizes: “I think it encapsulates the spirit of Pittsburgh – a rust belt town creatively redefining itself for the 21st century.”
Showcasing that spirit seems to be the goal of the event. On the festival’s official Facebook page, it describes itself as a “standing committee of the Millvale Community Development Corporation,” with the aim of “highlight[ing] the [borough’s] growing cultural presence and businesses…that continue to grow into something special.” David Hipchen, lead singer and rhythm guitarist for the Kittanning-based rock band Tilted Shadows, acknowledges why now is the perfect time for such an event to occur. “There are so many great bands and artists in our region for [the festival] to showcase. Couple that with the forward thinking of the council members in Millvale, the [event] committee, and the River’s Edge radio station, and it’s the perfect set up.”
Neighborhoods such as Lawrenceville and Bloomfield have long been staples of this city’s music and cultural scenes, so it makes sense for relatively up-and-coming places such as Millvale to want to throw their hats in the ring, and show off the unique value they can offer. Bindley offers some additional insight: “I think the recent success of the Deutschtown Music Festival and the Wilkins Block Party has got a lot to do with it. You don’t need national headliners or a hot-shot promoter to make a great festival. You need diverse, vibrant communities, music-loving volunteers, and quality regional acts. Pittsburgh has got all three in spades right now.”
He’s not wrong. Kantner provides a similar view: “All it takes for a festival like this to happen is for a few hardworking individuals to start laying plans and making phone calls, and it seems like Pittsburgh musicians are pretty happy to bring the jams.” One of those individuals is Brian Crawford of The River’s Edge Radio, which plays strictly local music, 24/7. Both Styslinger and Leeds (and likely other performers as well) were approached by him about playing the festival, and he was an integral part of the planning process. Bindley, meanwhile, was encouraged by Millvale native, BHC fan, and event organizer Jenny Sines to sign up online.
Putting together an event of this scale is not an easy undertaking. It takes both an uncanny knack for logistics and a genuine passion for putting those skills to use, for the benefit of musicians and music-lovers alike. From the look of things so far, those in charge have done a thoroughly good job. They’ve even set up a shuttle service from selected parking areas and a zTrip taxi stand to facilitate the influx of driving attendees. (See the Transportation section of this map and the Facebook event page for more details.)
As far as refreshments go, several food trucks will be stationed between performance spots, such as The Flame BBQ, Frank’s Pizza and Chicken, and Rita’s Italian Ice, among others. Thanks to several festival sponsors (including Oskar Blues Brewery, Dogfish Head, and Bell’s Inspired Brewing), alcohol will also be available for purchase near the bigger stages and in many venues. (Again, more information is available on the event page and the festival’s official website.)
To try to individually recommend all the great acts playing would turn this into a novel, so I’ll simply pass along some standouts, according to the musicians who chatted with me. Both Kantner and Bindley mentioned indie rockers Essential Machine, with whom they’ll be sharing the Grist House stage. (EM plays at 4 PM.) Bindley also expressed excitement for West Virginia native (and Misra Records artist) William Matheny, who will be playing the Bell’s Brewery Main Stage with his band at 3 PM.
But no matter your musical preferences, it’s almost a guarantee that you’ll find something to enjoy at the (again, free-to-attend) Millvale Music Festival this Saturday. Leeds says, “This festival (and others like it) are a great way to live in the moment, explore new territories, and enjoy music. What more do you need?”
Still not convinced? Bindley sums it up best: “Don’t be a jag, come to Millvale, and see what all the fuss is about.”