Sound Scene Express

Pittsburgh’s Music Party (RANT) Grows in 5th Year

August 12-14

By Melanie Stangl

This year’s Rock All Night Tour (RANT) is bringing a tremendous amount of talent to Lawrenceville over the course of August 12th-14th.  The extended duration marks the festival’s five year anniversary, throughout which it has grown exponentially in both scope and popularity in keeping with Pittsburgh’s blossoming music scene. For five years RANT has “taken over” Lawrenceville, but this year, more so than ever before, the phrase is literal. 210 musical acts will sprawl over 49 hours and 34 stages. Organizer Michael “Zombo” Devine says, “We’ve been open to any kind of a performance space. We are in not only some of the city’s best music venues like Spirit and Cattivo, but large studios like Javo, Arsenal Park, and even small businesses like barber shops and local retail stores.” Several new venues have been added this year, including the recently-opened Abbey on Butler Street, Arsenal Cider House, and the Polish Eagle Society, among others—if there’s a courtyard, patio, or rooftop available in Lawrenceville, chances are you’ll be able to catch some RANT performers there. It’s still 100% free to attend, which makes the hard work of all the bands, stage managers, crews, and employees of the venues that much more valuable: they’re doing it for the love of their city and its music.

No one has put in more work for that love than three of the festival’s primary organizers: Zombo, Mary Jo Coll of Howler’s/Hambone’s, and Andrew Belsick of LoFi Delphi. All three have been involved in Pittsburgh’s music scene for over a decade. “I started all the music events at Arsenal Lanes, and did several offbeat music events at places like bingo halls and other non-club venues…at that time they were an untapped market,” says Zombo. That particular experience is an asset for putting together something like RANT. Nowadays he has a major hand in many music events around the city, including Pizzafest and one-off shows such as June’s Summer Surf Fest.

Mary Jo, meanwhile, manages show booking and back-of-house tasks for Howler’s, and occasionally assists in these responsibilities for Lawrenceville staple Hambone’s as well. A self-described “band mom” who’s quick to whip up sandwiches or soup for starving young artists, she was crucial in transforming Howler’s from a primarily punk bar with an outdated booking system into the multi-genre, streamlined, local music hotspot that it is today. “About 11 years ago, I picked up what was supposed to be a couple nights a week behind the bar at Howlers…with booking policies that entailed a date book behind the bar, which bartenders handed the bands to book themselves,” she says. “The paralegal in me kicked in, and I started organizing the bookings, getting an online presence…As things got better at Howlers, the owner started investing in better sound and stage, and it snowballed.” Both her organizational skills and the staggering amount of shows she’s seen make her a critical component in RANT’s continued expansion and success.

Belsick picked up a bass in the scene in 2003, as well as some of the show-running aspects of RANT in 2014. “I instilled some technology into the process (Google forms, etc.) and spent most of my time understanding the process and helping herd cats with Mary Jo,” he says.  “This year, I think I’ve continued to grow that project manager role: taking band submissions, helping assign bands, working through scheduling issues, inventorying/assigning equipment, identifying tech/sound guy needs, and ultimately making sure the day goes as smoothly as it can.”

What newcomers to the community might not realize is that RANT was the first festival specifically dedicated to Pittsburgh musicians. “Five years ago, while booking the bands with Art All Night, I noticed this city’s huge amount of local music talent,” says Zombo, “and thought a neighborhood-wide festival showcasing them to the public for free was a worthy challenge.” He continues, “We were the first multi-genre multi-venue event of its kind [here.] Sort of a South by Southwest, but free and open to all bands.” Since then, the Deutschtown, Strip District, and Ladyfest music festivals have all followed RANT’s lead, with great success. Belsick admits being (pleasantly) surprised by these developments, commenting, “When I moved away in 2010, if someone would’ve said there would be 3+ festivals focusing on local Pittsburgh music, or that venues would be booking more than 3 months out, I would have called you crazy.” This is due in no small part to, in the words of Mary Jo, Pittsburgh’s “insanely talented musical community.” She elaborates, “I see all the genres. Not just friends’ bands or the local elite…even in genres that I, personally, am not a fan of, I can appreciate the level of talent there is to offer.” With such a large number of bands participating, all of those genres will be on display this weekend.

Since its humble beginnings, RANT has grown every year, accommodating more acts, more styles, and more fans. “I believe the first year, RANT had around 70 performers,” says Belsick.  “This has literally tripled in size.” The length of the festival has also tripled, bookended by opening and closing parties/performances in Arsenal Park on Friday and Sunday. Other additions include the AcoustiCafe Open Stage at Hambone’s (running from noon to 8 PM on Saturday), a Blacktop Cannibals Car Show (set up near Stinky’s Bar and Grill, also on Saturday), and a Classic Motorbike Show (happening Saturday near The Abbey on Butler Street.) To keep up with this significant expansion, more people have voluntarily signed on to assist in organizational and stage-managing roles (including local heavyweights such as Hugh Twyman.) Without the hard work of people like these, such an undertaking would be impossible to orchestrate. This, along with the massive turnout RANT has seen before and will likely see again, speaks to the steadfast dedication, sense of community, and genuine love of music that permeates Pittsburgh and makes this scene so special.

Putting together such a massive event is a huge, complex logistical undertaking. Combined with nonexistent admission prices and little corporate sponsorship, the underground, DIY feel of the festival is no accident. Between securing venues (which Zombo admits was “pretty rough,”), allocating sound equipment and technicians, organizing times and lineups for each stage, spreading the word in local media, and making limited funds stretch as far as possible, RANT showrunners have had plenty to juggle. Money has definitely been a sticking point. Zombo says, “Unlike the other festivals…we have very few corporate sponsors [Yuengling being the primary one], and operate with about a total budget of $3,000.” This ties into the equipment struggle as well, much of which is borrowed from friends or provided by the bands themselves. Somehow, though, it has thus far managed to come together without too many screw-ups. “We are still a bit of an underground festival,” continues Zombo. “I guess that adds to the charm of the event.”

“My role,” Mary Jo says, “is lovingly referred to as the ‘cat herder:’ rounding up the bands, figuring out where they’re going to play, listening to all the music and trying to fit the pieces together like a giant jigsaw puzzle.” A 210-piece puzzle is certainly more challenging than one with 70 pieces. Belsick, however, is confident about how the process shook out, and their approach to it. “We take a lot of pride in knowing exactly where to place acts to create a cohesive stage, while at the same time taking people out of their comfort zone and breaking down some of the cliques that can pop up in the music scene.  That type of skillset is only developed by being a part of the [community] for many years…just like Mary Jo, Zombo, and, to some extent, myself have.” (Though he also acknowledges, correctly, “Artsy folks don’t always have a penchant for organization.”)

Their selection process for which acts perform is rather unique, in that there really isn’t one. “If you want to play our festival, all you have to do is let us know via our website.” says Zombo.  Belsick adds, “Unless a band presents us with unreasonable availability, if you submit, you play.  We welcome all genres, types of acts, ages, etc.  It’s easy to let things like this become the ‘cool kids table,’ and we do everything we can to avoid that.” “We refuse to select bands to play,” Zombo summarizes. “They select us.”

That attention to diversity shows in the festival’s eclectic lineup. Rock, punk, metal, acoustic, country/roots, alternative, and even electronic and hip-hop will be represented on RANT’s 34 stages. From more well-known names such as Chet Vincent and the Big Bend, Bindley Hardware Company, Wreck Loose, Balloon Ride Fantasy, and Morgan Erina; to up-and-comers like Swiss Army, The Shiners, Prime 8, Roulette Waves, and Sun Hound; as well as many individual singer-songwriters, this festival is a true showcase of nearly everything going on in Pittsburgh music.

Another distinct feature of RANT is their youth stage, which gives participants of local rock camps and other young musicians a chance to showcase their talents. Mary Jo describes it as “completely unique to RANT,” elaborating, “We give the kids and rock camps a stage to show what the next generation of musicians coming up can do. And some of these kids are immensely talented.” Belsick agrees, adding, “The youth stage as a whole is exciting. It’s really cool to catch a glimpse of the guys/girls that will be carrying the torch of Pittsburgh music into the future.” Giving young people a chance to perform in a festival alongside older, more established bands is a great opportunity on multiple levels: honing their performance skills, exposing their music to a wider audience, and getting to see what the life of a working musician entails, on the ground level. Managed by Andrea Pinigis, whose son plays in Electric Army, this stage will be located outside the Boys and Girls Club in the center of the festival, at the intersection of 46th and Butler. If you want a sneak preview of what RANT 2026 might look like, here’s your chance.

The party kicks off at 5 PM on Friday the 12th at Arsenal Park, coinciding with Citipark’s Summer Cinema series (the movie will be the family-friendly Cinderella.) DJ Griffin provides the soundtrack between sets from Nameless in August, Solarburn, and others. The Hambone’s Acoustic Open Stage, usually reserved for Tuesday nights, will run from 6 PM to 8:30 before another great group of bands (including The Telephone Line and Swiss Army) will perform. Howlers will also host NYC punk-psych rockers The Skull Practitioners, alongside Olympic Village and Weird Corners, starting at 9:30.

Saturday is when the festival will truly live up to its name, starting at noon and rocking all night. Trying to put it all down here would turn this into a novel, so for a full list of bands, times, and venues, visit the RANT website or the Facebook event page.

Sunday winds things down with Acoustic Brunch at Hambone’s, starting at 11 AM and hosted by Jeremy Caywood. Arsenal Park will once again host a DJ (this time, DJ Spark), as well as six more bands—including Shannon and the Merger and Timbeleza—for Family Picnic Day, which begins at noon and runs until 5 PM. Food and drinks will be available for sale, or you can bring your own.

Suffice to say, RANT is shaping up to continue its legacy of celebrating Pittsburgh music (and the Lawrenceville neighborhood), as well as expand upon it. Belsick finds fulfillment from his participation in “knowing that you’re part of something that is larger than the event itself, that whole sum greater than its parts deal…It’s rewarding and an honor to be a part of something like that.”

As Mary Jo puts it, this event is “a true representation of ALL that Pittsburgh has to offer…a true DIY festival.” Ultimately, “RANT is Pittsburgh’s music’s party. We just facilitate it.”

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