By: Zach Brendza | Associate Editor
The inaugural Strip District Music Festival commenced on Jan. 17, and with its turnout, the festival will most likely become an annual fixture in the Pittsburgh music community.
Festival organizer and Drusky Entertainment Vice President Josh Bakaitus expected an estimated 2,000 attendees to the pay-what-you-want festival in the Strip, but those expectations were exceeded. The festival brought between 8,000 to 9,000 festival goers that came to check out 70 bands between 11 venues.
Besides the turnout, one of the most gratifying things about the festival was that Pittsburgh came out to see Pittsburgh’s bands. The festival was comprised of bands from the city and the surrounding areas. Despite some acts that dropped from the festival and possible attendees boycotting after comments made from Brian Drusky regarding anti-police brutality protests, the festival went on and placed the focus on what it should have been: local music. The event was meant to bring out the community during the winter months where people are shacked up inside, evading the cold. While certain things that were said should not have been, the festival’s initial mission of bringing people to the Strip District neighborhood and showcasing local music was kept strong.
The hub of the festival was Altar Bar, where bigger local acts like Bastard Bearded Irishmen, Dethlehem, Fist Fight In The Parking Lot and The SpacePimps took the stage. Both the main floor and basement, with periodic DJ sets, were packed, but that seemed to be the motif of the Strip District Music Festival.
The Beerhive was the first venue I checked out and it was a pretty wild sight. Bartenders frantically passed out Bud Light bottles and craft beer drafts to the middle aged crowd, most of which appeared to be in their 30’s. Native Alloys, an indie rock band of sorts, was playing upstairs on the makeshift stage (a cleared out area of the second floor seating). The mostly inebriated crowd was into the music and gave cheers and rounds of applause in between songs.
From Pittsburgh Winery to Framezilla to Wigle Whiskey (yes, even wineries and distilleries can have shows), lines sprawled out the door. From the right view. the sight may have looked like East Carson Street on a late Saturday night. While I never got into Pittsburgh Winery (although I know from experience), the coolest venue I experienced was a tie between the frame shop and whiskey distillery.
Seeing a packed frame shop, with people armed with Pabst Blue Ribbon pounders on a weekend night was something I never thought I would see. In the case of Wigle Whiskey, having an emo/shoegazy band like I Am A Sea Creature throw down in front of a rack of whiskey barrels was quite the spectacle and I hope something of similar juxtaposition can happen again soon.
The Strip was alive on Saturday night as much as I have ever seen it. Maybe the most alive I ever will. Bakaitus plans to have the festival again next year. With the turnout he saw, he told Scott Mervis of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he will keep an all local line-up. While he had originally thought of adding national acts to the festival, it’s pretty cool to see a festival of that size continue to promote the local music scene and all its acts.