North Side music festival doubles in size for the second year

The Deutschtown Music Festival launched last July with 40 bands and managed to thrive, even with a Taylor Swift spectacle sharing the North Shore at Heinz Field.

"Last year everything went amazingly well," says Ben Soltesz, who co-founded the festival with Cody Walters. "I don't know if we were smart or lucky, but we had little to no incidents, and all of the bands had a good time, were real appreciative of the event, and when we reached out to them this year, almost all of them are doing it again."

On Saturday, the bands have more company, as the free festival has ballooned to 90 acts and added another half-dozen venues. Along with the main outdoor stage at Foreland and Middle streets, the festival has added a Park Stage at Allegheny Commons East, where there will be an artist market as well.

Although it's a bit off the beaten path, a youth concert presented by ROX Performance Academy at The Andy Warhol Museum has been incorporated into the event, and the Damascus Church of God will raise the rafters with an afternoon of gospel music.

"Also this year," Mr. Soltesz says, "and we feel it's one of the successes of the North Side recently is Wigle Whiskey has opened a Barrelhouse and Whiskey Garden on Spring Garden Avenue, where there had not been much going on there. I live over there, and there have been some industrial places where you're not sure if they're open or not, and Wigle Whiskey came in and bought this property, and they've really nicely rehabbed this building."

As for the number of bands, there wasn't a lot of recruiting involved, even though they donate their time to play.

"People came to us," he says. "We got the word out to bands that played last year, and then other people started trickling in to where we even had to turn down a few folks."

One that organizers reached out to, and were surprised to get, was 28 North, a Southern rock band that has been busy touring nationally with ZZ Top, Steel Panther, Train and Young the Giant, to name a few.

"We've been out in LA and touring nonstop," says 28 North guitarist Michael Linder, "and we are setting up shop in the 'Burgh in preparation for our Midwest/Southern tour. The festival is a great way for us to hang with the Pittsburgh talent and meet some of the great bands that are running Pittsburgh."

They're joined by some of the city's favorite club bands, including The Harlan Twins, Grand Piano, Slim Forsythe, Bastard Bearded Irishmen, Roger Humphries & RH Factor, and retro-pop band The Neighbours, which announced this week that it is folding with a final gig in August.

The range is "kind of all over the place," Mr, Soltesz says. "The gospel thing is nice. James Street Tavern has a jazz lineup from 1 o'clock till midnight, every hour. We have some bluegrass, regular rock, indie rock bands."

The first band on the outdoor stage is a North Side newcomer called 3TG (Three Talented Girls). "I looked them up," Mr. Soltesz says. "They had a date named to their honor from the city of Pittsburgh. Three young girls from the North Side who play and sing together."

One band not on the slate is The Clarks, who are doing their CD release show at Stage AE with Jimmer Podrasky, who formed the Rave-Ups here in the late '70s before heading off to LA.

"Anybody that would go see music, we want," says Mr. Soltesz, "but we're not sure they're cannibalizing our crowd either."

In fact, he says, it's something Clarks fans can do on their way over there.

Along with being a showcase for bands, one of the initial goals of the event when it started was to draw attention to the neighborhood.

"We want to get people out and publicize the North Side," Mr. Soltesz says. "There's this big push by the Buhl Foundation to get people to invest in the North Side. They were actually the first group that agreed to be a sponsor for this. The fact that they're investing in this and the North Side as a whole is getting us in the direction of where we wanted to go with this whole thing."

Whether Deutschtown will expand at some point to add national acts remains to be seen.

"That would be the way to go to ramp it up," Mr. Soltesz says. "We did raise some funds this year to help out but definitely not enough to reach out to a national band. Down the road we can see a national headliner on the outdoor stage."

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