Deutschtown music festival ready for 2nd year



With a small knot of volunteers and a knack for making connections, Cody Walters has become an impresario in his adopted neighborhood of Deutschtown, the North Side flats between Interstate 279 North and the Allegheny Commons Park.

He and his band of wranglers birthed the Deutschtown Music Festival last year, getting sponsors and closure of part of Foreland Street for stages and food trucks during the day and convincing a dozen bar and restaurant owners to be hosts of live music into the wee hours.

More than 40 bands played for free, their recompense being exposure.

"It was a huge success" without breaking even, said Mr. Walters.

He came up with a way to break even this year when the second Deutschtown Music Festival kicks off at 11 a.m. July 12 with the first of 88 bands -- "twice the number as last year," he said.

"The interest from the music community in this event has been vast."

Bar Marco, a Strip District establishment licensed to sell beer outdoors, will tend the fundraiser, a beer garden from 4 to 8 p.m. outside the James Street Gastropub & Speakeasy.

Thousands of people turned out last year, especially for the indoor gigs after a brutally hot day. With a doubling of bands, one stage in the park, outdoor beer sales and extended closure of Foreland, this year will test the festival and the neighborhood in what the organizers hope will become an annual event.

With roots in Deutschtown, it will vine out to Troy Hill's Penn Brewery and Wigle Whiskey's Barrelhouse in Spring Garden.

"There weren't any complaints last year," said Cynthia Shea, president of the board of East Allegheny Community Council, a festival sponsor.

Mr. Walters also is on the board. "No complains about noise or trash," although the council provided adequate garbage collection and had volunteers do sweeps of the area, she said.

"We'll see" about this year. "Hopefully he has talked to the neighbors who live around there. He does have relationships with business owners, and he got a shuttle" to quell concerns about parking. A bus will shuttle people from the North Shore T stop.

Sponsors include The Sprout Fund, Highmark, WYEP-FM and American Eagle.

Mr. Walters said the festival raised $4,000, and the community council is pitching in $2,000 for the free event, adding, "At some point, it will have to be monitized."

Several business owners confirmed the experience was positive.

"The only downside was the heat," said Jan Puglin, senior bartender at Max's Allegheny Tavern, which packed its Ratskellar for five bands.

"It was a rousing success. Pretty close" to the best day of the year. "It was so well organized, like a well-oiled machine. The only complaints were from people who wished they had come earlier because they couldn't get in."

"There were no lingering after-effects of a clean-up, and a lot of young people came in," said Robin Miller, director of the North Shore North Side Chamber of Commerce. "The whole face of the neighborhood has gotten much younger."

Barbara Burns, owner of the Sweet Time General Store, said she appreciates that the event gives bar and restaurant owners "a chance to see that there is an audience that will conduct themselves well."

Some of the regular street night life isn't always savory, she said, adding that some bars expect that.

"You can have standards," she said. "They can raise the bar of their expectations."

"The festival attracts people as a destination," said Nate Wigfield, director of community development for Bistro to Go, an indoor music venue for the festival.

"We don't get that a lot. People pass through, but few people say, 'Let's go to East Ohio Street.' We're excited that the festival can change perceptions."

In his previous job, Mr. Walters linked clients to services for Green Apple Barter.

Now between jobs, he said of his ability to pull together the scheduling logistics for 15 hours of events, "I'm a connector."

He laid the groundwork as a new resident five years ago when he invited 20 neighborhood friends to join him for a bar crawl.

By word of mouth, he had 75 crawlers the next year, then 200, then 300.

"They said, 'Do something else' " last year. I thought, 'James Street [Gastropub] has jazz and the Park House has live music and the Elks has Banjo Night," he said. "Wouldn't it be great to make this neighborhood a music destination?"

A native of Springdale, he and his wife moved to the neighborhood in 2008.

"We fell in love with Deutschtown," he said.

"I wanted to show these longtime business owners there's a new demographic in the city, and I wanted to show people [from outside the neighborhood] what Deutschtown is about."

For schedules and more information visit the festival website: www.deutschtownmusicfestival.org.


Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk.

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