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Four Chord Music Festival mixes national and local pop-punk and punk-ska acts 

"Being in a scene is about being friends with people."

The inaugural Four Chord Music Festival, taking place Sun., Aug. 31, will feature 13 bands playing two stages and will be headlined by a pretty big draw: The Wonder Years.

But that wasn't the initial plan.

The Philadelphia-based pop-punk outfit came on after a booking error left festival organizer Rishi Bahl without his initial top choice, a veteran ska band from Gainesville, Fla. Bahl had confirmed Less Than Jake for the festival while the band was in the process of switching booking agents. When the new agent came on, the band had already been booked elsewhere on the same date.

The agent apologized for the double booking, but offered a solution: Take The Wonder Years, another band he represented.

Bahl took the band without hesitation. The Wonder Years has been at the forefront of the pop-punk scene nationally in the past few years, with its last two albums, Suburbia I've Given You All And Now I'm Nothing and The Greatest Generation, charting at No. 73 and No. 20 on the Billboard 200, respectively. The band was the first puzzle piece for the festival's booking, and gave the first-time festival organizer momentum.

"I got the Wonder Years, then I got 50 emails from 50 legit agents saying, ‘You gotta put so-and-so on,'" Bahl says. "It's about getting that one band first. Then it's a domino effect. When you say, ‘Hey, I'm Rishi, I'm doing this festival,' [agents] think, ‘Oh, it's just some idiot kid.' When you say [you] have The Wonder Years, they're like, ‘OK, make an offer.'"

With The Wonder Years secured, Bahl continued to contact bands and make offers. But convincing people that he was legit proved to be the big challenge, he said.

Rishi Bahl of The SpacePimps organized the Four Chord Music Festival.
  • Photo courtesy of Voxlivehouse
  • Rishi Bahl (center) of The SpacePimps organized the Four Chord Music Festival.

He made an offer to Real Friends, a Fearless Records band that just came off playing its first year on Warped Tour. After some back and forth, the band got on board, but with one condition: Up-and-comers Turnover and Modern Baseball, bands represented by Real Friends' booking agent, would play too.

With the headliner switch, Four Chord Music Festival turned into a new pop-punk festival, when it was set to have "old-school bands" like Less Than Jake and New Found Glory. The festival even takes its name from an old Ataris song, "Four Chord Wonder," according to Bahl.

The idea for the festival arose from a conversation Bahl had with a friend last December. He was talking to Nate Dorough, who puts on Bled Fest, an all-ages, mixed-genre one-day music festival in Howell, Mich. Dorough asked if Pittsburgh had anything similar to Bled. Bahl said there wasn't; "You should just do it," replied Dorough.

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