Few spots are as picturesque as an aging Radisson outside Harrisburg in the aftermath of a brutal snowstorm -- especially one swarming with squabbling bands, self-promoting musicians, suits, Svengalis and hustlers. Ah, the drama. I was ostensibly at the Millennium Music Conference to talk about getting press for your band, but I was mostly concerned with why virtually no Pittsburgh-based acts were included in this year's festival ... and whether anyone should care.
Out of more than 200 bands selected to perform over the four-day conference, only one was kinda-sorta from Pittsburgh, while the vast bulk hailed from Harrisburg and Philadelphia.
Worthy Pittsburgh rockers The Douglas Brothers expressed some frustration with the conference's application process. "I submitted our [electronic press kit] in plenty of time because I saw the MMC as an accessible and logistically practical thing for us to do at our level right now," says the band's Bob Hartle. "I sent them an e-mail kind of stating our case for inclusion in the conference. The response I got was pretty much a blow-off. Needless to say we weren't selected and I did notice there were no PA bands that I recognized."
Sour grapes? Maybe it's not so simple.
When I approached the conference's director, John Harris, about this issue, he essentially said they had received submissions from Pittsburgh acts, but many were "heavier" bands, and the conference didn't want to go overboard on that particular style. When he asked me to recommend some Pittsburgh groups next year, it seemed weird, but made some sense: With the event's organizers hailing mainly from Harrisburg and Philly, why would they advocate for a Pittsburgh group's inclusion over one of their own?
On the other hand, plenty of out-of-state (and even out-of-country) groups rolled in for the festival. One packed showcase at a downtown club captured the age-old dilemma of American groups trying to sound English, and vice versa -- D.C.'s excellent Telograph brought the Interpol-ish Brit-pop, followed by The Elevator Band, outrageous Brits with borrowed equipment, who seemed hell-bent on sounding like the Bee Gees. Go figure.
So, should Pittsburgh bands bother applying for the MMC next year? Well, the showcases I saw were well attended and organized. And the industry professionals (producers, promoters, journalists, A&R) were, if not superstar-status, quite accessible to musicians attending the panel discussions. The people are friendly and down-to-earth, and it's nearby. On the whole, good work ... if you can get it.