“Bring earplugs”: Skull Fest brings punk, heavy metal to the ’Burgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

“Bring earplugs”: Skull Fest brings punk, heavy metal to the ’Burgh

click to enlarge A man behind a counter at a record store
CP Photo: Rayni Shiring
Dusty Hanna, co-founder of Skull Fest

Don’t be surprised to hear Dusty Hanna, Skull Fest co-founder and owner of Allentown’s Skull Records, being wished a “Happy Birthday” during this weekend’s 12th annual punk and heavy metal festival. It’s not actually his birthday, but he doesn’t correct them — the gathering of over 70 hardcore acts is one heck of a way to celebrate another rotation around the sun. It’s all due to Skull Fest’s origins as a 30th birthday party thrown in 2009 for Hanna and his festival co-founder, Jimmy Rose.

“We threw a party with eight bands and jokingly called it a fest,” says Hanna. “It went over so well, we decided to do it again the following year.”

It was after the second year that Hanna and Rose moved the festival's timing so that the event could be held during the summer. “But every year, some of the people that came to the first one still think it’s my birthday,” says Hanna.

This year’s Skull Fest, which now boasts an international lineup and draws punk fans from around the world, is the first one since 2019, but promises to be the hardcore event of the season — one attendees have grown to know and love. Hanna and Rose made sure to book at many of the same venues that hosted the festival years prior, including Brillobox, Cattivo, and more. Plus, DIY performance space Babyland, which closed indefinitely in 2021, is reopening just for the occasion. 

“Skull fest is kind of like a holiday, and Polish Hill is where most of the punks live in the city, and that’s where Babyland is as well,” says Hanna. He credits the neighborhood rallying together for the festival as being the reason why Babyland is making a return to live music for one weekend, “to help us celebrate the punk holiday that is Skull Fest.”

This year marks one significant change to the popular festival. In addition to the Latinx-centric show put together by John Villegas and added to the festivities a few years ago, Oyo Ellis of local punk band Killer of Sheep is introducing a show centering around Black hardcore bands, featuring Soul Glo, YDI, Rebelmatic, and Minority Threat.

Skull Fest kicks off Thu., Aug. 18 at Babyland and closes out Sun., Aug. 21 at Cattivo. Hanna says he’s excited to see the classic midwestern punk band Zero Boys make its festival return, as well as Chaotic Dischord, who originated as a parody of punk bands in the ’80s and will be playing the event for the first time. “But people like them so much they’ve been at it ever since. Should be a good laugh,” he says.

There’s also F.u.s, one of Hanna’s favorite hardcore punk bands coming down from Boston and ® adolescents, a band made up entirely of ex-members of California-based band Adolescents. And Butler’s Population Control will be making its first appearance in the city in over 20 years.

“It's a celebration of the crazy culture that is punk rock and hardcore music,” says Hanna. “It’s just a crew gathering of some of the more unique people from all over the world. We’re glad to be back.”

For those who may be taking part in Skull Fest for the first time, Hanna offers some advice: “Be safe, be ready to see some crazy stuff, and bring earplugs.”

Skull Fest 12. Multiple times. Thu., Aug. 18-Sun., Aug. 21. Multiple locations. $25-50. skullfestpunk.com

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