Cancer benefit show planned for beloved music booker Mary Jo Coll | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Cancer benefit show planned for beloved music booker Mary Jo Coll

click to enlarge Cancer benefit show planned for beloved music booker Mary Jo Coll (2)
Mary Jo Coll (left) with Howler's regulars in 2017
When Bloomfield rock venue Howlers closed its doors in 2020, many music fans in Pittsburgh also mourned the retirement of its longtime booker, Mary Jo Coll. Some maybe even more so than the venue itself.

“You just cannot mention Howlers without mentioning Mary Jo Coll,” said Hugh Twyman of Pittsburgh music blog HughShows.

A staple in Pittsburgh's music scene, Mary Jo has recently been diagnosed with stage four stomach cancer. And now, her friends and family have organized a most-appropriate benefit for the local music lover: a rock show.

On Sun., Dec. 12, an impressive line-up of well-known local bands and musicians will gather at The Funhouse at Mr. Smalls Theatre in Millvale for a Cancer Benefit for “Mama Jo,” organized by Bloomfield resident and friend Karla Doolittle, along with Eric Rodger and Andrea Young.

“Mary Jo has been a pivotal force in keeping the music scene alive in Pittsburgh,” says Doolittle. ”She’s managed to do it for all genres, whether it’s punk, folk, acoustic, or metal. You name it, she’s booked and promoted it.”

In addition to working with bands at Howlers, Mary Jo also booked live music at Lawrenceville bar Hambone’s for over 10 years before it closed in 2020 after the passing of owner Jeff Holt. “When I find a band that’s really good, I just boot them in the ass relentlessly until they get out there,” she told Pittsburgh City Paper in 2017.

Local bands love Mary Jo so much, in fact, one even wrote a song about her in 2012. “Find yourself in a heap of debt / Mama Jo give you a cigarette / Make sure you’re fed when the night is done / Good old Jo’s a Ma to everyone,” sang The Harlan Twins on the 2012 song “Mama Jo.”

Bands performing at the benefit show for Mary Jo include Murder for Girls; Phat Man Dee, Tommy Amoeba, and Liz Berlin; Shelf Life String Band; Chet Vincent & Molly Alphabet Duo; Royal Honey with Todd Cheat of The Cheats; fuck yeah, dinosaurs!; The Braddock Brothers; The Shadow Event; and, The Dumplings.

Doolittle says the bands include some of Mary Jo’s favorites, bands that she’s booked, and “bands that wanted to give back.”

Mary Jo is “literally the person who’d give the shirt off their back with wanting nothing in return,” says Doolittle. “She’s humble and would never ask for help. It’s time for us to give back. This is a way to let Jo know how much she means to all of us.”

Mary Jo was recently given a prognosis of one to six months, and Doolittle says people can support Mary Jo the most by continuing to send positive messages her way. “She checks the Facebook event page daily and loves reading all of the kind words from the community,” she says. And, of course, Doolittle encourages people to attend the show.

“Jo is one of the strongest, kindest, smartest people I’ve ever known,” says Doolittle. “It’s an honor to call her a friend and to do my small part to give back to her.”
Cancer Benefit for “Mama Jo.” 5-10:30 p.m. Doors at 4 p.m. Sun., Dec. 12. The Funhouse at Mr. Smalls. 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. $20 donation. Facebook search "Cancer Benefit for Mama Jo"