When Dave Rosenstraus goes home at the end of the day, he leaves the garage where he works on Braddock Avenue in Braddock, passes the pile of rubble that not so long ago was a hospital and heads a few blocks up the hill ... to the garage where he lives.
In his spare time, the co-founder of Fossil Free Fuel and its sister company, Optimus Technologies, sometimes works on more cars in the garage-garage adjoining his house-garage. He's also president of the Braddock Economic Development Corporation (BEDCO), and recently ran for a Braddock council seat, losing by a slim margin in the primary.
But the veteran of Eastern Pennsylvania bands like Pissed Jeans and R.A.M.B.O. still finds time to play in, and record, a slew of rock, punk and hardcore bands, mostly based out of Braddock. And this weekend's Braddock Fest -- headlined by Corrosion of Conformity and Converge -- marks both Rosenstraus' 30th birthday and the start of his attempt to put Braddock on the map as a place for national-level punk and metal bands to play on tour.
Rosenstraus, who was born and raised in New Jersey and came of age playing in bands in Allentown, Pa., moved to Braddock in early 2007 along with Fossil Free Fuel co-founder Colin Huwler. At the time, the operation encompassed both the conversion of diesel engines to run on veggie oil, and the production of the usable veggie-oil fuel itself. (The company has since been split in two, with Rosenstraus and Huwler running the mechanical side.) They found Braddock while searching Pittsburgh and other cities for a good site for their business; a burgeoning alternative-fuels market and some friends in the area sold them on the site.
In 2008 came his first Pittsburgh band, Auryn; soon after, he joined another trio, Secret Tombs. He's also put in time with Path to Misery.
While Rosenstraus maintains his position as Secret Tombs' drummer, he's also deeply involved in a whole set of Braddock-based bands: Blood Red (which he fronts), Drink Dust, Hounds of Hate, the only-sort-of-existent Fifteen 1:04. (Of the latter, he explains: "We figure we'll put the music out digitally, then if people ask us to play shows, we'll put together a real band.")
Each band has nearly the same personnel as all the rest, but a different main songwriter; the others fill in the instrumentation each songwriter needs. To the untrained ear, all the bands might sound basically similar, but the minute differences in style represent a spectrum of punk and hardcore, from youth crew to Japanese-style hardcore to what Rosenstraus affectionately deems "tough-guy hardcore."
It's all recorded in the basement of the garage-house in Braddock -- what Rosenstraus has come to call the Braddock Hit Factory.
It's all eerily familiar -- kind of a slightly-more-grown-up analogue for Rosenstraus' time in Allentown in the early 2000's. He was a denizen of the Pirate's Cove, the town's legendary punk house (now gone), and played in myriad bands there, often with the same few musicians: Robot Attack, Carpenter Ant, Hypatia, Audioheart, and two bands on the White Denim label with the same lineup, The Gatecrashers and Pissed Jeans.
"The idea with Pissed Jeans," Rosenstraus says, "was to pick two chords and play them loudly and slowly until everyone hates us and leaves the room. I guess we succeeded. Except the part about people hating us."
The band was signed, unsolicited, to the legendary Sub Pop label, and Rosenstraus played on the first two Pissed Jeans full-lengths before giving it up to move to Braddock and become an upstanding citizen of sorts.
In August 2009, Rosenstraus joined BEDCO and, at the behest of BEDCO member and two-term Braddock councilor Tina Doose, ran for president of the group and won.
"Jesse Brown, the council president, was the president of BEDCO, and he announced that he was going to resign," Rosenstraus says. "Tina spoke up and said, 'Can we nominate someone? I nominate Dave!' And I was sort of like, 'Wait, me?'"
Rosenstraus says some longtime members left BEDCO when he became president.
"When I came on board with council, I can't say that I was that welcomed either," Doose says. "There are six council members, and I was the only one under 70. That has been an uphill battle."
It was Doose who convinced Rosenstraus to run for council as well. He ran on an unofficial ticket with Rob Parker, who won his race over longtime council president Jesse Brown. Rosenstraus lost his race to Bill Zachery by a single-digit margin.
It's easy to assume that in Braddock -- which has gotten a lot of media attention in the past couple of years, much of it centered around the town's maverick mayor, John Fetterman -- a young mover and shaker running for council might be on the mayor's team. And during the council primary, Rosenstraus says that's how he was painted by some who opposed him.
"I'm not his minion," Rosenstraus says with an impish smile. "He's done positive things for the town. Maybe I don't agree with everything he does, though -- nobody's perfect."
Councilor Doose, who has owned a home in Braddock for nearly 20 years, sees friction at times between longtime residents and newer transplants.
"Some people use the word 'gentrification,' and some people want to make it a race issue," Doose says. "They need to see that it's bigger than that. David brought his business here, and he bought his home from the Mon Valley Initiative. He's a stakeholder. John brought his family here. There are longtime residents like me and like Rob Parker; there are things we want to do as a group that I think are good for the community."
BRADDOCK FEST featuring CORROSION OF CONFORMITY, CONVERGE, and more. May 28-29, Braddock. Details here.