Don’t be fooled by the “Santa” in HughShows Secret Santapalooza IV. In fact, Hugh Twyman, owner and creator of local music blog HughShows, is adamant that the 11 Pittsburgh acts featured during the free concert won’t be playing holiday music.
“It’s like the anti-Christmas show in a way,” he says. “In past years, no one’s ever played a Christmas song except for Chet Vincent. His set was other people’s lyrics to Christmas tunes. He was having fun with it.”
And that’s the point of the Secret Santapalooza, for Pittsburgh musicians and bands to have fun and mingle while local music fans get a taste of the city’s talent, all in one place. A similar model is used in the annual multi-day Deutschtown Music Festival, which was founded by Twyman, Ben Soltesz, and Cody Walters.
“Deutschtown gets so many people,” says Twyman. “[But] many just go down because it’s a festival. The majority, I’m guessing, don’t go down for a specific band, but they discover bands.”
Secret Santapalooza, however, offers something different. Along with short setlists of about four songs, every artist performs a cover from another Pittsburgh act, whether that be from an old-school Pittsburgher, an underground band, or a high profile group like Rusted Root.
“One year Grand Piano did Stephen Foster’s ‘Camptown Races,’” says Twyman. “And I think we had Paul Luc and Clinton Clay [of The Commonheart], they did a band together and they did each other’s songs. It was great.”
To add the secret element, the chosen covers aren’t revealed until the day of – for both attendees and Twyman. “I don’t want to know,” he says. “It’s loose and fun.”
Secret Santapalooza started in 2014 (there was a two-year break after the first three) as a charity concert for Karl Hendricks. At the time, Hendricks, the leader of local indie-rock band The Karl Hendricks Trio, was battling oral cancer, and the money raised from ticket sales went to his medical funds. After Hendricks’ passing, Twyman decided to make the show free, with donations taken at the door going to HughShows.
“Bands were like ‘Hugh, why don’t we just give that money to you since you work promoting bands and music all year long?’” says Twyman.
If there’s one thing Twyman is passionate about, it’s supporting local music. On July 18, 2014, exactly 10 years to the date that HughShows began, the day became Hugh Twyman Day in Pittsburgh. The City Council of Pittsburgh awarded Twyman for his “commitment to the promotion of the arts and the ever-growing music community.” And this year, HughShows became the longest-running music blog in Pittsburgh, going on 15 years.
Initially, though, Twyman, wasn’t into local music at all.
“I would see national shows, and I kind of ignored the locals for a couple years,” he says. “If they were opening for a show I wouldn’t even show up until the national act came on.”
That changed in the late aughts when the local scene started to grow. Now, Twyman can’t remember the last time he covered a national group on his blog.
“I’ve never had one on [HughShows TV], out of 50 episodes,” says Twyman. “There’s so much talent here. I want to use any platform I have to highlight it.”
Twyman is doing just that with the diverse lineup at this year’s Secret Santapalooza: there are hip hop and soul players INEZ, Sierra Sellers, and livefromthecity; dream-pop groups The Real Sea, Drauve, and Honey Prism; rockers The Chad Sipes Stereo and The Pump Fakes; folk singer Lindsay Dragan; and newcomer, Ladylike, taking the stage for its first-ever official gig.
“The nice thing about it is they don’t play full 45-minute sets,” says Twyman. “It’s like a little sneak peek of what they’re about.”