For most, the phrase "music-festival season" conjures images of warmer days and crowds bouncing beach balls around at outdoor venues. Snowballs might be more the order of the day at this weekend's Strip District Music Festival — but audience members can take refuge in at least 10 indoor venues, with more than 75 local acts playing.
The festival, organized by local concert promoter Josh Bakaitus, will span the Strip, from Altar Bar (the event's biggest venue) to the Pittsburgh Winery and smaller, less traditional venues.
"I go to 21st Street Coffee a lot," says Bakaitus, by way of example. "I always thought it would be awesome to have something there. I wasn't sure how the coffee shop would take me saying I want to have a punk show there." It went over well enough: Bands including Relapse Records artist Broughton's Rules will play at the café in an all-ages show during the festival.
Elsewhere, Bakaitus partnered with VIA, the only "guest curator" organization on the festival. The folks behind the annual audio- and visual-art festival and its related programming are in charge of the goings-on at Penn Avenue Fish Co., an over-21 venue. DJs and producers like Chase Smith, Kraeji and Anthony Susan will keep the party vibe alive at the restaurant.
Bakaitus says he came up with the idea for the festival in pretty short order late last year, after years of contemplating something similar. "For a couple of years since I started going to South By Southwest, I thought it would be cool to have something like this," he says. "Five years ago, it didn't feel like the time was right; now, I feel like the Strip as a neighborhood has so much more going on."
Neighborhood festivals aren't new to Pittsburgh; in recent years, both Lawrenceville and the North Side have had major all-local fests. (One big difference: The Strip fest, taking place in January, fortunately doesn't include an outdoor venue.) The North Side's Deutschtown Music Festival signed on as a supporting organization for the Strip festival. (In the interest of full disclosure, City Paper is a presenting sponsor of the event as well.)
Another thing that sets the Strip District Music Festival apart from many similar events is the payment structure. Like some other neighborhood festival events, the Strip festival is technically free — but donations are encouraged on a band-by-band basis online, a move that Bakaitus hopes will make the festival profitable for the artists.
"I don't take credit for it being a revolutionary thing," Bakaitus explains, "but I feel like you don't see it in this context very often."
Those attending (or, really, anyone for that matter) can log onto stripdistrictmusicfestival.com and find links for all of the acts. Click a link and you can donate for that band or artist. Of your donation, 75 percent goes to the artist, and 25 percent goes to the festival for overhead and reinvestment in next year's event. Bakaitus says that at the end of the event, records of how much each band netted from the donations will be posted on the festival site, in the interest of transparency and to encourage donations.
Last month, the festival faced a challenge when several bands that had been scheduled to play dropped off the bill after controversy arose over online comments made by the president of Drusky Entertainment, a marketing partner of the festival and Bakaitus' employer. Some of those acts, in light of Brian Drusky's comments on recent anti-police-violence protests, chose instead to play Bloom-Fest Rock Against Racism, a one-night festival being held the night before the Strip festival. (See Critics' Picks, page TKTKTK, for details on that event.) Bakaitus told City Paper he supports that event and plans to attend.
In addition to the venues officially hosting shows for the festival, dance club Static will host DJs Mike Ley and Tenova as an unofficial festival-related event; links can be found on the event website to support those two artists as well, and attendees will have to note at the door that they're there for the festival in order to receive free admission.
At the anchor venue, Altar Bar, a full complement of heavy bands, from the metal of Fist Fight in the Parking Lot to the indie rock of Instead of Sleeping and straight-ahead punk of The Cheats, will rule the day. The Pittsburgh Winery hosts a lineup of mostly singer-songwriter fare, with the likes of Jasmine Tate and Henry Bachorski, though full bands including Good Brother Earl and electro-brass outfit Beauty Slap play as well.
Other venues hosting music include Thin Man Sandwich Shop, Beerhive, Wigle Whiskey, 26th Street Market & Café and Framezilla.
Bakaitus is already planning to expand the event next year, with more prep time and the possibility of bringing in some touring bands. In the meantime, he's taking a wait-and-see approach to the festival's first year and the success of the pay-what-you-want model. "I really don't know what to expect, as it's the first year," he says. "We're starting with pretty much zero dollars in capital, but this will be a great steppingstone."
"I'd encourage everyone going to the event to go to each venue," he adds. "Even if it's just for one act. Each one's a little bit different."