Layer Cake Festival showcases Pittsburgh’s ambitious, artistic energy | Music Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper
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Layer Cake Festival showcases Pittsburgh’s ambitious, artistic energy 

“There’s a natural relationship between art and music, so I wanted to pull them together.”

Morgan Erina

Photo by Sarah Wilson

Morgan Erina

The Layer Cake Festival is a perfect storm of musically diverse performances and live visual art with one purpose: promoting good music — especially that of local artists—in local music spaces. 

Ziggy Sawdust, the festival’s organizer and a visual artist, has been organizing art, music and eco-conscious events in Pittsburgh since his return from the West Coast in 2013. Layer Cake is a larger labor of love, with its marriage of visual art, live music, comedy and cake.

Unlike the first Layer Cake Festival, which took place at one venue over the course of a single day, this event will be hosted across four venues on June 3 and 4. There are more than 170 bands performing, and that doesn’t include the comedians hosting the stages, or the more than 40 visual artists who will be live painting throughout the festival.

“There’s a natural relationship between art and music, so I wanted to pull them together,” says Sawdust.

The variety of music spans rock, soul, indie, metal and bluegrass. Performers include Nox Boys, Jessica Lee Jazz and Blues, Wreck Loose, Gash, The John Trumaine Show, Christiane Dolores, the Chiodi Trio and Mars Jackson. Michael Monsour delivers his standup special on Friday; also that night, dancers for the Electro Belly Dance Troupe will join Amethyst & DJ Get Nasty for a three-hour-long dance party at the James Street Gastropub. 

Layer Cake offers pieces of what larger outdoor festivals present, but in a more personal way. While festivals like Sonic Bloom, in Denver, and Wakarusa, in Arkansas, feature live painters, those festivals are in larger outdoor spaces. Layer Cake’s multiple indoor venues allows for more performer/audience interaction.

The locations this year are:  James Street Gastropub, on the North Side; Mr. Smalls, in Millvale; and Spirit and Cattivo, both in Lawrenceville. Sawdust has been laboring over a shuttle schedule to carry festival-goers from venue to venue without the stress of parking or driving. (One-day passes are $15, and two-day passes with shuttle service included are $30 and can be purchased through June 3. Door prices increase to $20 and $40, respectively.)

“All I want people to worry about is having a good time,” he says.

While more than 170 bands may seem like a lot, Sawdust received a whopping 400 submissions from bands across the Midwest and farther north. While he couldn’t accommodate all those bands, he tried to include as many as possible.

The majority of the acts hail from Pittsburgh, but several of the performers come from Brooklyn and Columbus. Philadelphia’s Low Cut Connie, a groovy rock band, will be a featured act on both nights.

“They have amazing energy. I really think people will enjoy them,” says Sawdust. 

The lineup is drawing on a wide variety of genres. For example, acoustic indie up-and-comer Morgan Erina, who makes haunting, angsty music, will be performing Saturday night at James Street. Her songs are personal and give the audience a peek into her world. 

“[I write] mostly about hard events that have happened in my past, or recent heartbreaks. Sometimes I get inspired by others’ stories, sometimes I write about panic attacks or eating disorders,” says Erina, “It’s all connected somehow. Mostly, I just want to help people with my music and make everyone feel less alone.”

On the other end of the musical spectrum, Jacquea Mae will bring her bluesy, soulful music to the restaurant stage at Mr. Smalls on Saturday night. Mae is a powerful addition to the lineup, and also has a deep connection to Pittsburgh’s music scene. She’s a prominent member of 1Hood Media, a collective of hip-hop artists and community activists who focus on socially conscious causes, and challenge injustice in the city by telling their stories.

click to enlarge Jacquea Mae - PHOTO BY MARANIE STAAB
  • Photo by Maranie Staab
  • Jacquea Mae

It’ll be hard to feel alone at Layer Cake, with Erina, Mae and many other acts providing opportunities to experience community and connectedness with the musicians and other attendees. Erina is not even most excited about performing herself. “I’m most excited to see all my friends performing,” she says. 

As Layer Cake grows, Sawdust has plans to grow the festival to other cities. Sawdust is working to finalize dates for Philadelphia’s Layer Cake Festival for later this year, and will include musicians from Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Sawdust also hopes to expand to Columbus.

“My hope is to create a pipeline from Pittsburgh to a bunch of major markets and perform for full crowds in new spaces,” Sawdust says. “I want to get the Pittsburgh scene to travel a little.”

In addition to new cities, Sawdust wants the festival to expand its offering, such as including dance performances and tech innovators.

“I’m always thinking, ‘How can I make this bigger?’” says Sawdust.


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