The subcultural fates of punk and metal in Pittsburgh have always been intertwined, stretching back to the '80s, when audiences overlapped between shows at the Electric Banana and City Limits. Today, that legacy continues with metal/punk superfans such as Dusty Hanna, a bartender at Belvedere's and frontman of thrashers Oh Shit, They're Going to Kill Us. To celebrate his 30th birthday last November, he created Skull Fest, a throwback to the days when the scenes blurred.
"It really had no theme, just bands that I wanted to see," says Hanna of that first show, which featured Chronic Sick, Midnight and Nunslaughter. He's decided to continue the tradition with a Skull Fest summer event. "I made this one a three-day thing similar to other cities, like [Austin's] Chaos in Tejas or Pointless Fest in Philly," he says. "A couple years ago in Pittsburgh, the Totally Wired Fest was geared towards garage rock, so I got some ideas from them by setting it up in several different places."
The aesthetic is easily mutable. "There were more heavy bands last time, but this year it's punk all the way," Hanna says. "Some lean towards heavy metal but draw a punk audience. They have a punk ethic and a punk way of doing things, so that's where the crossover lies."
One carryover from last year is Cleveland's Cider, which has been around since the early '90s. "They're a cult band whose albums are collectible," explains Hanna. "Their singer/guitarist [Paul Schlachter] runs Now That's Class, which is a cool venue to play. He was also in [Cleveland punk bands] The Inmates and The Darvocets." Another Hanna favorite is Michigan hardcore legend State, who issued an influential record in 1983 called No Illusions which "set the bar for Midwest hardcore acts," he says. "No Illusions is a ferocious, ripping album, and I'd like to see them play some tracks off that."
The most anticipated appearance is that of Blanks 77 -- New Yorkers who revived 1977-style pogoing and led the '90s streetpunk pack with three strong albums. "That was a band I grew up seeing," Hanna recalls. "People are excited to see them get back together. It's the entire [classic] lineup, not like some other punk reunions that only contain the original singer."
Like any punk gala worth its salt, Skull Fest exudes a whiff of anarchy, including the all-ages Punk Picnic starting at noon on Saturday in an undisclosed location, featuring locals Red Fox, Thrak and Cultivator, as well as most of the bands playing Howlers that evening. "It's like a rave-style need-to-know," says organizer Jimmy Rose, also of the band Rat Face. "Just go around and ask some punks, and they'll tell you where it is."
Another element of chaos is a scavenger hunt, supervised by Sean Lehr-Nuth. The frantic search begins Friday at Belvedere's, where contestants check in from 6 to 8 p.m. (The finish location will be revealed at that time.) Although there'll be runner-up awards from Iron City Bikes, Mind Cure Records and Lili's Coffeeshop, all true Skull punks must be salivating right now over the grand prize: free pizza every week for a year from Spak Brothers.
Questers may opt to stay up all night after stumbling out of Belvedere's in a stupor, so the list of scavenger-hunt items varies "from garbage on the street to rubbings in graveyards and counting the number of city steps," according to Lehr-Nuth. "The point system ranges from one to 25, but everything is readily accessible," he adds. "We figured it would be cool for people to go around the city and look at it in a different light."
Hanna says there's no agenda behind Skull Fest, just a desire to bring punk bands to Pittsburgh and have an unfettered good time. He hints at establishing an annual event. "There are already bands I talked to who couldn't make it this year but would like to come next summer. I hope that it inspires other people to do bigger shows. I don't have aspirations beyond that."
Skull Fest, Fri., Aug. 20-Sun., Aug. 22. $15 festival passes available at Mind Cure Records, Polish Hill.
Cider with Brain Handle, Resist Control, Able Danger, Question, Cast Out and Short Dark Strangers. 7:30 p.m. Fri., Aug. 20. Belvedere's, 4026 Butler St., Lawrenceville. $7.
Blanks 77 with Oh Shit They're Going to Kill Us, Crazy Spirit, Long Pigs, State of Decline, The Pogo and Lady Beast. 7:30 p.m. Sat., Aug. 21. Howlers Coyote Café, 4509 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield. $8.
State with Blood Bomber, Rational Animals, Necrolysis, Drug Lust and Marine Corpse. 6 p.m. Sun., Aug 22. Helter Shelter, 50th and Harrison streets, Lawrenceville. $7. All ages.