Five years after its inaugural event, VIA is preparing for something of a full-circle moment. In the festival’s first year, it hosted an event at the Moose Lodge which featured !!!, Fol Chen, Majeure and others. Now, after a rapid transitory period in Lawrenceville, that event hall goes by a new name — Spirit — and looks to be the first-ever established venue to host a VIA Festival main event.
Serving as a focal point across the festival’s expanded, two-weekend slate of programming, Spirit will welcome headliners MC Lyte, XXYYXX, Jessy Lanza and Lower Dens for its main event on Oct. 3, but will also host a massive outdoor block party during its first weekend, featuring Ikonika, Sheer Mag, Princess Nokia and a vast spread of local artists. In the tradition of VIA, most every performance will be paired with an audio-visual component or interactive art. The two Spirit-centric shows serve as musical bookends to a week full of art lectures, partner-curated showcases, video games and zine releases.
VIA co-founders Lauren Goshinski and Quinn Leonowicz, along with a team of roughly 20 organizers and curators, like to get a serious head start on constructing a lineup, now that VIA’s deeply entrenched in the festival landscape. “I can say that I already booked the first artist for 2016, so that’s how far out it goes,” Leonowicz says. “We already have a showcase set up with [The Andy Warhol Museum] for next year.”
In addition to the annual festival, VIA curates and co-presents events throughout the year, and occasionally these can inform the festival’s programming. Lower Dens was initially slated to perform at #NowSeeThis, an event co-presented with the Carnegie Museum of Art, earlier this year, but Belle and Sebastian recruited the band for an opening gig in Europe that same day. After the cancelation, Leonowicz grabbed Lower Dens for VIA, in what he dubbed as the easiest booking of this year’s fest.
Jana Hunter, Lower Dens’ gender-fluid frontperson, joins a bill that contains 70 percent female-identified artists, LGBTQ artists and artists of color. There’s lately been a broad conversation about representing and protecting marginalized groups in music spaces, from Pitchfork editor Jessica Hopper’s tweet that yielded hundreds of poignant anecdotes about industry sexism and misogyny to various festival bills appearing online with the male artist names blocked out. But Goshinski says that the lineup’s diversity is serendipitous. “It’s just a natural reflection of who we work with … we’re booking to represent the people that we’re surrounded by and the people that we’re having conversations with on the other side of the world,” she says.
Events throughout the week include a panel about female-identified moments in music (co-moderated — full disclosure — by City Paper music editor Margaret Welsh) and the Women in Sound zine release. But Goshinski stresses that the most effective way to empower female artists is simple: Put them at the top of a lineup. “There’s definitely this huge push of like, ‘Women in music go up to the front, pay attention to this,’ which is really serious. But at the same time, a lot of the women I talk to are like, ‘I don’t want to be tokenized — I just want to headline a bill,’” she says.
But once VIA ends, its local partners will curate, book and continue establishing the scene until next year’s festival. In a follow-up email, Goshinski highlighted the importance of VIA’s partners — including Detour, Honcho, TCRPS and more — who make the showcases possible and carry on similar ventures throughout the year. “In a way, VIA is an ongoing Venn diagram/coming together of Pittsburgh’s various scenes leading this city towards adventurous sound,” Goshinski said.