By Meg Fair
Pittsburgh Current Managing Editor
If you’re hunting for the next big thing in alternative music, the best place to look is blogs. Music bloggers aren’t chained to corporate ownership, and not all bloggers make money off of their labors. Because the writing and seeking out bands is a labor of love, the resulting material is often organic, thoughtful and genuinely excited.
Two prime examples of music blogs with keen eyes and big hearts are The Alternative and The Grey Estates. So it only makes sense that the two would team up to throw a festival of artists who, if there’s any justice in the world, are bound to blow up soon.
PITT GETS ALTERNATIVE.. Fri. Sept. 20 through Sat. Sept. 21. Mr. Roboto Project. 5106 Penn Ave., Bloomfield. $20-35. www.therobotoproject.com
The Grey Estates, run by Lauren Rearick, is based out of Pittsburgh, and Eli Enis, one of The Alternative’s editors, is based here too. The two are often found writing about music and going to shows in Pittsburgh, so when The Alternative founder Henderson Cole mentioned throwing a festival in Pittsburgh, it only made sense to team up with The Grey Estates. To round out the Pittsburgh team, Brett Shumaker of Don’t Let the Scene Go Down On Me! joined in to help book the event.
Shumaker has often undertaken show and event planning on his own, and a mostly solo operation like DLTSGDOM! can be as thankless a job as pouring your time and energy into a music blog. While people appreciate the result of the hard work, a lot of times the time and labor that went into making it happen goes unnoticed.
“I think it’s important that two blogs and a DIY promoter are doing this,” says Enis. “There’s a lot of people who think music blogging is done and doesn’t have influence anymore, but here are two music blogs that are putting on a festival, it’s a tangible thing bloggers are doing.”
“And there are no corporate sponsors,” adds Shumaker.
The groups starting planning in the spring, and diversity was a priority for the festival. When the team assembled the lineup, everyone wanted to make sure it was diverse in genre and identity.
“Whenever the Grey Estates has done stuff at SXSW in the past, it’s always been nice to try and make the lineup so that’s it not a bunch of dudes,” says Rearick. “A lot of these artists are people I’ve wanted to see in Pittsburgh that haven’t come through yet.”
The festival takes place at The Mr. Roboto Project, so the festival will be an all-ages event that is free of drugs and alcohol. A space like this can make a lot of artists accessible for folks not comfortable around addictive substances and are generally comfier for younger folks. It’s an opportunity to see really electric performers in an inviting space.
“I’m really excited for Laura Stevenson. She’s somebody I’ve wanted to get to Roboto for a very long time,” says Shumaker. “She always seems to play headlining shows at Club Cafe or the Smiling Moose, but I think that having her at Roboto will be cool.”
Getting young folks to come to a festival like this, and keeping them coming to future events, is definitely a priority for the organizers. As younger people get involved, there is more opportunity for mentorship. It’s also a chance for the scene to grow and sustain itself.
“I hope there’s a lot of young kids,” says Enis. “It’s all ages, and a lot of the bands are young. It’s about getting people in the door that haven’t been here before.”
The show will feature two days of music, 15 bands and a flea market with goodies and food.
“I think I’m going to try to get a photo backdrop, and I think I’m going to bring nail polish to the flea market. I think it’ll be cool to have it be more than just a show, to have some cool little additional aspects to it,” says Rearick.
Centering Pittsburgh was also a big part of the festival’s aim. Pittsburgh-based bands like Rave Ami, Swither and bbguns are on the lineup alongside touring acts.
“We made sure, with the flea market and the lineup, to include Pittsburgh artists. We reached out to local vendors and local record labels and stores, so if people are coming in from outside of Pittsburgh, they see what Pittsburgh has to offer,” says Rearick. “There’s a lot of different Pittsburgh [sounding] acts.”
If this year’s festival goes off without a hitch, the crew hopes that it could be a sustainable venture. For Shumaker, having a collaborator and a team to work with is a refreshing opportunity, as he’s often booking and organizing shows mostly on his own.
“I’m hoping that we’ll be able to do this every year,” says Shumaker. “It was nice for someone to ask me to help with a festival rather than have to do everything myself.”
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