[Pittsburgh Post-Gazette] Millvale Music Festival adds a day and nearly 100 more artists

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By Scott Mervis

If you really like music, don’t be the person running the music festival — especially in its inaugural year.

“It was so crazy, I only saw one song the entire festival,” says Brian Crawford, the Millvale resident who launched the inaugural Millvale Music Festival last year, attended by more than 5,000 people.

The way it went, he didn’t get to sleep the previous night and then on festival day, he was “the grunt runner” with a whole range of unusual, unexpected activities including riding a replacement soundboard to a club in a bicycle basket.

“I hadn’t exercised in a good way in years, and here I am riding a bike the entire day,” he explains, that energy fueled by one slice of pizza while he saw the one song, by the Nox Boys. (Not a bad choice.)

This year, he has more volunteers on hand to help grunt run for the second annual festival, which takes over the town on Saturday. The festival boasts that it is “celebrating the borough’s 150th birthday with more than 150 bands,” when actually there are 200 acts, almost double the number from last year.

The MMF is also adding an opening night on Friday at the new Pittsburgh Food Truck Park along the riverfront.

That was prompted in part by a comment from Mary Jo Coll of Lawrenceville’s seminal R.A.N.T. Festival (which is taking this summer off) that it’s a shame they can’t do something along the riverfront.

“I love being along the river, too,” Mr. Crawford says, “but my concern was people walking across the 28 interchange there. You have a few drinks in you, you’re stumbling, now you’re walking across the exit of a major highway.”

So, they have the Friday event at the Millvale Food Truck Park only with The Optimists, The Park Plan, The Dovewires and more.

The Saturday lineup, beginning at 11 a.m., will feature marquee bands like Grand Piano, The Delaneys and Gene the Werewolf on the GAP Park Main Stage; Meeting Of Important People, Jim Donovan & Sun King Warriors and more at Mr. Smalls; a Metal Edge metal lineup at The Funhouse at Mr. Smalls; jazz, reggae and more at Sedgewick St. Art Gallery Stage; singer-songwriters at various clubs and restaurants; and much, much more.

“One of the things we tried to do is, if you did not play last year, you got priority this year, so we tried to bring in as many new people as we could. So, not only does it create opportunities for all the bands in Pittsburgh, it also creates a different festival every year,” Mr. Crawford says.

Earlier this year, at the Pittsburgh Music Ecosystem Town Hall, a prominent Pittsburgh musician, Dave Wheeler, of Outside/Inside, was critical of the neighborhood-based music festivals for promoting the area but being too open-ended and not sufficiently focused or curated.

“I think his comments are unfounded,” Mr. Crawford says. “First off, the local music scene isn’t just about the big names. I think these music festivals allow smaller bands that are newer to get in front of an audience and play with the larger acts, so I don’t see how it could be bad when you have people who maybe have never seen a local band before in front of a stage to see a local artist.”

Further, he says, “looking at what happened in Millvale, a lot of these venues are booking music three times as much as they did previously. A lot of these places realize what a great opportunity it is.”

One of Mr. Wheeler’s points was that if it’s not of high quality, then people walk away with a negative view of Pittsburgh talent.

Mr. Crawford, who broadcasts The River’s Edge internet radio station out of Mr. Smalls, counters that, “The comments I’ve received from people is that ‘I can’t believe how great the local music is.’ People have told me ‘I’ve gone from stage to stage and I haven’t heard a bad artist,’ so I feel like it showcases the scene in a good way.”

Of course, the festival is a group effort among organizers, businesses, volunteers in the borough, so if it showcases Millvale in a good way, that’s a big plus, too.

“Just walking around I would hear people making comments about the various businesses we have, like, ‘Oh, I didn’t know they had a video rental store or this or that, so a lot of people who were new to the town were recognizing what it had to offer.”

Wait. A video rental store?

“Yeah, it’s kind of cool to still have that here. I was talking to the owner the other day. He’s determined. It’s crazy, but people are going back to cassette tapes now, right?”

A few of the more quirky indie bands in town are even still putting them out.

Scott Mervis: smervis@post-gazette.com.