When I moved here, I (pretty much) didn’t know a soul. I transferred colleges to come live in the big city. It was the first time in my life that I wasn’t trapped in the confines of a small and simple suburban town. Now, only one year later I am overjoyed to say that I have numerous, meaningful friendships. Not only have I made a lot of friends, but together we have created and been involved in projects and creative endeavors I could not have imagined this time last year. I’ve met people in the last 12 months that have undoubtedly effected my destiny, and they will forever remain in my memory as the ones responsible for the greatest time in my life (so far).
The reason this chapter in my continuing storybook topples all others, and much of the reason I’ve befriended many good folks, is because of music. That’s a very broad statement, and I might do well in narrowing it down a bit. The Do It Yourself music scene in this Pittsburgh is thriving. It is because of this fact that I’m having such a damn good time.
For those unfamiliar with “Do It Yourself music”, don’t fret. It’s quite easy to understand. D.I.Y. scenes accomplish all of the musical experience (from recording, to venues and lives shows, to touring, booking and promoting, etc.) without all of the undesirable/red tape/pen-and-paper-contract/suits-and-ties/bullshit. It is music for music’s sake, and everyone is on the same team, and everyone helps each other. Instead of big dollar signs motivating the movement, friendship runs this scene. I don’t confine this definition to Pittsburgh’s territory either. From all corners of the map, touring acts come through. Bands play shows in hopes of their music being heard by fresh ears. Bands play in hopes of putting on a good show, so they might sell some merch and create a fan base. Bands play in hopes of having a fun time, because what else is there? Instead of a backstage, there is a living room. Instead of fat paychecks, there are favors and returned favors. Generally, a “Pay What You Can” system is in place, so if you have money to donate to touring acts, it is expected. If you don’t have spare cash, though, you will not be turned away. I don’t think it takes much explanation to understand that this ideology towards music, or any organization of creative culture, is more authentic, intimate, and desirable than huge corporate-funded concerts in corporate sponsored super-domes.
I’ve been to quite a number of concerts for someone of my age. My Uncle Mike would take me to see our favorite bands since I was in 4th grade. Ever since, I’ve been enamored with live music of any kind. Most of these experiences, however, were at big corporate sponsored venues like the ones I’ve just described. That’s not to say I’ve never spent any time out of the nose-bleed section — I’ve been an intimate lover of the mosh pit for quite some time. But, never before has there been a prominent local music scene in my life is what I’m getting at. Our local library in my hometown hosted a few shows but was eventually made to stop after noise complaints.
I’ve also always been a fan of punk rock. It is my favorite music to see live. That is how punk rock is meant to be enjoyed, live and raw. I’ve had some of the great times seeing NOFX or The Queers or Anti-Flag (and so on) at medium sized venues. However, in the same way that food tastes best when prepared with love by Grandma, Punk Rock is meant to be experienced in close quarters, in a dingy basement. You should come out the show slightly inured, ears ringing, smelling of cheap beer and sweat. Ahh, I thrive off of that feeling. It doesn’t matter if equipment falters or notes are missed. It is about the personal and visceral experience.
Now, enough set-up. Let us go back to page one of this chapter; follow me on my journey, starting with my very first house show. It was about this time last year, on a fateful night in Pittsburgh. A buddy invited me to a party, and said there’d be some bands playing, but I didn’t know much more than that. Some familiar faces were there, a long with many new ones. We mingled around the party until the bands were set up.
The two bands on the bill that night were Dad’s Makin’ Out, and Strudel and Krumpet. I was not really prepared for what was about to happen. They played raw, real, punk music, in just the style I like it. The crowd moved, sang along, threw each other around. It was intimate, it was punk, it was sweaty, and it was FUN. That night I had my very first taste of a house show. A punk house show. A Pittsburgh punk house show. I was left drooling, and my appetite only grew from there. My love and appreciation for live music had reached a new level. I had, at that moment, realized my all time favorite way to experience music.
I went to a few more house shows that semester, trying to keep my ear to the ground, but the summer came sooner than expected and I returned to the quiet hometown for a final three month period. In terms of creative culture of any kind, the summer was lackluster, but it was enjoyable in terms of fresh air and lack of city bustle. My good friend (and future roommate) Brendan gave me his guitar over the break, and I started messing with a few chords. This became the concentration over the summer. By the end I had written eight original songs. Before returning to the city in the Fall, I played an intimate set in a friend’s basement, in the house that hosted most of that summer’s get togethers. All of my hometown buddies were there, and it was a very nice farewell before I moved to Pittsburgh with more permanence.
Returning to Pittsburgh, I was a college drop out, but had found a place to call home in the South Side Slopes. A great group of friends and I rented a house together. This has been an important transition and a landmark in my life, that I’ve touched on in writing of the past. Right away, we had talked about hosting shows, playing music, and fostering a creative community of some type. I was also hopeful to start playing my solo musical project from the summer around the city. After being away from a music scene for a long summer, I was eager to go out and start seeing more shows. I’m not sure if it was because my eyes had finally been opened up to it, or because the scene picked up in full swing over summer, but it seemed like the scene was jolted alive, and there was a sudden rush of life in Pittsburgh. There were shows nearly every night, either at someone’s house or a D.I.Y. venue. I started to become familiar with each venue, each with their own unique touch and feeling. 222 hosted a lot of the bigger named acts that came through town, like Bomb the Music Industry!, Paul Beribeau and Dads. The Vatican’t is an incredibly accessible house venue with some of the friendliest and easy going people as hosts. Roboto always has cool art exhibits in the front room, (and Spak is right across the street). These are only a few of the hosting venues of the ever expanding list of amazing shows I’ve been to in the last few months.
After a relatively short amount of time, I felt I’d become good chums with the crew that hosted/supported/frequented/and head bobbed at these shows. Everyone is an equal and everyone is your friend is this environment. The crowd that such a lovely scene brings is very accepting and fun to be around. The “ scene snobbishness” or “pretentious” attitude that is some times associated with “rock-n-rollers” and their “cliques” is completely debunked here, at least from what I’ve experienced. Not to mention, all of these new people I was meeting and befriending were very talented, musically or otherwise. Many of them I only talked to after I’d seen them perform.
That is, after all, what it is all about and on top of all this exciting other stuff in my life I was (and continue to be) exposed to new music, either local our touring. Entire genres and sub-genres were introduced to me. People were doing things, musically, that I didn’t realize could be done. It is almost difficult to take in the amount of talent and creativity that is playing out right in front of me. To people who have grown up around a music scene, I may come off as childishly giddy. Understand, though, that I’ve never been a part of something so continually stimulating, exciting, and FUN. So yes, I am childishly giddy.
After expressing to some people that I wanted to start hosting shows at my house, or play my music at these shows I was frequently going to, nearly everyone pointed me in the direction of Dylan Bahney. I saw Unraveler play, and we chatted a few times and were instantly buddies. I don’t want to meet the person who could dislike Dylan. Right away Dylan helped me out in putting together a show at my house, and he continues to help me (without exaggeration) live out my dreams.
When I was told about the line up at our first house show, I was pleasantly surprised that Matt Pless would be playing. I saw Matt open for Ramshackle Glory over the summer, and admired his music. Now, a musician who was frequently played on my ipod would be playing the maiden show at our humble abode.
When the night came, we all prepared and set up. The weather gave us a little trouble (as it always seems to do) but overall it was a good turn out, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. Hanging out with Matt before was a fun time, and after the show we had a nice little fire in the back yard. We all passed the guitar around and played songs and I made for a kind of “pinch yourself” moment. I feel like I’ve had a lot of those recently.
We’ve continued to have shows here, and more and more people are finding out about the space. Though it may be slightly biased, I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback, and people seem to be having fun at our place, which is all I care about. We’ve had a few incidents here and there with drunkenness and the neighbors and such, but everything has gone pretty smoothly so far (I’m knocking on wood, don’t worry).
Each show brings something new. A new crowd, new music, new friends. Like I said, those “pinch yourself” moments have been coming more and more frequently. I come to reality sometimes, finding myself watching ever-talented people play amazing music that I’m hearing for the first time in my own basement, surrounded by good friends or people who I may have just met but I know will be friends in the future. It is amazing. Sometimes I have to stop and remind myself that it’s real, it’s happening now, and it won’t be happening forever.
Whether it is totally new names like Soul Low or the Disappearing Man introducing sweet new music to my ear-holes, dance fests with Happy Lives, Endless Mike playing songs everyone can sing along to, or local punk sweat fests (a repeat of that fateful 1st house show) with Dad’s Makin’ Out and Strudel and Krumpet, they’ve all happened at my house. And we’re just getting started.
I’m just now beginning to understand the magical journey that is the D.I.Y. music scene. We’re stealing the rule book of how music communities, venues, and tours are put together, and burning it. Although I might not have any experience elsewhere, I think Pittsburgh knows how to have a good time. I can feel something serious building in this city. Anyone who has seen the scene recently can agree that something special is happening in Pittsburgh right now, and I’m living it.