Rant 2014. Photo courtesy Hugh Twyman.

“I grew up with a DIY ethic,” explains Mike “Zombo” Divine, Pittsburgh event coordinator, musician and all-around mastermind behind the 4th Annual R.A.N.T. – Rock All Night Tour.

“If you want something done, and it’s not easy to get done, you have to do it yourself,” he says matter-of-factly. “Or you can complain that there’s nothing going on.”

Divine grew up in Canton, Ohio, where he says bands that played anything other than Top 40 hits couldn’t land gigs. So he and his friends – anyone connected with the underground scene – would secure halls for free through the local park service and put on showcases.

Years later, in Pittsburgh, Divine began to do much of the same in his role as booking agent for Lawrenceville’s Art All Night.

“One person came up to me and said, ‘You’re bringing in too much music! It’s Art All Night, not Rock All Night,’” he remembers with a laugh.

Cue the lightbulb.

“Zombo called me up one day five years ago,” says Mary Jo Coll, booking manager for Howler’s Coyote Cafe and self-professed “band mom” to countless local acts. “He said, ‘Hey, I have this crazy idea for an all-day/all-night festival of music, spanning all the generations of music. You think you can help?’”

“Crazy woman that I am, I said sure.”

“At first it was supposed to be done all in one place – in the empty pool in Lawrenceville. But as we looked at the logistics of it, we started looking at other options. Just when we thought we might be dead in the water, we thought let’s use the model of the Cookie Tour and just go into all the venues.”

“That first year, it took some convincing to all the venue managers to let us do it, waive their normal fees and trust us to make it work,” says Coll. “But we pulled it off. And the second year, all the places in Lawrenceville were asking us [to participate].”

“It’s this unusual hybrid of the Cookie Tour, a family-friendly event and SXSW with no cover charges,” says Devine.

Sleep Experiments perform at RANT 2014. Photo courtesy Hugh Twyman.

As NEXT has already written in our RANT event preview, this year’s installment boasts over 120 acts performing over a 14-hour span at 21 separate venues spread across Lawrenceville.

“It’s a true showcase of what this city has to offer in the world of live music,” says Coll. “It’s not [WDVE]-friendly; it’s not just [WYEP]-friendly. Everything from singer-songwriters and bluegrass, to metal and hip-hop are invited in.”

“We always like to reinvent the event,” says Devine, citing this year’s youth stage at the Boys and Girls Club as just one example.

Despite this being the event’s fourth year, and in many ways serving as the inspiration and model for the more recent local music festivals, the event still lacks any major corporate sponsors, a situation that has led the event to become an annual “financial white knuckle ride,” according to Devine.

“[Deustchtown Music Festival and Strip District Music Festival] have the missing piece of huge corporate sponsorship. [RANT] is done all on a ridiculously small shoestring budget,” says Devine, who puts in his own money as well as equipment to make sure the event happens.

“From the beginning Yuengling gave us some money for posters and such,” says Coll. “The bar venues paid in a little, and we raised barely enough to pay for all the fees, permits, port-a-potties and whatever, but every year it’s a nail-biter to the end.”

“Me and Mary Jo would be dangerous if we had a huge budget,” Devine laughs.

In the meantime, the event will continue to be a labor of love for both the organizers and performers.

“We keep hoping we’ll get some big financing and be able to pay [the bands],” says Coll. “But for now, if we do manage to come up with a few extra hundred dollars at the end of the day, we’ll buy them some pizza, beer and a game at Arsenal Lanes.”

“We have an amazing amount of talent in this city. And this is their party.”

Slim Forsythe outside Nied’s Hotel, site of RANT’s Country Stage. Photo courtesy Hugh Twyman.
Slim Forsythe outside Nied’s Hotel, site of RANT’s Country Stage. Photo courtesy Hugh Twyman.

Not sure where to start when attending RANT 2015? Take some suggestions from some of the event hosts and promoters, who were asked which event they are most looking forward to (that wasn’t their own).

Liz Berlin – Musician. Co-Presenting at Boys and Girls Club (Youth Stage):

I’m most excited about Jason Trunzo of Black Coast Royals. He is a Pittsburgh native; you may remember him from a band called DOSE that was huge here in the late 90’s. He’s since moved to St. Petersburg, FL and has developed his amazing band, Black Coast Royals. He has been volunteering all this week with me at Mr. Smalls teaching kids at our Real Life Music Camp and will be performing with them on the Kids Stage on Saturday around 8-ish at the Boys & Girls Club. Jason is playing his set on Saturday night at the Allegheny Wine Mixer from 11-11:45 pm.

Jeff Betten – Misra Records. Co-Presenting at Spirit Lounge:

Honestly, I’m looking forward to the First Flight Lounge at Arsenal Lanes the most. My buddy Adam just started First Flight Records and I couldn’t be happier for him or prouder of him. He’s got a great lineup at his stage, and anyone who wants to see what’s going on with the hottest new record label in Pittsburgh should check it out as well.

Morgan Erina – Musician. Co-Hosting AcousticCafe OpenMic at Hambone’s:

Besides Hambone’s, the other one I pick is Javo Studios where Don Strange is playing, as well as Grand Piano and Chet Vincent. I always love hearing them play!

Slim Forsythe – Musician. Hosting Country Stage at Nied’s Hotel:

I hope to get down to the Arsenal Lanes, because my good pals, the Turbosonics will be playin’ Classic Instrumental Surf Rock like only they can! And otherwise … I would try to check out wherever Molly Alphabet is playin’. She’s the 10th Ward Wonder, the Rose of Saint Kieran’s. Lots of fun.

Ziggy Sawdust – Ziggy Sawdust Productions. Co-Presenting at Spirit Lounge:

I must say I have a bit of a bias. My mother is going to be playing on the Hambone’s acoustic stage with her band “The Lindas.” She was the one who first introduced me to music and she sacrificed her own music career in order to raise me and my sisters so this performance means a lot to me personally. She will be accompanied by Devin Moses (from Devin Moses & The Saved) and Nino Albanese (from Proper People), who have both been good friends of mine since elementary school.

Hugh Twyman – HughShows Photography. Presenting HughShows Presents at the Thunderbird Cafe:

If I wasn’t tied down at the T’Bird, I would be bouncing around as many venues trying to catch as many bands as I possibly could. To limit my answer to one venue only is utterly impossible, but if I had to, I would be chillin’ at Nied’s Hotel with my man, Slim Forsythe. There is one hell of a lineup over there and I can definitely picture myself jammin’ on their famous fish sandwiches throughout the day and into the night.

Liss Victory Musician. Co-Hosting AcousticCafe OpenMic at Hambone’s:

I’ll be topping off my evening with Misaligned Mind at Spirit downstairs at midnight. Their live show is the physical manifestation of insanity! Bonus: One of my all-time favorite comedians in Pittsburgh, Ian Insect, is hosting that stage! So, I’m really hyped to party in Spirit for the first time ever with one of our city’s rowdiest bands!

Chet Vincent – Musician; year one RANT organizer. Performing at Javo Studios:

I’m definitely excited about the AcoustiCafe stage at Hambone’s. They are holding an open mic there all afternoon for anyone to come play, and they have a bunch of great hosts lined up (musicians like Morgan Erina and David Bielewicz). This is a great chance for anyone to get involved with the festival who isn’t playing already, and to get to know the people who run the open mics in town.

Brian Conway

Brian Conway is a writer and photographer whose articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune and local publications. In his free time, he operates Tripsburgh. Brian lives in the South Side.