Last October, Layer Cake Festival flipped the model of a local music showcase. Rather than spreading dozens of bands across multiple venues in a single neighborhood, Layer Cake welcomed 800 attendees to watch 36 musicians (and over a dozen artists) on three separate stages inside one single venue—in this case, Deutschtown’s James Street Gastropub.

This year, they’re flipping the script again.

On June 4, over 120 local and national musicians will be joined by more than 40 artists at four venues across the city for a daylong celebration of music and art.

Joining James Street as venues this year is Mr. Smalls in Millvale, as well as Lawrenceville’s Cattivo and Spirit. Shuttles will be on hand to shepherd festival-goers from one venue to another throughout the day.

The event is organized by local concert promoter Ziggy Sawdust.

“This gives people an opportunity to interact with new creative talents in the city,” says Sawdust, “whether it’s music, performance art, dance troupes, visual artists—the whole idea that it’s a big melting pot of creativity.”

Sawdust anticipates the final lineup to be made up of roughly two-thirds local bands and one-third national acts. Bad Custer, Arlo Aldo, and Eastend Mile are just some of the local bands that have been confirmed to date.

More than 300 musical acts have applied to perform at the festival, says Sawdust. Participating bands will be announced sporadically throughout April until a final announcement May 1 with the full lineup of bands.

“We want to provide them with the best possible sound and make sure they get paid,” adds Sawdust. “The minimum for any band is $100.”

David Manchester, lead singer for the band Arlo Aldo, says that he is both excited and humbled to be included in this year’s Layer Cake —and it doesn’t hurt that the band will be remunerated.

“Getting paid adds an element of appreciation for the work that goes into performing,” he says. “People don’t always realize how many hours go into making a performance sound like it’s not part of a really bad karaoke machine.”

Each stage at each venue will be presented by a different local record label or creative organization and hosted by a local comedian. Found Sound Music, Misra Records and Point Park University’s Pioneer Records have already committed to hosting a stage. Each presenter will be able to curate the lineup but only to an extent—in order to promote diversity in sound, they can only select three of the performers.

Jesse Harlan
Jesse Harlan Davis of Bad Custer performs at Layer Cake Festival. Timothy Cox photo.

“The whole idea is to mix things up and get people exposed to new bands,” says Sawdust.

“This festival is supremely important because it allows us as artists to network with each other while displaying our talents to one another and whatever yinzers happen to pop in,” says comedian Stoph Edison, host of the upstairs stage at Spirit.

Tickets for the event will be available for one or multiple venues. James Street will host three all-ages stages this year, a decision that was made in the hopes of attracting younger music fans and college students who might stay in Pittsburgh for the summer.

“The colleges are an untapped market,” says Sawdust. “This festival is a way for them to get out of their bubble in Oakland and then hopefully take local Pittsburgh music with them to wherever they live. It’s really a great way to expand the local scene.”

Speaking of expanding the local scene, Sawdust is only getting started. He is in the process finalizing an arrangement that would take Layer Cake Festival to multiple venues in Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood this fall, creating a forum where Pittsburgh bands can serve as direct support to national acts in front of a new audience.

Tickets for the event will be on sale May 1 at A single venue pass will cost $15 adv. / $20 day of show; multiple venue passes will cost $25 adv. / $30 day of show.

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.