VIA Music & New Media Festival. Photo by Ryan Michael White.

The fleeting, transitional month of September has inspired countless musicians to pen iconic tunes—from Rod Stewart to Big Star and Green Day. While we too find the back-to-school rush, slightly crisp leaves and milder temps to be inspiring, this doesn’t mean that summer fun is over. In honor of the 12th day of the ninth month—where you might find yourself jet-setting from Point Breeze to the Northside within 24 hours—we’ve expanded our typical Top 10 to 12 Pittsburgh events not to miss this month. Disclaimer: we better not hear anyone saying there’s nothing to do in Pittsburgh. Ever again.

Courtesy of Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area.
Courtesy of Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area.

1. Festival of Combustion at Carrie Furnaces: September 5

Steel production at the Carrie Furnaces may have halted in 1982 but the molten metal returns on Saturday, September 5th. Reborn as a National Historic Landmark, the storied plant will host the Festival of Combustion from noon to 5 p.m. Teaming up to present the inaugural installment, Rivers of Steel Heritage Area, Detroit’s Carbon Arts, Pittsburgh Glass Center, Ton Pottery and the Mobile Sculpture Workshop invite visitors of all ages to participate in a variety of hot art happenings while getting a behind-the-scenes look at these icons of industry and their sprawling grounds.

Design your own glass mosaic, fire your a ceramic vase, watch makers cast molten lava and see live welding and metal fabrication demonstrations right before your very eyes. Learn about all of these historic processes that are part of our region’s legacy at the Carrie Furnaces—where over 1,250 tons of molten metal was once poured daily. Fuel up with firery local food vendors including Iron Oven Catering and Wings and a Prayer, and cool down with icy treats from The Pop Shop and refreshing libations from The Brew Gentlemen. Providing the day’s electric soundtrack will be Pittsburgh rockabilly band, The Bessemers. Admission: $15 (free for ages 18 and under).

Steel City Big Pour.
Steel City Big Pour.

2. Steel City Big Pour at Construction Junction: September 12

Meet the granddaddy of all Pittsburgh beer festivals that has inspired countless area brew happenings since its inception in 2004. Uniquely situated within the region’s only recycled building supply retailer, the Steel City Big Pour brings together a thirst for craft beer and a passion for building conservation. Those lucky enough to snag tickets—the event sold-out in one hour—will be treated to three hours of beer, food, live art and music, and more beer. Tapping into Construction Junction‘s vast warehouse and parking lot, the region’s preeminent craft beer festival features 46 brewers from around the region and U.S. paired with fare from 26 top area restaurants, seltzer and soda vendors, cafes and pubs and markets (humans cannot exist on beer alone).

Don’t forget to try out the Big Pour app for live beer and food ratings and sample the Big Pour’s signature brew created by Scott Smith of East End Brewing fame. In between tastings, pour-goers can enjoy live music by Hoodoo Drugstore and meet author Mark Brewer—who will be signing and selling his book, Brewology. Always a highlight is the chance to bid on locally-designed “kegerators” (read: refrigerator meets keg) in the Big Pour’s lively bar raffle. Proceeds support CJ’s work promoting sustainability and conservation. Sessions run from noon to 3 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m. View a complete list of breweries and food vendors.

Backstage Block Party.
Backstage Block Party.

3. Backstage Block Party at City Theatre: September 12

Pittsburgh’s contemporary theatre scene is thriving and one of the hottest tickets this month is City Theatre’s Backstage Block Party. Rock the (Bingham Street) block, get a sneak peek at the company’s upcoming season of premieres, tour the spaces where the on-stage magic happens and more. Block partiers will play interactive theatre games, enjoy behind-the-scenes access, indulge in local fare and vie for door prizes. A first for the South Side company, the free block party will include a food truck roundup with Mission Mahi Tacos, PGH Halal and Sugar and Spice, and beer tastings from Penn Brewery.

Attendees will be treated to a special preview of City Theatre’s dynamic 2015-2016 season featuring local talents, five Pittsburgh premieres and one world premiere. Taking audiences from Dublin to Brooklyn, and from WWII to the blogosphere, the 41st season boasts a diverse selection of storytellers and plays, including Connor McPherson’s The Night Alive, Dominique Morisseau’s Sunset Baby, Keith Reddin’s Some Brighter Distance, Laura Eason’s Sex with Strangers, Anna Ziegler’s The Last Match and Benjamin Scheuer’s The Lion.

Jazz Poetry Concert. Photo by Renee Rosensteel.
Jazz Poetry Concert. Photo by Renee Rosensteel.

4. City of Asylum Pittsburgh’s Jazz Poetry Concert in West Park: September 12

On a magical September evening, one of Pittsburgh’s most distinct and diverse outdoor happenings will usher in a new decade—and welcome a string of firsts. Setting up shop in scenic West Park—to accommodate its expanding audiences—City of Asylum‘s Jazz Poetry Concert turns 11 with some new twists on its signature annual event.

This is a night when music fans know they will hear exceptional jazz and compelling poetry, while exploring a melding of the two art forms. But this time around—for the first time anywhere—three MacArthur Genius Grant winners will be featured in the same performance. Dubbed “MacArthurs in the Park” (cue flowery 1968 Jimmy Webb song), the event will showcase poet Terrance Hayes (2014), Grammy-nominated composer-pianist Vijay Iyer (2013) and poet Heather McHugh (2009). Iyer, who was voted “Jazz Artist of the Year” in the 2015 Downbeat Critics Poll, will also perform with his own acclaimed trio, which features 21-year-old drummer Marcus Gilmore and Grammy-nominated bassist Stephan Crump. During the collaborative segment—always a highlight and always developed in Pittsburgh before the concert—Iyer will be joined by legendary jazz saxophonist, flutist and composer Oliver Lake, co-founder of the World Saxophone Quartet.

Also participating are Pakistani poet Harris Khalique and Belgian graphic novelist Shamisa Delaunay. Emcees will be international columnists from City of Asylum’s online magazine participating by video, including Tarik Gunseril (Turkey), Dina Meza (Honduras), Tienchi Martin Liao (Germany) and Chalachew Tadesse (Ethiopia).

The event is free but reservations are suggested. Can’t make the concert? Watch the live stream.

5. Johnny Cash Day at the Allegheny Elks Lodge: September 12

Johnny Cash Day design by Colin Miller.
Johnny Cash Day design by Colin Miller.

Whether you know him as the original punk rocker, grew up listening to his music on your grandparents’ car stereo or consider “I Walk the Line” to be your go-to Karaoke song, you’re going to want to get yourself on down to Johnny Cash Day’s 11th annual installment. And if you’re anything like us you, you’re stewing in regret for not buying tickets when they went on sale August 12th (the event sold-out in three days). Still, that won’t stop us from calling this one of the coolest events in Pittsburgh. Ever. And partially because it’s labor of love organizers keep it 100% cozy, spirited and authentic.

What’s in store for this year’s ring of fire? Four featured bands—The Beagle Brothers, Chester, Dan Getkin and the Masters of American Music and The Neighborhood—will perform impassioned versions of songs composed, inspired or performed by the country music icon. Expect plenty of bourbon, baritone ballads and Cash-themed surprises marking that dark day in 2003 when the inimitable singer-songwriter left the physical world behind. Cash’s flock will also enjoy down-home food, door prizes, raffles and drink specials—sponsored by Makers Mark and PBR, natch—and will peruse merchandise designed by Colin Miller. The homespun tribute falls fresh on the heels of news that a public art trail celebrating Cash’s landmark 1968 concerts at Folsom Prison has been approved. It’s a bash with benefits, because proceeds support Elks Lodge charities. Read our article to learn more about the history of Johnny Cash Day.

Michael Janis, Echoes at Society for Contemporary Craft.
Michael Janis, Echoes at Society for Contemporary Craft.

6. Opening weekend celebration for Mindful at Society for Contemporary Craft: September 18 

Ready to #craftyourmind? The healing power of art—and the tastes of homemade baked goods—are coming together to raise awareness about mental health. Running through March 12th at Society for Contemporary Craft, Mindful: Exploring Mental Health Through Art pairs work by 14 contemporary artists with innovative community programs. Don’t miss the free opening weekend celebration which includes a reception, artist talks, gallery performances and more.

The show’s 33 works explore mental illness’ impact on society, and how art-making and handcrafted objects can encourage positive self-expression, communicate emotion and inspire meaningful dialogue. The pioneering exhibit also examines creative responses to mental health conditions by featuring artists who have been diagnosed with or affected by mental illness.

From Brooklyn-based visual artist and printmaker Swoon to internationally acclaimed glass maker Michael Janis, Mindful highlights traditional craft materials and techniques alongside works that explore relationships between painting, sculpture, installation and conceptual art.

With a tasty and clever twist on these important themes, SCC will also unveil the Pittsburgh premiere of the Depressed Cake Shop—an international pop-up bake sale that’s raising awareness about mental health “one grey, sweet treat at a time.” Visitors are invited to “craft their minds” at a variety of thoughtfully curated programs, including lectures, artist demos, information sessions with community groups, gallery tours, hands-on workshops and resource materials.

Marsha Ambrosius.
Marsha Ambrosius.

7. Soul Sessions Series at the August Wilson Center: September 20

Downtown Pittsburgh is about to get an infusion of soul. Dubbed Soul Sessions, the first-of-its-kind series is bringing internationally acclaimed musicians to the August Wilson Center as part of The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s latest performing arts initiative. For its inaugural edition, Soul Sessions will showcase soul, jazz and rhythm and blues by award-winning artists Gregory Porter, Marsha Ambrosius, Eric Roberson, Maysa Leak and Musiq.

Kicking off Soul Sessions on Sept. 20th is versatile vocalist, songwriter and actor Gregory Porter, who won a 2014 Grammy for best jazz vocal album for Liquid Spirit. Known for his booming baritone and powerful on-stage presence, Porter also starred in the original Broadway cast of It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues.

Headlining performances will be augmented by multidisciplinary programs featuring The Jones Family Singers gospel collective, the Pittsburgh Dance Council’s presentations of PHILADANCO and Ailey II and Sancho: An Act of Remembrance, a one-man show by celebrated Royal Shakespeare Company actor Paterson Joseph. View a complete Soul Sessions schedule.

Thrival Innovation + Music Festival.
Thrival Innovation + Music Festival.

8. Thrival Innovation + Music Festival: September 21 – 27

Ready to exercise your right and left brain over seven days? Thirty programs, 26 musical acts, 10 locations and one massive brownfield are part of what’s in store during Thrival. For its third annual edition, the confluence of entrepreneurs, innovators, creatives and business leaders is expanding its footprint—both in terms of programming and geography. In addition to getting a look at the city’s innovation corridors and the significant work being done at our universities, attendees will also explore city neighborhoods and sites that might not be traditionally associated with startup culture.

Packed with immersive innovation-focused events, interactive programs and a music festival, Thrival’s itinerary will span six “themes,” with weekday sessions focusing on everything from women in leadership and robotics, to city policy, education technology and clean energy. Dubbed “Thrival Marquee Events,” evening programs include guest speakers, pitch showcases, PIT Talks, a block party and more. On day four, Thrival returns to its old stomping grounds at Bakery Square for programs at UPMC Enterprises, Google and TechShop. Additional venues include the Heinz History Center, Wigle Whiskey, Work Hard PGH, City Theatre and the new Energy Innovation Center.

The action culminates with an all-ages outdoor concert at Hazelwood’s 178-acre Almono site—formerly home to LTV Coke Works—featuring 26 acts over two days. Headliners include Las Vegas-based pop-punk band Panic! at the Disco, legendary Wu-Tang rappers Raekwon and Ghostface Killah, Brooklyn ensemble San Fermin, indie rockers Manchester Orchestra and Timothy Showalter’s Strand of Oaks. Joining them are local bands including Grand Piano, Nevada Color and Beauty Slap. Read our Thrival music preview here.

Extra bonus? All innovation programs are free. View a complete schedule and purchase tickets.

Jessy Lanza.
Jessy Lanza.

9. VIA Music & New Media Festival: September 24 – October 3

There is truly nothing in Pittsburgh like VIA. Finely tuned to presenting adventurous music, art and culture, VIA’s weeklong format invites audiences to actively participate in the intersection of the studio, nightclub, gallery and laboratory. From an artist who recorded an entire album at an Apple Store (Prince Harvey) and one of UK dubstep’s top talents (Ikonika), to an all-day block party and multi-discipliary events at CMU with groundbreaking composer and artists Marina Rosenfeld, VIA truly has something for every pair of ears and eyes.

For its highly anticipated sixth installment, VIA is creating a campus-like setting in and around Sprit Lodge, which has been busy breathing new life into the Lawrenceville Moose since opening in May. Headliners not to miss include feminist hip-hop pioneer MC Lyte, electronic artist xxyyxx, Canadian producer and vocalist Jessy Lanza, indie pop band Lower Dens, dance music wunderkind RP Boo and the Discwoman DJ collective. Bookended by two jam-packed weekends, the thoughtfully curated festival also features plenty of smaller ticketed and free events including art exhibitions, film screenings, panel discussions, workshops, after-hours dance parties and more—all bringing together local, national and international artists who are pushing the boundaries of their fields.

New highlights for 2015 include a block party in Lawrenceville co-presented with Girls Rock! Pittsburgh and 1Hood Media, explorations of social justice movements and activism and a spotlight on local issues and projects. Each VIA brings brand new audio-visual content to Pittsburgh, and this year’s lineup underscores the festival’s deep commitment to diversity—in terms of artists’ ages, identities, voice and backgrounds, media explored and event formats—as well as its strong representation of women and artists of color. During hands-on workshops, immersive experiences and Q&As, festival-goers will also gain firsthand insight into emerging art forms, technology platforms and cutting-edge artists.

View a festival schedule and purchase tickets and passes. Be sure to check VIA’s Facebook page for the latest updates.

Courtesy of Pittsburgh Glass Center.
Courtesy of Pittsburgh Glass Center.

10. Art on Fire Celebration and Auction at American Eagle Outfitters Headquarters: September 25

The temps might be starting to fall, but the vibe will be on fire at Pittsburgh’s only contemporary glass art auction. Find out why it’s always 2,000-degrees in the creative cauldrons at Pittsburgh Glass Center when the Garfield-based facility takes its hot aura off-site for its signature fundraiser. Dubbed “Art on Fire,” the glass bash will showcase 100-plus handmade objects in live and silent auctions—from glass pumpkins to table decor. And there is a piece for every glass enthusiast, because price points range from $25 to $10,000.

This year, the buzzworthy event is honoring artist Toots Zynsky, who created the auction’s signature item. The recipient of two NEA grants and a Smithsonian Institute Visionary Award, Zynsky’s work is represented in museums and private collections around the world. Part of a group of pioneering artists who studied with glass phenom Dale Chihuly at RISD in the 1970s, Zynsky co-founded the Pilchuck Glass School and the New York Experimental Glass Workshop. Merging traditions of painting, sculpture and decorative arts, her highly distinctive heat-formed filet de verre (glass thread) vessels have gained worldwide attention for their extraordinary use of color.

Proceeds from Art on Fire—which raised more than $100,000 last year—will support the PGC’s educational programming and exhibitions. Purchase tickets. Register for the auction here.

DJ Rekha. Photo by Nisha Sondhe.
DJ Rekha. Photo by Nisha Sondhe.

11. India in Focus in the Cultural District: September 25 – November 9

After presenting festivals focused on places around the globe, The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust now turns its compass to India. Showcasing a broad spectrum of classical and contemporary work that’s been created in and influenced by India—including dance, theater, music and visual art—the cultural festival features a large-scale street party, 10 performances and numerous exhibitions—including shows that have never been seen in the U.S.

Don’t miss the kick-off when India in Focus takes the festivities outdoors during the Sept. 25th Gallery Crawl. At the helm of the free large-scale street party will be DJ Rekha—who has appeared everywhere from edgy NYC clubs to the White House. Rekha’s wildly popular parties showcase her distinct blend of Bhangra, Bollywood and contemporary electronic dance music. The multi-talented DJ also designs sound for Broadway, produces programs for NPR and leads workshops at the Smithsonian.

India in Focus will also feature performances by classical tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain, Nrityagrim Dance Ensemble, Bollywood dance troupe Mystic India, Indian Ink Theatre Company and others. Featured visual artists include Hetain Patel, Nandini Valli Muthiah, Shilpa Gupta, Sumakshi Singh, Surabhi Saraf, Avinash Veeraraghavan, Gauri Gill and Sarika Goulatia. View a complete schedule.

The Moth. Home for the Holidays: Family Gatherings and Un-Gatherings. 12/08/2011.
Adam Gopnik. Photo by Sara Stacke.

12. Tangled Up: The Moth in Pittsburgh at the Byham Theater: September 30

Storytelling is our most powerful form of communication and connection. The best place to experience the thrill of a great story told live? The Moth Mainstage. By now you’ve heard the buzz, so when bestselling author, essayist and commentator Adam Gopnik takes the stage and grabs the mic to host Pittsburgh’s next installment of the storytelling phenom, make sure you’re in your seat.

How’s it all work? With witty Gopnik steering the storytelling ship, the raconteur revelry will feature five charismatic tellers TBA (check this space)—all sharing evocative tales of being “turned around and twisted in knots, caught in a tangle of lies or getting the story straight.” Every Moth show starts with a theme and also includes a lively local musician serving as timekeeper.

With a career spanning 30 years at The New Yorker, Gopnik has written hundreds of essays, as well as fiction and humor. His numerous books range from essay collections about Paris and food to children’s novels. Recipient of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters medal and three National Magazine Awards, Gopnik was born in Philadelphia in 1956 and raised in Montreal.

Grab tickets now, because this event is consistently a sell-out.

Arbor Aid.
Arbor Aid.

Because all good lists must come to an end, we give you our 10 not-to-miss honorable mentions for September: 

1. PSO Cinema Serenade Soiree at Heinz Hall: September 12

2. HACLab Pittsburgh: Imagining the Modern exhibition and roundtable discussion at Carnegie Museum of Art: September 11 & 12

3. Trans-Q Live! at The Warhol Museum: September 18

4. Quantum Theatre’s The Winter’s Tale at the Union Trust Building: September 18

5. Factory Installed opening reception at the Mattress Factory: September 18

6. Come Out & Play Festival in Schenley Plaza: September 18 & 19

7. Pittsburgh Pierogie Festival at Stage AE: September 19

8. Radiant Hall Studio Tours in the Hill District, Northside and Lawrenceville: September 19

9. Culture Club’s Adventure Bingo at Carnegie Museum of Art: September 24

10. Tree Pittsburgh’s Arbor Aid at the Heritage Tree Nursery: September 26

Read more in our weekly events section.

Looking for live music?
Check out our Sound Picks: 11 can’t-miss Pittsburgh concerts in September feature.

Looking for family activities?

Be sure to read our Top Family Adventures this September in Pittsburgh feature.

Jennifer BaronArts & Entertainment / Jobs Editor

Jennifer has worked at the Mattress Factory, Brooklyn Museum of Art and Dahesh Museum of Art and is co-author of Pittsburgh Signs Project: 250 Signs of Western Pennsylvania. She also is co-coordinator of Handmade Arcade. Musically, she is in a band called The Garment District and is a founding member of Brooklyn's The Ladybug Transistor.