Outside of Mike Lange, there may not be a more recognizable radio voice in Pittsburgh than Randy Baumann. As host of WDVE’s Morning Show for over 15 years, Baumann is daily rush hour partner and pal to thousands of Pittsburghers during their morning commute.
Now he’s using that platform to lend his voice to a growing, fervent chorus of champions for Pittsburgh’s indie rock scene.
“I think people are a little bit tired of hearing me say it,” says Baumann, “but I can’t impress it upon people enough: I’m here to tell you that Pittsburgh has carved out a niche not unlike what Austin carved out in the early ’80s, or the genesis of a town like Athens.”
Baumann says that he has always tried to stay plugged into the local scene, but it was maybe five or six years ago when he first noticed the musicianship in Pittsburgh really start to rise.
“I think the first band I saw that embodied that was Triggers,” says Baumann. “When I saw Triggers I was like, this is Elvis Costello, this is Spoon, this is piano-driven power pop, great melodies, this is cool! I was excited for them. And you slowly get turned on to all these other bands that start happening at the same time.”
In addition to showcasing local bands through in-studio performances, Baumann, in 2013, along with Grey Area Productions, hosted a series of “Rambles,” in the vein of Levon Helm’s legendary Midnight Rambles—think The Last Waltz with Pittsburgh musicians. A multi-generational group of Pittsburgh rockers—including Baumann himself—jammed on songs from the classic rock canon, like Dylan, The Band and the Stones.
The inaugural Ramble, at Lawrenceville’s Thunderbird Cafe, featured a cross-generational gathering of Pittsburgh rock bands new and old, including The Clarks, The Hawkeyes, Meeting Of Important People, Billy Price Band and more. The format was a hit, and it expanded over the years to include tributes to other classic rock legends, but there wasn’t much space for bands to play their original songs.
So Baumann and Grey Area teamed up again, this time with DVE’s imprimatur, for the inaugural DVE Local Live Series, a free local showcase that kicks off Friday at the Rex Theater featuring four local bands – Wreck Loose, Chet Vincent & the Big Bend, The Commonheart and Meeting of Important People – all of whom will play sets of their own original music.
“What this is,” Baumann says, “is an effort to shine a light on the bands that I think can really make a connection with people that The Clarks have in the past. That Donnie Iris did, that Joe Grushecky did. And they sort of became part of the fabric of the local music scene for so many decades now.”
One of the local artists who is not performing at this event but has performed at a number of the Rambles, Andre Costello, says that he grew up listening to DVE and that “gaining the support and attention of DVE is one of those things that I just can’t believe.”
“The amount of people that have recognized my name or heard of me, all the folks from high school and my hometown that ask about me, telling me they hear about me on the radio, is just unbelievable,” he adds.
Baumann acknowledges that the Pittsburgh scene is much more multi-faceted than just the indie rock scene, but the current generation of Pittsburgh indie rockers has a particular resonance with DVE listeners.
“We’re finding that when you listen to a band like the Nox Boys, you can hear all those classic influences that maybe the older end of our demographic is getting into. Chet [Vincent] is David Byrne and Neil Young wrapped into one. So what better artist to expose to the traditional DVE crowd than the guy whose band is like Crazy Horse?”
Baumann adds that fans should not be surprised if they see some Pittsburgh rock legends in the crowd at this or future Local Live Series events.
“The older guys were really inspired by [the Rambles],” says Baumann. “They call me and they want to learn more about young guys, they want their recordings, they suggest them for things—that has been a really cool unintended consequence.
“Donnie Iris loves these guys.”