There’s nothing quite like the crackling, electric buzz of an expectant crowd as fans wait for their favorite musicians to take the stage.
It’s a feeling that has been killed off entirely by the coronavirus.
Pittsburgh’s music scene was wrecked by the pandemic, with bars and clubs closed and nowhere safe to play, aside from the odd outdoor gig here and there in warmer weather.
Now, a large group of Pittsburgh musicians and industry professionals are hoping to keep Pittsburgh’s venues afloat during this perilous time, as they wait for support from the Save Our Stages Act (SOS), recently passed in the last round of federal Covid stimulus. The collective is presenting a four-week, online concert series, with three bands playing each night.
“I think the (stimulus) money is going to be getting out but I don’t know how fast it’s going to go out, and might not be for months from now,” says co-organizer Anthony “Rocky” Lamonde, whose band, the Borstal Boys (1970s-style rock in the vein of the Stones and Faces) is playing Feb. 4.
The effort began with a song called “SOS 2020,” written by Eric Rodger of the band Royal Honey. Rodger was working on it when the Rex Theater announced its closure, which hit the local music scene hard.
“I was devastated,” says Rodger. “Our lead singer worked there. We had already lost Howlers and Brillobox. We had heard rumors of other venues that would never reopen. I thought, ‘What if we could take this song and have it benefit our struggling venues?’ Maybe we could record the music with my band, a couple close friends and a bunch of local favorite musicians providing vocals on this song.”
They ended up using more than 60 musicians from 28 local bands, including members of jam-band giants Rusted Root, Pittsburgh rock stalwarts The Granati Brothers, and rockabilly kings The Legendary Hucklebucks, and recording at The Vault Studio on Neville Island.
Now, they’re following it up with an online concert series to benefit the NIVA (National Independent Venue Association) Emergency Relief Fund. The weekly concerts (listed below) are $3 each, or $10 for the entire series. There are more than 3,000 clubs and venues that are part of NIVA nationwide, and most Pittsburgh clubs, like the Roxian Theatre in McKees Rocks, Mr. Small’s in Millvale and Club Cafe on the South Side, are members.
There aren’t really set themes for each night, but some of the lineups have a few broad similarities. The first night, Thurs. Jan. 28, has more of a harder edge, with the punk rock of The Cheats and Middle Finger. The fourth night, Thurs. Feb. 18, features more of a raw, stripped-down rock and roll feel, with the catchy, melodic garage punk of Murder for Girls and the rockabilly revivalists The Legendary Hucklebucks.
▪ Thursday, January 28, 6-8p.m.: Royal Honey, The Cheats, Middle Finger
▪ Thursday, February 4, 6-8 p.m.: Borstal Boys, A Common Crown, Black Ridge
▪ Thursday, February 11, 6-8 p.m.: The Redlines, Half Wheel, Domenic Fusca
▪ Thursday, February 18, 6-8 p.m.: The Legendary Hucklebucks, Murder for Girls, Stone Cold Killer
This concert series is something that’s intended to keep going, notes Lamonde, with even more genres represented in the future, including rap, country, blues and metal.
Support for venues from NIVA is going to be crucial, as the Save Our Stages Covid relief money awaits dispersal.
“The bills keep coming in for the clubs; their mortgage or their rent is due, their electricity bills are due, everything is due,” says Lamonde. “The state still wants them to pay their liquor license taxes and everything else, but they don’t want them to be open. So that money is going to save a lot of places, and if it takes too long for the money to get to them, they’re going to go under.”