Photo courtesy of Steamworks Creative.

“We’ve got this cult thing happening,” says John Vento, owner of Steamworks Creative, a performance venue in Hampton Township. “On Saturday there were people here from Florida who had heard about it.”

He’s referring to the 50-seat, BYBO facility on Route 8. The venue is purposely intimate, allowing artists — from musicians such as Joe Grushecky to comedians and poets and karaoke lovers — to commune with their audience four to six nights a week.

Fed up with crowded, smoky bars where he had to strain to see and hear a band, Vento — frontman for the Nied’s Hotel Band — transformed Steamworks Vape Shop into a haven for entertainers.

“It’s a listening room. People are there for one certain thing: to hear what you have to say. As an artist, it’s really special in that way,” says Bill Toms, a legendary Pittsburgh guitarist who leads the band Hard Rain.

Toms takes the Steamworks stage a few times a year, spouting soulful lyrics as a solo act or rocking out with a full, electric ensemble. It’s a great place for both veterans and folks who are new to the spotlight.

Bill Toms often performs at Steamworks Creative. Photo courtesy of Steamworks Creative.

The unassuming hotspot, which celebrates its second anniversary Jan. 25, is run by a small army of volunteers dedicated to music and community service.

It’s Open Mic night on their anniversary. The venue hosts lots of special evenings like the Acoustic Singer Showcase and an Eclectic Night Open Stage for music, art or spoken word performances.

Once a month, Steamworks also hosts an Autism Open Stage sponsored by the Autism Society of Pittsburgh. The event gives people of all ages and musical abilities the chance to express themselves through sound. Mics, keyboards, guitars, amps and percussion instruments are available for folks to use while pizza and non-alcoholic beverages are provided. The next show is scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 9 at 2 p.m.

The program is an extension of Band Together Pittsburgh, a nonprofit organization Vento formed in 2016 with his friend Ron Esser (owner of Moondog’s and the Starlite Lounge in Blawnox). It gives people on the spectrum access to music education, mentorship and performance opportunities.

This summer, Steamworks will operate an autism-friendly music camp, open to people ages 5 and older. Allison Broaddrick, owner of Three Rivers Music Therapy, will guide participants in composing and playing music.

Vento, who has raised $250,000 over the years for charity, says the venue’s partnership with autistic individuals is the most rewarding part of the Steamworks experience.

“It’s just like magic,” he says.

Kristy Locklin

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.