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The Northside Music Festival returns for the second time

When it was time to start planning Northside Music Festival 2024July 12 to 14, founder Ben Soltesz had other thoughts.

The free inaugural event was a hit last year, he says, and this year I wasn’t sure I was going to make it.

“You add up all the costs of this thing and you wonder how it works.”

But sponsors, including Allegheny Health Network, Highmark and First National Bank, were on board, and Allegheny Center Alliance Church congregations wanted to repeat their Gospel Sunday celebration.

So Soltesz was persuaded, and now he’s excited: “Our lineup is great this year.”

Most of the acts are new to the festival and all are paid. As usual, the schedule is an eclectic mix of pop, psychedelic, rock, soul, rap, Americana – and “Pittsburgh post-polka” from the Polkamaniacs at 7pm on Friday at the Fat Cat on East Ohio Street. (Note: Although Fat Cat closed earlier this year, the space will be used for the festival.)

With 70 acts and a dozen venues, the festival is enough to keep fans happy. But it’s a far cry from the hectic days of its predecessor, Deutschtown Music Festival. From 2013 to 2022 (except during the pandemic in 2020 and 2021), Deutschtown presented more than 400 acts over three days on more than 35 stages.

Soltesz, who is one of Deutschtown’s founders, says he welcomes the scaled-down festival because it’s “less anxiety-inducing” and frees up more money to pay bands.

Andre Costello of Forestry Division plays at Northside Music Festival 2023. The band returns to the festival this year. Photo courtesy of Melanie Stangl.

Highlights of the weekend include the final (or near-final) performances of a pair of Pittsburgh bands: Outsideinside, which has been together since 2011, closes out Friday night’s show at the Allegheny Elks Lodge. Forestry Division are on their farewell tour, playing the First National Bank Stage at Foreland and Middle streets at 10pm on Saturday.

While it’s mostly a local lineup, Soltesz has ventured further afield, bringing in bands from Columbus, Buffalo, and Cleveland—and Userband, a moody rock group that splits time between Marseille, France, and New York City. (They perform at 7 p.m. Saturday at The Government Center.)

Buffalo’s Handsome Jack Band played at the Club Cafe in May on a bill with Angela Perley of Columbus. Soltesz invited them both to play. Handsome Jack is at the Fat Cat on Friday at 11 p.m., while Perley is set for Saturday at 8 p.m. on the First National Bank Stage.

“It’s our first time at the Northside Music Festival,” says Handsome Jack band member Joe Verdonselli. “We look forward to bringing our brand of boogiesoul rock ‘n’ roll to Pittsburgh.”

Buffalo’s Handsome Jack (Bennie Hayes, Jamison Passuite and Joe Verdonselli) play the Northside Music Festival on Friday night at the former Fat Cat. Photo courtesy of Jeff Tracy.

In addition to music everywhere, Northside is bringing back its children’s activities area in Allegheny Commons East Park on Saturday and Sunday. The Redfishbowl Artists Village, with 100 vendors, will also be set up in the park. More than a dozen food trucks line Foreland Avenue. Two large beer gardens will be open Friday 18-23 and Saturday 14-23 Food and drink will be available in many places.

Sunday is what sets Northside apart from most music festivals. Gospel Sunday, presented by Allegheny Center Alliance Church, returns from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm on the Highmark/AHN Park Stage, across from the church on Allegheny Commons. The morning concert features Kenny Stockard, Anjelique Strothers and the church choir. This year they are adding an evening service with music from Steel City Revival from 6-8pm

“We felt that our (morning) hours did not provide sufficient opportunity for others in the faith community to participate, given that services are primarily convened during this window,” said Christian Ballenger, pastor of services at the church. “The evening hours give us a greater ability to be inclusive.”

Soltesz says he enjoyed checking out the Millvale Music Festival in May. Running his own festival is another story, he admits, but “I wish I could sit and watch the bands we have all day.”

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