Northside Music Festival returns for a second time
4 mins read

Northside Music Festival returns for a second time

When it came time to plan for the 2024 Northside Music Festival, which will take place July 12-14, founder Ben Soltesz had his doubts.

The free, inaugural event backfired last year, he says, and this year, “I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a part of it.

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

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

Soltesz was convinced and is now excited: “Our squad is great this year.”

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

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

Soltesz, co-founder of Deutschtown, says he is happy with the smaller scale of the festival because it “causes less anxiety” and allows for more money to be made available to pay bands.

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

Weekend highlights include the final (or near-final) performances of several Pittsburgh bands: Outsideinside, which has been together since 2011, closes Friday night at the Allegheny Elks Lodge. Forestry Division is on a farewell tour and will play the First National Bank Stage at Foreland and Middle Streets at 10 p.m. Saturday.

Though it’s mostly a local lineup, Soltesz has branched out, bringing in bands from Columbus, Buffalo and Cleveland — and Userband, an atmospheric rock group that splits time between Marseille, France, and New York. (They perform Saturday at 7 p.m. at The Government Center.)

Buffalo’s Handsome Jack played Club Cafe in May as part of a project with Columbus’ Angela Perley. Soltesz invited both of them to play. Handsome Jack will play at Fat Cat Friday at 11 p.m., and Perley will play Saturday at 8 p.m. on the First National Bank Stage.

“This is our first time at the Northside Music Festival,” says Handsome Jack band member Joe Verdonselli. “We can’t wait to bring our brand of boogie-soul rock ‘n’ roll to Pittsburgh.”

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

In addition to music everywhere, Northside is bringing back a children’s play area at 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 can be found on Foreland Avenue. Two large beer gardens will be open Friday from 6 to 11 p.m. and Saturday from 2 to 11 p.m. Food and beverages will be available at multiple locations.

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

“We felt that our (morning) hours didn’t provide enough opportunity for other members of the faith community to participate, given that church services are mostly held during that time,” says Christian Ballenger, the church’s worship pastor. “The evening hours give us more opportunity for inclusivity.”

Soltesz says he enjoyed watching the Millvale Music Festival in May. Hosting his own festival is a whole other story, he admits, but “I’d love to be able to sit and watch the bands we have all day long.”