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Rusted Root enjoys giving back in annual fete

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Max Baer wasn't sure if Allegheny County Music Festival was going to survive.

The event was plagued by poor attendance for a few years. The agents and managers of acts solicited to play the charity concert weren't interested in reducing their fees.

Baer, who founded the festival in 2000 to finance special requests from children and youths receiving services through the Allegheny Country Department of Human Services and Allegheny County Juvenile Probation, wanted to continue the annual event at Hartwood Acres.

But how?

It turns out the solution was close at hand.

"Rusted Root called and said to us 'We're from Pittsburgh, we care about Pittsburgh and we'll do it,' " Baer says. "And we love having them."

Rusted Root's appearance on Sunday will mark the band's fourth consecutive appearance at the festival, which has raised almost $313,000 since the event's inception in 2000. The money raised has provided items and experiences the recipients will "remember when they are adults," Baer says, from eyeglasses to sports equipment to prom gowns.

Timothy Hardy III, 17, of Homestead, received a bus pass so he could take music lessons. Hardy plays drums, tuba, baritone sax and trumpet in the concert and jazz bands at Steel Valley High School, where he is a senior and a member of the French Club and the Langston Hughes Poetry Society.

"It means a lot to him," says Cynthia Davis, Timothy's mother. "(The bus passes) give him a chance to be in so many things. ... And, this year, he's going to be taking college courses at CCAC and his other courses at the high school. He's going to be the first one from our family to get a chance to go to college."

Skylar Edwards, 20, of Wilkinsburg, received funds to take nursing courses.

"It helped me get to where I need to be," says Edwards, who is a certified nursing assistant, and is taking nursing courses at Community College of Allegheny County on the North Side.

Liz Berlin of Rusted Root invests her time in the charity. In 2009, she approached Baer, offering to give music lessons.

"That absolutely makes a big difference to the kids, having someone like Liz volunteer to give lessons," Baer says.

The students who took workshops "had a lot of ideas and were doing cool things," Berlin says. "They just loved being in the studio and had a lot to say. It was a special experience for them, and for me."

Berlin adds the festival has become an "annual homecoming" for Rusted Root, an opportunity to that fits in with the band's philanthropy.

While Rusted Root's participation is crucial, Baer says he's not surprised that Pittsburgh has embraced the festival and made it a success during the past four years.

"It's just who we are as a people," he says. "I think we're just a wonderful city, and I think we're kind of unique. We have eastern amenities of a large city such as Philadelphia, and we have a Midwestern kind mentality that goes from being polite when we drive to helping people we don't know."

Additional Information:

Allegheny County Music Festival

Features: Rusted Root with City Dwelling Nature Seekers and Crossing Boundaries

When: 5 p.m. Sunday

Admission: $20 donation per car requested

Where: Hartwood Acres

Details: Website

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