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SUNSTAR festival keeps lights shining, via female power

| Wednesday, March 6, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Light Asylum will perform at the 3rd biennial SUNSTAR Music Festival in East Liberty. Credit: Paige K. Parsons

The 3rd biennial SUNSTAR Music Festival in East Liberty isn't the only music festival in Pittsburgh. It's not even the only cutting-edge music festival in East Liberty.

It's not even the only cutting-edge music festival in East Liberty to feature Brooklyn electronic-music duo Light Asylum as a headliner. (They were also at the VIA Festival in 2011).

That's not really a criticism. There's a lot going on in East Liberty these days.

Plus, Light Asylum is pretty great. The Brooklyn electro/darkwave duo just seems really relevant right now. Their sound and image seem to stretch in opposing directions at once, torn between '80s New Wave synth-pop and bleak future-funk, arty indie detachment and the lure of the dance floor, the spotlight-shunning underground and the fearsome star-power of singer Shannon Funchess — who has previously lent her gigantic voice to TV on the Radio.

Any reason to bring them back is a good one. Light Asylum will be at 6119 on Friday night — an intimate club-like upstairs venue on Penn Avenue — with openers Vie Boheme and Lauren G.

The SUNSTAR Music Festival, a project of the Kelly Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty, has expanded in scope, but kept its original purpose in mind.

“It's basically a way to celebrate the contributions of women musicians,” says festival producer Joseph Hall. “Though, it's kind of branched out from women musicians. Now, we have everything from dance parties, to talks with authors, across a broad range of women in music.”

Programming such a festival was fairly challenging, Hall says. Finding artists with just the right level of exposure was the key.

“They're (women artists) either Beyonce-level icons that aren't appropriate for this kind of festival, or they're hardly getting any play at all,” Hall says. “The women that we can find, they're heading bands that are otherwise men. I think it's important to provide a space for women making music.”

Saturday night will feature Pittsburgh jazz musicians interpreting the “First Ladies of Jazz,” from Ella Fitzgerald to singer/movie star and one-time Hill District resident Lena Horne. Performers include Spanky Wilson, Etta Cox, Kenia, Tania Grubbs, Maggie Johnson, Vanessa German and the Roger Humphries Band. Jazz-era cocktails and fashion also will be featured in the Kelly Strayhorn Theater lobby.

Monday continues the jazz theme with a performance by the acclaimed all-female Spelman Jazz Ensemble from Spelman College in Atlanta.

Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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