Rusted Root will headline the Allegheny County Music Festival

| Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

A few years ago, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Judge Max Baer was worried that the viability of the Allegheny County Music Festival was at risk. The festival, which raises funds to provide goods and services for children and youths served through the county's Department of Human Services, was spending too much money on the talent needed to attract patrons to the annual show at Hartwood Acres.

In 2009, Rusted Root was asked to reprise its 2003 appearance as the headlining act. A tradition was born — the local ensemble has headlined the festival every year since — and Baer's charity was saved.

“When Rusted Root was willing to do it, it was the answer to our problem,” Baer says.

This year's festival will be Aug. 31 at Hartwood Acres in Hampton.

Since Baer founded the event in 2000, more than $640,000 has been raised. About 2,800 children and young people have been provided with items ranging from karate lessons and trips to Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium to skateboards and prom gowns.

“Every one of the items is enormously important to every one of these children,” Baer says.

“To say that we've bettered the lives and provided something that was almost impossible to get to almost 3,000 kids is very fulfilling,” he says.

Rusted Root vocalist and guitarist Michael Glabicki says the festival meshes with the band's desire to be part of the community. Glabicki calls the event “the anti-system of touring, a friendly day of music for a good cause.”

But beyond that element of service, it's a throwback to the band's early years.

“We rented the Birmingham Lofts (on the South Side) and people brought food and sat down and ate before the show,” Glabicki says. “Everybody was just content with eating and getting together; the idea of putting on a show came later. For me, this feels like going back to those days, just eating and playing and enjoying life.”

Patrick Norman, Rusted Root's bassist, says the band treats the festival as a homecoming.

“It's so nice to play outside in such a beautiful area,” Norman says. “And because it's for the Department of Human Services and helps underprivileged youths, it allows us to come home and play and do something for the community.”

While Glabicki, Norman and the other members of the band embrace the opportunity to raise funds via the festival, the opportunity to perform at Hartwood especially resonates with Liz Berlin, who sings and plays guitar and percussion for the band.

“It means a lot to me because of the work I do with my nonprofit, Creative.Life.Support (associated with Mr. Small's Theatre and Skatepark in Millvale),” Berlin says, noting that some children who took classes through the non-profit have had funds provided by the festival. “So, I really feel like I'm directly connected to this benefit.”

Rege Behe is a contributing writer to Trib Total Media.

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