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Deutschtown Music Festival a big hit in small neighborhood

| Wednesday, July 8, 2015, 9:00 p.m.
Meeting of Important People at the Deutschtown Music Festival.
Deutschtown Music Festival
Meeting of Important People at the Deutschtown Music Festival.
Slim Forsythe and his band at the  Deutschtown Music Festival
Deutschtown Music Festival
Slim Forsythe and his band at the Deutschtown Music Festival

The Deutschtown Music Festival, now in its third year, has been astoundingly successful, considering the obstacles it has faced.

Obstacles like, “Where's Deutschtown?”

Of course, it's just one of the 18 small, very different neighborhoods that usually get lumped into a single, amorphous blob known as “the North Side.” Gradually, it's being (re)discovered, in no small part because of events like the Deutschtown Music Festival.

Pittsburghers' famous reluctance to cross rivers seems to finally be waning. Even if only the bands show up, it's going to be a busy 24 hours in this small neighborhood of turn-of-the-century rowhouses, shops and restaurants, centered around the commercial corridor of East Ohio Street. At the moment, there are 125 bands or performers scheduled, on 24 stages, at 16 venues.

They started out with fewer than 50 bands two years ago, and jumped to 98 last year, says founder Ben Soltesz, 41, of Spring Hill.

There are even 15 food trucks participating. Two years ago, you'd have to go as far east as Philadelphia to find that many food trucks anywhere.

It seemed like it would be a challenge to bring a lot of live music to a neighborhood that wasn't really known for it. As it turns out, though, the local music scene — which seems to be seeing explosive growth in just about every genre — needed some room to stretch out, anyway.

Soltesz estimates 6,000 to 8,000 people came to at least one venue last year, though he admits no reliable way to count. He expects 10,000 people this year.

Musically, it's all over the place, from the '60s beat/surf instrumental homage of the Hi-Frequencies (1 p.m. Arnold's Tea), to the sincere throwback country of Slim Forsythe (6 p.m. Arnold's Tea), the accurately named symphonic rock giants Cello Fury (8 p.m., Allegheny Elks Lodge No. 339), featuring three cellos and drums.

Other highlights include a few national touring bands, like Appleseed Collective, a gypsy jazz/bluegrass-hybrid string band from Ann Arbor, Mich. (7 p.m., James Street Gastropub & Speakeasy).

“We kind of keep adding venues each year,” Soltesz says. “Like the New Kirche Contemporary Art Center in Spring Garden.”

He said they had more than 200 band submissions to perform.

It's led to a pretty vibrant street scene — you'd almost think you're in Lawrenceville or the South Side on a Saturday night. The festival now spills well outside the boundaries of Deutschtown to other nearby North Side neighborhoods.

“The North Side restaurants did really amazing business last year,” Soltesz says. “Max's (Allegheny Tavern) and James Street (Gastropub and Speakeasy) both had one of their best days of the year. Penn Brewery, last year, just them being on our map and list, had one of their best days outside of Oktoberfest. We'll have three stages this year at Penn Brewery (courtyard, patio, Eisenhalle).

“Wigle Whiskey worked out great last year. They were super-pleased — that was their first major event. The success of last year led them to actually build a stage, and they've been doing outdoor events almost every weekend.”

The event is still free and run entirely by volunteers. Selling sponsorships has been so successful, that they plan on paying the bands something this year. The one thing that wasn't an unalloyed success was the crowd-funding campaign last year.

“We had a goal of $10,000, which was kind of crazy. Didn't really work out that way,” Soltesz says. “Got about $2,500. I might restart it. All that money is earmarked directly for the bands.”

Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-320-7901.

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