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Allegheny County Music Festival answers call for neglected children

| Thursday, Sept. 3, 2009

It seems like a musical adieu to summer, and in some ways it is. The 10th annual Allegheny County Music Festival, featuring Rusted Root on Sunday at Hartwood Acres, caps the series of free shows at county parks for the year.

But the purpose transcends the music. Founded by Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Max Baer, the festival has raised more than $268,000 for almost 1,400 underprivileged, neglected and abused children.

Baer saw many of these children coming through the legal system when he served as a common pleas judge. He decided to try to raise funds for items that might seem insignificant: sports equipment, prom dresses, musical instruments.

However, Baer notes, when children don't have much more than the basic necessities, small gestures like these take on giant proportions.

"Your life is very different when you're 7 to 15," Baer says. "Maybe all you want in the world is to be a cheerleader, and you've practiced so hard and you've dreamed about it and you don't have the $60 for the outfit. It can be consequential to a child; it can be a nightmare, devastating."

Baer says the key to the festival (in addition to the continuing cooperation of the Allegheny County Parks staff and County Executive Dan Onorato) is having a star attraction. Among the acts that have appeared at the event are Los Lobos, Blues Traveler and Pittsburgh's own Rusted Root, which performed at Hartwood Acres in 2004.

Singer and guitarist Michael Glabicki wasn't sure what to expect when the band arrived at the venue during a rainstorm.

"There were streams of water coming down through where the audience was," Glabicki says.

There also were streams of vehicles trying to get into Hartwood Acres, and the band was told that some cars had to be turned away.

"Before we knew it, there were over 30,000 people there," Glabicki says. "It was pretty intense, and it turned into Pittsburgh's own little Woodstock."

Glabicki and Liz Berlin, vocalist and percussionist for Rusted Root, say the cause meshes with the group's mission both musically and spiritually.

"It's definitely in line with a lot of the stuff we believe, and a lot of my personal work with youth supporting educational causes," Berlin says.

"It's such a neat charity," Glabicki says, "because you can see the concrete benefits of it. You hear the stories about kids getting school or music supplies or other things, and we're proud to be part of it."

Baer also can bear witness to the charity's effectiveness. He gets feedback from court-appointed caseworkers and foster parents about how much these small gestures mean to children who have been neglected or forgotten.

"The thing about what we do is that 100 percent of the proceeds, what the public donates to us, goes to the charity," Baer says, noting that no public funds are used to put on the concert.

Baer also has one wish of his own: He'd like to see Rusted Root continue to headline the Allegheny County Music Festival.

"We would love for them to do it annually," Baer says.

To which Glabicki replies, "We love this gig. It's an amazing show for us."

Additional Information:

Allegheny County Music Festival

When: 7 p.m Sunday

Admission: $20 per car

Where: Hartwood Acres

Details: 412-350-2773 or Web site

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