Check out Millvale Music Festival Day 1 here
Here is the conversation that my girlfriend and I had during breakfast on August 7th, in the form of a short two-hander play:
Setting: A South Side Slopes kitchen, late morning sunlight streaming in on two faces, haggard from oversleep, being shoved full of banana waffles
Characters: Bored In Pittsburgh (BIP) and girlfriend (GF)
BIP: “We should really hurry up so we can get there by 2.”
GF: “Eh, we’ll see.”
BIP: *Puts on “The Wreck of the Old ‘97” by The Mixus Brothers, a duo that specializes in homespun, Appalachian-style country/folk*
GF: *looks at phone* “This is good; I’ve never heard of The Mixus Brothers. Where are they from?”
BIP: “They’re from here.”
GF: “Are they the band that’s playing?”
GF: “Oh shit, we should really hurry up.”
We raced through our showers and flagged the 54 bus with minutes to spare. Having disembarked in Bloomfield, we then power-walked across the 40th Street Bridge to Millvale, once again dodging the biking hordes from the day before. The Mixus Brothers were already going strong when we arrived at the Millvale Community gardens a bit after 2pm, the two central “brothers,” Jebbh and Red, accompanied by an entire clan of Mixuses with names pulled straight from an 1850s newspaper. They ran through a series of deep-fried tracks that featured unusual accents—horns, pedal steel, dirty electric violin—the music complemented by the buzzing of bees as they bumbled around banana pepper plants and annoyed festivalgoers.
Once the Mixus Brothers wrapped up, we walked on over to the backyard of Cousins Lounge for an acoustic set by Avi Diamond, who, I should note, will soon be changing her stage name. Diamond, armed with nothing but an acoustic guitar and a microphone, fought valiantly against the pounding drums of neighboring festival stages as she gave her internal metronome the workout of its life. Miraculously, she was able to tune out the surrounding din and deliver some soulful renditions of her rustic ballads, including several from an upcoming album.
As she played, a jiggly turkey, a Canada goose, and a big ol’ tortoise wandered around a section of the backyard, entranced by the music. I sipped on an iced tea made with kava, St. John’s Wort, and CBD, the mixture soothing me to the point of near-narcolepsy.
At the end of Avi Diamond’s set, we walked over to the Family Dollar on Lincoln Ave to buy earplugs in preparation for some later shows. When I lived at my old place, I regularly booked down to the Family Dollar that inhabits the nether zone between the Strip, Lawrenceville, and Polish Hill for last minute purchases of deodorant, earwax removal kits, and door mats not soaked in cat piss; every time I step through one’s antechamber, no matter the location, it feels like home. Apparently, the entire staff at the Garfield Family Dollar quit in June, prompting an aggrieved former customer to tell Pittsburgh CBS Local, “I’m very upset. During the past several months, it’s just been on a steady decline.” I would imagine that it’s more upsetting to work at an understaffed, low-paying store than it is to patronize one, but, hey, the aggrieved customer is always right, according to capitalism.
Pack of orange earplugs in hand, we returned to Grist House, the site of the previous night’s Vireo show. Once again, the inside and outside beer lines mushed together in a milling mass of bachelor partiers, dogs, and wraparound shades dads.
Soon, The Sun Champs, with their blend of sunny atmosphere and jam band virtuosity, emerged to get the crowd moving, dads and all. The music was lively and danceable; I saw many dudes clad in Grateful Dead shirts bobbing their heads as they sipped from plastic cups containing IPAs thick with fruity haze.
We pick up the earplug thread at Whisper Nest, where Gator Shakes were stationed, ready to shatter some skulls with their clamorous metalcore assault.
The last time I saw them, in the basement of St. Mary’s Lyceum at the Deutschtown Festival in 2019, I couldn’t hear for three days, so, even with nubbins of orange foam shoved in my ear canals, I hung back near the bar while the Gator boys tossed around dissonant guitar riffs, breakdowns, and throat-shredding screams. The music may be intimidating, but certain song titles added a touch of levity, “Piss Boat” and “The Judge, The Jury, and The Antidepressant” being the most notable.
After a quick stop by the Bridge City Brinery food truck to purchase sandwiches smothered in sauce (which we washed down with more sour ales at Strange Roots), we ambled over to the Double L bar to watch Glam Hand amble through a set of their gently psychedelic garage rock tunes, jangling guitars mixing with the ambient chatter of drunk boomers jockeying for position around a limited number of barstools. Old episodes of Jeopardy, splayed across an array of screens, played silently, as I not-so-silently screamed out both answers that I knew and answers that I didn’t know.
We then attempted to see Back Alley Sound in the Bar 3 loft, but the crush of bodies and air heavy with sweat particles didn’t do well for our shared neuroses (claustrophobia, anxiety, etc), so, regrettably, we had to bail after only a few songs. I’m happy that I was able to see the band play the Ace Hotel a few years back, though; their high-energy blend of rock and hip-hop is a joy to behold.
After ten minutes spent sitting on a North Ave stoop to decompress, we headed over to Howard’s Pub to see Stacia Vonne run through some of her breezy, reggae-tinged R&B jams. Her team clustered around her enthusiastically while patrons alternately nodded along to the music and cast their eyes to the Olympic events that were being broadcast behind the bar. We teetered on a pair of stools that were wedged against the establishment’s side wall, craning our heads to view the performance past beer taps and people’s heads. I was happy to hear my favorite Vonne track—the percussive, defiant “Revolution”—in person; can’t get enough of those “rum-pum-pum” ad-libs. Oh, Vonne was also eight months pregnant at the time, which made her set one of the more badass things I’ve seen in music.
We made a last-minute decision to go and see Fuck Yeah, Dinosaurs! back at Mr. Smalls Theatre, which paid off in the form of us getting to watch the prehistoric punk rockers stomp around the floor of the venue while aggressive moshers did battle with a line of security guards protecting the “stage.” Every so often, the band’s lead singer, a beer-loving Jurassic Jesus man, darted out between the guards’ arm-link fence to shoulder tap a passionate listener or two. The security dudes—a large Viking type and a wiry Carhartt sort—scowled and shoved and frowned and pushed their way through the set, which included the legendary “Primordial Ooze.” My anxiety, pent up from being around crowds of people for two days, decided to unleash itself, and I spent half the time ruminating about a rumination from three years ago, but FYD! were awesome as always.
The musical part of the night ended back at Howard’s Pub, with jGGZ PATEL flipping chopped vocal samples and pillowy beats from the back corner while the American relay team dominated their event on TV. Several people chanted “USA! USA!”, amped to root for a country that scoffs at expertise, balks at the idea of the common good, and inflicts wanton cruelty on people thousands of miles away with the flippancy of a child kicking a stone. I kept an eye on the Reds-Pirates game playing out on a solitary screen, and felt my heart swell with glee every time one of the many Reds that inhabits my fantasy team drove in a run. The Pirates are trash, so my heart swelled a lot, sad to say. As the final strains of wavy electronica dissipated, we walked out the door and into the night, which, unknown to us, was at its midpoint and not near its end.
As we trucked across the 40th St bridge and up the hill to Bloomfield, thunder and lightning rolled in from the distance. The southbound 54 was so delayed that we figured it would be better to catch the northbound one and take it all the way around the loop than it would be to stand on a hilltop in an electrical storm for an hour. Unfortunately, when we got to Allegheny Center, the driver informed us that the next trip wouldn’t start for another forty minutes. Rather than bum around the deserted North Side in the middle of the night, we decided to set off on foot. Through the empty midnight streets we trudged, across either Andy Warhol or Rachel Carson, passing by Downtown stragglers stumbling and scootering their ways home before fording the Monongahela by way of the Smithfield St. bridge. We followed Carson St as it transitioned from a shadowy alleyway to a bustling nightlife hellscape; never had I been happier to encounter the unruly throngs of clubgoers pulling from bottles and blunts under the South Side’s heavy police presence, as the sight meant that our couch drew ever closer. As we slogged up the slope, the 54 passed us by, beating us home by 5 minutes, because of course it did.
In all, it was enjoyable 24-plus hours, and I remain forever grateful that our city contains so much musical talent. Until next year, Millvale.