One of the things that keeps Pittsburgh from being a "real city" is its lack of entertainment options on Sundays, especially when it comes to small-scale concerts. Which makes the Sunday Hayrides, at Howler's Coyote Café in Bloomfield, a rarity, attracting subcultural types who'd rather hear country music than watch The Simpsons.
It's all thanks to the efforts of the Beagle Brothers, a local country band which began a decade ago as a regular rock unit during their college days at IUP, and Howler's booker Jo Albright, who was looking to beef up attendance on Sundays.
"We were originally going to do a weekly open mic with a country, rootsy theme," says Beagle upright bassist Kyle Kline. "But we had a hard time getting people to come, so it turned out to be every other week with us playing, plus a featured act. [Albright suggested] calling it the Hayride, which we thought was funny because of the Louisiana Hayride," an old-time radio show similar to the Grand Old Opry.
Not only does the Hayride offer free admission and a consistent roots-music theme, it's also a vegan event. "On the very first one, Jo decided she was going to make some free food to bring people in, and it was vegan because all three of us in the host band are vegan," says Kline. "A year-and-a-half later, she still does it. It's something that just shouldn't make sense -- vegans and country music -- but somehow it does."
The Beagle Brothers haven't become world-famous through hosting the Hayride, but they've parlayed its reputation into opportunities to open for roots-rockers, such as Wayne Hancock and Southern Culture on the Skids, at other venues, as well as releasing a six-song EP called The Notorious Country Hellhounds. "We just recorded another 20 songs with Dino DiStefano in George Heid's studio in Aspinwall," says Kline. "I don't know what we'll do with it yet, whether it'll be an album or a series of 7-inches."
The Beagle Brothers will also be supporting a national-act bill at Howler's on Wed., Apr. 30, opening for alt-country pioneers Blue Mountain with Brooklyn lit-folkie Andy Friedman and The Other Failures, plus local country-punks The Harlan Twins.
Meanwhile, there's no end in sight to the Sunday Hayride scene. "It's been one of our most successful ideas," says Albright. "It started out as just a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants thing, but since then we've had a lot of touring bands who've been willing to come and play here for nothing."
Nothing, that is, except some free food and beer, and the grin on a country-music fan's face.