By the time Pittsburgh's only commercial hip-hop and R&B radio station, WAMO, packed up in 2009, its popular annual Summer Jam — which had boasted headliners like Lil Wayne and T.I. — had already been on a two-year hold.
WAMO has since returned, albeit at a different point on the dial, and under different ownership. And this Saturday, so will Summer Jam. According to Tionna Woodruff, it's been missed.
"Summer Jam is like the Super Bowl for hip hop and R&B," explains Woodruff, of Starr Status Entertainment, the production company which has taken up the Summer Jam mantle. "If you can imagine the Super Bowl being gone for six years, how the world would react, that's kind of what Pittsburgh was going through."
The impressive lineup includes: Rick Ross, Meek Mills, Kardinal Offishall, Wale and Tiga, plus Pittsburgh's S. Money — recently signed to Waka Flocka Flame's label Brick Squad Monopoly — and a showcase of unsigned local artists, who jumped at the chance to be a part of the event.
Without Summer Jam, "there was kind of a void for local rappers," Woodruff says. "It gave them a chance to be heard, and it gave people a chance to see who was going to be hot."
Booking Consol Energy Center, with its high price tag and capacity for 15,000 to 20,000 attendees, may seem like a leap of faith for Summer Jam's first year back. But in past years, the event outgrew its original home, the now-defunct Station Square spot then known as the Chevrolet Amphitheater, and moved first to the Petersen Events Center, then the Mellon Arena. Notably, Starr Status Entertainment owner Terence Starr is the first African American to put on an event at Consol.
Woodruff cautiously estimates attendance numbers around 10,000, but says it's hard to predict in a city where fans tend to buy their tickets the day of the show. But, she says, people are eager for "a big concert, not just another event." She adds, "Summer Jam played a major role in urban communities and the community as a whole. Music has always been something that has brought people together."