The warmer weather isn't the only indication summer's on its way: The Three Rivers Arts Festival, taking place June 1-17, recently announced its music schedule for the Stanwix Triangle main stage and other satellite locations. In a move that may irk local hipsters, many of the performers cater to hoary blues-heads and fans of softer, AAA music -- Cowboy Junkies, Robert Randolph and Los Lonely Boys.
Many people have already weighed in on the issue -- online, in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in casual conversation -- and much I've seen thus far has been critical. There's no Sonic Youth. No Wilco. No Tom Verlaine. No my-favorite-band.
Gary Hinston, who's booked the TRAF stages for the past five years, concedes that this year's lineup is very WYEP-friendly. But "it's always been like that," he says. "One of the reasons we do that is, they're a media partner." He explains that TRAF depends on WYEP to plug the shows on-air and in other promotions.
Beyond that, Hinston says he tends to "leave the classic rock, the hip hop to the other radio stations, the other promoters in the market." He's looking for acts "a little more esoteric, a little more avant-garde." They also must fit TRAF's time, budget and -- with no access to Point State Park due to construction -- space constraints. ("I couldn't book a band that was going to do 7,000 people, because of the location.")
I doubt many would call WYEP's programming avant-garde, but local underground fans shouldn't -- entirely -- despair. The local main-stage night that last year featured Modey Lemon and Vale and Year is back, with local psychedelic heroes Black Moth Super Rainbow and indie rockers Race the Ghost on June 4.
The Market Square stage, meanwhile, hosts the Circuits of Steel experimental/electronic showcase June 8, featuring Grand Buffet, Rein[Forced], Discuss and Xanopticon. Arts collective Unicorn Mountain's Storybook Wonderland is there on June 9, and new TRAF partner FLUX, the multi-disciplinary arts party that recently re-debuted in Braddock, will be held on June 16.
While Hinston stresses that he's always interested in getting hip acts to TRAF, they do need to draw, in addition to the other criteria mentioned. "Last year I had Andrew Bird, for example," he says. "Something like that, it was good to book, and it also had some quasi-mass appeal."
For my two cents, TRAF seems intended more for a general audience than for frequent concert-goers or underground audiences -- for better or worse.
"Is it a select audience, or a unique audience? I don't know. I'd hope it's a hip audience," Hinston adds. "But there's only so many hipsters in Pittsburgh."