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What is state of all-ages concerts in Pittsburgh?

Financial challenges face venues that traditionally have staged shows for underage college students

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CP PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: JARED WICKERHAM
  • CP Photo Illustration: Jared Wickerham

Frank Malta never wanted to drop all-ages shows from the lineup of live performances at Cattivo in Lawrenceville. And an argument can be made that it wasn’t him who made the call.

“The insurance company doesn’t allow me to do them anymore,” says Malta, Cattivo’s owner.

“Basically, my insurance company dropped me. … I had to sign a waiver with my new insurance company [stating] that [it] won’t cover me if I have any all-ages shows.” 

All-ages concerts are on shaky ground in Pittsburgh after long helping form the foundation of the city’s live-music scene. The trend is especially concerning for college undergrads, around half of whom are under 21.

Cattivo staged all-ages shows four of the past five years, but Malta was facing a doubling of his previous rate from a new insurance company if he kept with the practice. 

“So, it’s kind of dumb to pay an extra $10,000 a year to have shows that don’t bring any money in,” he says. “Basically, we were covering our expenses. It was more a courtesy thing to the minors and to the promoters.

“They’re all young kids. They don’t buy a lot. They don’t have a lot of money.” 

Lack of money for young concert goers isn’t the only factor forcing a squeeze on venues such as Cattivo, Mr. Smalls, and The Smiling Moose. Pennsylvania’s liquor codes can make a rat’s nest out of putting on all-ages shows. Logistics are difficult for venues serving alcohol, since each is required to have a different section for alcohol-consuming patrons when minors are allowed entry.  

Even without an incident or infraction — and Malta says there was neither at Cattivo (“not even band members were allowed to bring alcohol on stage [with] minors [present],” he says) — the convoluted stipulations put venue owners in a no-win situation when it comes to all-ages shows. 

Malta is concerned other venue operators may face similar challenges that lessen the likelihood of all-ages shows. But Leigh Yock, of Spirit Lodge, has no intention of halting all-ages shows at her venue. She is keen on creating for this generation the memory-making evenings that existed for previous Pittsburghers.

“Everyone remembers those epic nights at Laga,” Yock says, referring to a now-closed all-ages venue in Oakland.

“Venues that can pull it off logistically can literally influence an entire generation's memories and help rally the scene.”

Mr. Roboto Project may serve as the hub for rallying the all-ages scene. The DIY venue in Bloomfield is all-ages for every show because it doesn’t permit alcohol. It took on an upcoming show from Frankie Cosmos that was dropped by Cattivo because of that venue’s new policy.

“Live music should be accessible to everyone, and if you want to cultivate and nurture a music scene, you have to start with the youth,” says Brett Shumaker, booking coordinator for Mr. Roboto Project.

“They are quite literally the future. For me, personally, going to shows as a teenager changed my life and gave me a place I felt I belonged. Everyone deserves to feel that.”


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