WYEP Summer Music Fest expands in 17th year
Temperature has nothing to do with why Canada’s Sam Roberts Band has warm feelings about WYEP and its Summer Music Festival.
The first, and last, time the multi-award winning group performed at the gathering proved to be a break-through show that continues to reap rewards.
“It was a turning point for us with the people of Pittsburgh,” Roberts says.
The musicians had been coming to the city regularly before that festival in 2009, he says, but something magical clicked that day. “People listened with open minds. We made new fans and they stuck with us. WYEP’s support made it a place where we can now come and play some of our best shows,” he says. “Hopefully, we’ll add a few more names to our list June 28.”
That’s when they return to headline the station’s free 17th annual Summer Music Festival at Schenley Plaza in Oakland. The fest has moved to Saturday, in celebration of WYEP’s 40th anniversary year, to offer a full day of activities with extended hours.
“This is a city that welcomes new musicians and we’re thrilled to provide a venue for Pittsburgh to discover new artists and new music from some of our favorites,” says station general manager Abby Goldstein.
Summer Music Festival began in 1997 as an outdoor event on the North Shore. “By 2007, we had outgrown the space and moved to Schenley Plaza. It has been held there every year since. It’s centrally located, serving a diverse audience on the pristine, historic lawn of Schenley,” says Paula Hinston, station event director.
The day will open at 2 p.m. with local teen acts (Hat Co., Jessica Bitsura, FYFS and the Options) from WYEP’s Reimagination Project, which focuses on creativity and engagement through a music-and-entertainment blog.
“We’re very excited about this project and expect to see it grow in the coming years,” Goldstein says.
The featured evening entertainment, starting at 6 p.m., offers a variety of music from the Red Western, Elizabeth & the Catapult, Valerie June and the Sam Roberts Band.
“This is a relaxing, fun festival that is all about musical discovery at one of the most beautiful urban green spaces in the city,” Goldstein says.
The Family Area will open at 2 p.m. under a large tent at the plaza. The I Made It! Market is returning to the festival from 2 to 11 p.m. on Schenley Plaza Drive Extension.
Festivals provide a unique opportunity for a performer, Roberts says.
“Crowds coming to a festival basically are in the best mood they will be in all year,” he says. “The crowds bring an energy that is very different than anywhere else.”
The band’s audience tends to be people who gravitate to “sort of more rock ‘n’ roll elements,” he says. “We live for what we do. I want the audience to feel that — a sense of total dedication on our part of a life of making music. Our motivation is to play music with real passion.”
In the United States, the musicians have played the Lollapalooza festival twice, Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits twice, Bumbershoot, Sasquatch!, and several other major festivals, and have been showcased on such American television shows as “Late Show With David Letterman,” “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson,” and “CBS Saturday Morning.”
“I’m hoping we are just at the sort of a base of an upward curve. I hope all this has been preparation for the best to come,” Roberts says.
He believes “Lo-Fantasy,” the group’s fifth studio album, captures the spirit of the band more than almost all of its previous records.
“(Producer Martin Glover) made sure we played with an urgency and spontaneity. It’s a very musical record, definitely a departure from some of our earlier work. It didn’t feel forced at any time,” Roberts says.
The singer-songwriter and guitarist thinks it will surprise some people. “Our great mission is to convert the unconverted,” he says. “I hope they find the music speaks to them in a unique voice.”
Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4664 or [email protected]