The Deutschtown Music Festival is Pittsburgh’s largest free music showcase – possibly the largest in the country, according to the organizers (who cite the Reverbnation music resource website). But in 2020, the festival was canceled due to the pandemic. Then, this year’s event was also a victim of coronavirus uncertainty.
Instead, on Saturday host Hands Over Deutschtown, a one-day event that falls somewhere between a placeholder and a substitute for the three-day music festival.
“It’s a little stepping stone on the way back to normalcy,” said founder Cody Walters.
Hands Over Deutschtown offers a dozen concerts on two stages, as well as activities for children, an artists’ market, food trucks, free vaccinations and more. It all takes place on a fraction of the usual North Side festival footprint, which always includes several blocks of closed streets.
But Walters says the Hands Over Deutschtown feel will complete the scale of the event.
“We really wanted to do as much about the community as we did about the music,” he said.
Walters first said the organizers of the Deutschtown Music Festival were inclined to simply pull 2021. Then, in April, they got a call from Squonk Opera, the Pittsburgh-based world touring art-rock group and troupe. performance known for its outdoor musical performances. Squonk has offered to reprise “Hand To Hand,” his 2019 show featuring a pair of giant inflatable hands.
In 2019, “Hand To Hand” was set to debut at the Three Rivers Regatta; when the regatta was canceled, Walters recruited Squonk for Deutschtown, but the troupe had already accepted the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership’s offer to host the 30-minute show at PPG Plaza.
Now those hands are tied in Deutschtown after all, and even inspired the name of the brand new festival, which Squonk will feature with two afternoon performances at the Skyline Stage near Sue Murray Pool. Both performances will be followed by backstage tours (an opportunity for children to see how these giant hands work).
“Hand to Hand” was the seed from which the rest of the new festival grew. (Squonk’s performance costs are even covered by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.) As pandemic restrictions on gatherings loosened, sponsors got on board and attractions were added, Walters said.
Joining Squonk on the Skyline stage is the West African percussion and song group Abafasi; London Johnson’s Magnificent Street Entertainment drum corps drilling crew; and Brazilian percussion ensemble Timbeleza.
Meanwhile, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., the nearby Park Stage will host a variety of rock, jazz and hip-hop acts, including livefromthecity, Brittney Chantele and Devin Moses & The Saved.
Activities for kids include a bouncy house and face painting. The artists’ market is organized by the local collective Redfishbowl. Co-sponsors Highmark and Allegheny Health Network will provide health information, and vaccines will be available from the Northside Christian Health Center (the Johnson & Johnson one-shot) and AHN (Pfizer, with on-site planning for the second shot).
Co-sponsor First National Bank will offer financial literacy classes and workshops for first-time home buyers.
Walters noted that unlike the music festival, Hands Over Deutschtown will not include on-site liquor sales.
Walters said he expects the full-scale Deutschtown Music Festival to return in 2022.