top of page

Live Music Venues Offer Chance for Artists and Audiences to Connect

The Bacon Brothers. Photo courtesy Jergel’s Rhythm Grille

Would it surprise you to learn that in 2021, designated Pittsburgh as the seventh best city in America for musicians, tying with Los Angeles?

Perhaps that is not surprising when you consider that the number of live music venues in our region seem to increase by the year. Although music lovers can probably hit a different Pittsburgh-based venue every weekend for months, the North Hills has several unique options for patrons.

Jergel’s Rhythm Grille is a name known to many North Hills’ suburbanites, though the Warrendale-based music and entertainment venue, which opened in 2012, draws crowds from near and far. Their events calendar is consistently packed, with the venue having featured live music five to seven days a week for a decade; in January 2023 alone, they hosted over 27 artists, not including the opening bands that perform for the national acts that come through.

The venue hosts local, regional and national acts, covering all genres.

“We do not cater to a specific demographic. We host a wide range of artists from up-and-coming artists to those that have been in this industry for many years,” said Rachael Wiefling, assistant general manager. “We host country, jazz, blues, ‘80s hair metal, DJ’s, cover bands, emo, Americana and so much more.”

Well-known artists that have played at Jergel’s include local favorites Donnie Iris and The Clarks, as well as nationally famous artists like Bret Michaels, Blue Oyster Cult, Charlie Daniels, Eddie Money, and the Gin Blossoms. Upcoming shows in March include pop star Vanessa Carlton, Bon Journey—a Bon Jovi and Journey tribute—country music artist Chris Cagle, and rock band Sister Hazel. In April, Jergel’s will host an ‘80s music prom night, a Grease tribute, and the Bacon Brothers, featuring well-known actor Kevin Bacon of Footloose fame.

“Every one of our staff members has unique tastes in music; we introduce each other to new artists and new genres so that we all can be well-rounded,” said Wiefling.

Ron Carter spearheaded The Strand Theater Initiative back in 2001, helping to turn the abandoned Zelienople theater into the vibrant, multicultural venue it is today. When it opened in 1914, the original space was a silent movie theater with live piano accompaniment and a small stage for vaudeville shows. After several renovations and incarnations, the theater closed in the early ‘80s and reopened in 2009 after spending eight years raising $2.5 million.

Today, the nonprofit Strand is a multiuse media venue, showing classic and current films and hosting both local groups and national acts from Debbie Reynolds, who headlined its grand reopening week, to Joan Osborne, John Oates of Hall and Oates, and the Seneca Valley Orchestra.

Most recently, Broadway star and actor Mandy Patinkin graced the stage. “We got really great reviews from Mandy about how much he loved the space and working with our people; it was a huge, huge success,” said Carter. “Because of that, we got a call from Ben Vereen’s people.”

Other popular shows include tribute concerts, such as the upcoming KISSNATION in March. The month will also feature The Celtic Tenors, along with the Broadway on Main series, in which a particular Broadway star will perform a select set of songs and tell backstage stories. Beatlemania Now is scheduled for April, and in May, the Strand will host a Toast to the Rat Pack & Marilyn (Monroe).

“Over the course of time, our 267-seat space has drawn patrons from 17 Pennsylvania counties and 17 states because of the unique and eclectic mix of programming we have here,” said Carter.

The appeal of a smaller venue for a rising or already established artist, as well as for the audience, is multifold. “It is a new experience for the audience and for the star. In Heinz Hall-sized venues, when you’re on that stage under all the lights, you really can’t see the audience; you’re not interacting with them,” Carter said, joking that in the first row of The Strand, patrons are in such close proximity to the stage that they can theoretically use it as a cup holder. The furthest seat is only 30 feet away from the stage.

“Playing at The Strand is like playing in your living room surrounded by 300 of your best friends,” he added.

The ability to interact with the audience is fun for both the performer and the patrons. “People love attending small venue programs. It gets them closer to the talent, and it’s a more interactive experience,” said Carter.

Mark Helbling is the owner of 565 Live Speakeasy & Stage, located in Bellevue on the lower floor of the full-service restaurant Grille 565. “We cover a lot of genres; the music is anything from acoustic to electric to solos, duos and full bands, including country, jazz, classic rock, ‘90s, blues and soul, and alternative,” he said.

Open since 2012, the venue attracts audiences all over western Pennsylvania and even Cleveland. Helbling said that the majority of his artists are from the Pittsburgh region, but some come through Nashville on their way to a larger touring gig.

Every other Friday, Helbling holds open mic nights. “That is one of the best nights to be here. The variety of talent is amazing,” he said. He also has open mike comedy nights every other Thursday as well as a ticketed comedy special on Tuesdays.

Helbling said that there is an intimacy between the artist and the audience at smaller venues, and pointed to the connection between the singer and the crowd as an appeal. “You are really right there with the music. We don’t have it so loud that you can’t communicate—that is a big thing. They feel at home, connecting with the audience,” he said.

Things were tough for many of these venues during the pandemic, but the fact that Pittsburghers are dedicated to the local music scene—and the region’s ability to attract good talent—makes it an ideal place for both artists and music lovers. When The Strand was able to reopen, they reached allowable occupancy immediately, and when they opened for full occupancy, they still had a full house.

“We were selling out like crazy,” said Carter. “People were so anxious to get back to live performance experiences.”

“We were lucky to have a community, guests and staff that have been supporting us not only through the pandemic, but for the past 10 years. And they will continue to support us well into the future,” said Wiefling. “Supporting small, live music venues fuels the community as well as promotes up-and-coming artists. If there were not live music venues, how would talented musicians get their start?”

264 views0 comments


bottom of page