With big names like Wiz Khalifa, Mac Miller and Christina Aguilera coming out of Pittsburgh and a music festival heralded as the SXSW of the east, Pittsburgh’s music scene is booming. And we’ve got some new names to add to the playlist of local musicians making an impact.
Every month, we seek nominations and recognize up-and-comers in Pittsburgh in our Who’s Next series, focusing on a different topic each month. Over the last year, we’ve featured nearly 200 of the city’s leaders under the age of 40, from pioneers in health to education to food. The October 2017 series, presented by S&T Bank and Live Nation, spotlights young people shaping the city’s music scene. You have a chance to meet and celebrate them at a Nov. 1 happy hour. Get your tickets now.
Join us downstairs in the speakeasy as we recognize stellar under-40 Pittsburghers making an impact in the city's music scene. Your ticket includes heavy appetizers and two drink tickets, as well as your chance to meet The Incline's Who's Next: Music class, presented by S&T Bank and Live Nation.
Where: James Street Gastropub & Speakeasy (North Side) at 422 Foreland St. (Allegheny East)
When: November 1, 2017 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
How much: $20 for public | Free for Who's Next: Music honorees
From singer-songwriters to record label leaders to promoters to music educators, these people are working behind the scenes in all genres to shape the scene both today and for the future. Here are 21 Pittsburghers to keep your eye (and ear) on.
Check out our Spotify playlist of the artists here.
Rishi Raj Bahl describes himself as a “blue collar academic with a passion for music.” Indeed, he balances his work teaching marketing at La Roche College with leading The Four Chord Music Festival and playing in a band himself. His band, Eternal Boy (you may remember the group under their previous name The SpacePimps), this summer released an album called “Awkward Phase,” a pop-punk triumph that will no doubt leave you tapping your feet and dreaming of the genre’s 2000s-era heyday. The band has toured extensively on the Vans Warped Tour and with artists ranging from New Found Glory to Ryan Cabrera. In addition to singing and playing guitar in the band, he also founded annual all-day The Four Chord Music Festival to spotlight other bands. He’s also founder/owner of Four Chord Music Inc., an independent record label based in Pittsburgh handling the marketing and distribution of four artists. As his nominator put it: “This guy is always stoking the musical fire around Pittsburgh.” Bahl, who lives in Shadyside, holds a bachelor's and master’s degree from The University of Pittsburgh and a Ph.D. from Duquesne University. Listen to Eternal Boy.
For Jeff Betten, this career is not about getting rich or meeting famous people. No, it’s about spreading great music and forging partnerships. But with the hard work he’s doing, it’s a safe bet that some of his artists might just get famous themselves. Betten serves as general manager at Pittsburgh-based Misra Records, where he reinvigorated the label by releasing 23 new titles in the past two years, and CEO at Pittsburgh’s Wild Kindness Records, where he attracted 28 new artists to the label and propelled the brand into an international organization. The label group, a powerhouse in the region, releases albums of all genres, including pop, nu-metal, country and hip-hop. Betten has made a commitment to featuring diversity (gender, sexual orientation, race) on the label. He signed the first Hispanic, Asian-American and African-American artists in Misra's 18-year history, and he instituted a 50 percent gender balance upon his takeover at Wild Kindness. A tireless advocate for Pittsburgh’s music scene, he ensures that local acts have access to funds from not just Pittsburgh but also from outside shareholders. With all of that, he still finds time to offer pro bono consulting sessions to Pittsburgh bands looking for advice on how to get a leg-up. A graduate of Community College of Allegheny County, this Carnegie resident traces his Pittsburgh roots back to 1745, when his family bought a piece of land in what is now Market Square. Listen to artists on his labels: Chet Vincent & The Big Bend and It It.
A musician and teaching artist, James A. Brown serves as youth development director at the Homewood-Brushton YMCA. He’s served the Homewood community for nearly a decade through his leadership of the YMCA Lighthouse Project, a teen media arts and mentorship program that has impacted 500 students through transformative opportunities to engage in the arts, find their voice and prepare for college and career. He’s helped to launch numerous young artists and musicians, co-produced their albums and even helped hip-hop group Blow Ya Mynd make it to the 2013 YMCA International Youth Festival in the Czech Republic to perform on the main stage. “James' expertise and tireless work make this program not only possible, but one of the highlights of what is happening in Homewood,” his nominator wrote. Last year, Brown spearheaded a $1.5 million project to establish a new state of the art multimedia facility in the Homewood-Brushton YMCA. On top of all that, he’s a keyboardist and music producer who released his own hip-hop/soul album entitled “Fieldwork” in 2007. A Brookline resident, Brown earned a bachelor’s degree from Vassar College and a master’s degree from University of Pittsburgh. Listen to his music.
For Devin Moses (whose real name is Devin Moses Cox), his Pittsburgh music career started just three years ago. Since his first gig at the Deutschtown Music Festival, he hasn’t slowed down — and he doesn’t plan on it anytime soon. After an LP “Hit to Hurt” in 2015 and a bunch of shows around town, this summer, Devin Moses & the Saved released a self-titled EP. Its five heavy tracks feature a mix of glam, folk, rock, gospel and psychedelic influences. The band has a heavy influence on Moses’ songwriting and the outcome of the material. The band describes the music as “songs inspired by human connections, communion, and the speed and fragility of living in the 21st century, experienced through upbeat songs and potent ballads.” His nominator lauds his stage presence, artful lyrics and the depth in the band’s “cast of characters.” A North Side resident, Moses earned both a bachelor’s degree and an MBA from California University of Pennsylvania. Listen to Devin Moses & the Saved.
Jennie Dorris uses her love of music to help others. She founded a marimba initiative for those with newly diagnosed neurodegenerative disease through the University of Pittsburgh’s BRiTE (Brain Exercise and Training Program). She studies those topics at Carnegie Mellon University as a research associate working with musicians and researchers to find opportunities between research and music programming to serve those with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. In addition, she founded an initiative called Musical Storytelling. Through that initiative, she works with students at Carnegie Mellon Music Preparatory School to tell the stories of their communities through music. This semester, the students are partnering with the Homewood Cemetery and bringing to life the stories of musicians buried there. She’s also working with Neighborhood Academy students to write poems and then work together collaboratively to match the words with music. Dorris is the founding member of the Steeltown Songbirds, a folk/classical trio featuring violin, bass, and marimba, and a member of the Pittsburgh Hip Hop Orchestra, which creates acoustic scores of electronic hip hop beats and performs with local hip hop artists. Dorris told The Incline that she passed through Pittsburgh on a road trip four years ago, and the city won her heart. This Lawrenceville resident earned a bachelor’s degree from Drake University and a master’s degree from University of Colorado-Boulder. Listen to her music.
For the past seven years in Pittsburgh, singer-songwriter Morgan Erina has been making music with what described as “a finger-picking, Indie Folk style and a raw, hauntingly ethereal voice.” She’s composed more than 600 songs, and her EP “Lady” was No. 2 on WYEP’s list of top local albums, praising her vocals as “gripping and quietly intense.” She’s currently working on her next full-length album, as well. A regular performer in both Pittsburgh and New York, she’s also toured the U.S., London, Denmark, and Germany. A New York City-native, she now lives in Sharpsburg. Listen to Morgan Erina.
In his second year as Pittsburgh Opera’s Resident Artist, Eric Ferring has a lot of performances on his plate. He’ll perform as Spoletta in Tosca, Basilio/Curzio in The Marriage of Figaro, Ricky in The Long Walk, The Protagonist in Ashes & Snow, Flask in Moby-Dick, and Nemorino in the student matinee of The Elixir of Love. In Ashes & Snow, he’ll even brave the stage alone as the sole cast member in the show’s world premiere. In addition to his many roles as a tenor, Ferring is also an accomplished conductor, having conducted To Hell and Back, Old Maid and the Thief, A Chorus Line, Sweeney Todd, Anything Goes, and A Little Night Music. Ferring will join the Ensemble of the Ryan Opera Center at the Lyric Opera of Chicago beginning in May 2018. A resident of Polish Hill, Ferring holds a bachelor’s degree from Drake University and a master’s degree from The Boston Conservatory. Hear his work.
In Swampwalk’s first album “Sweatin’ Out the Small Stuff,” Anna Hale grabbed an electric guitar and a Gameboy to experiment with vocal effects and sequencing. After that came the album “Us vs. Them,” a politically charged, loop-based album about sweating out the big stuff. Swampwalk is all about “Gameboy basslines and lo-fi beats topped with lyrics about life’s toils and beauties. Might haunt you, might inspire you, might get stuck in your head,” Hale tells The Incline. Since kicking off a music career in 2009, Hale worked with an all-grrl band called Critter, then a two-piece bedroom-pop folk duo called Nothing Special, which transformed into solo project Swampwalk. In addition to singing, Hale has helped compose for stage and film productions, accompanied other artists in studio and on stage, and has even played beats for hip-hop ciphers. Hale also has a history in education work and currently writes for online Spanish courses. A musician since elementary school, a nominator praised Hale’s work as “innovative, diverse, and deeply personal music.” Hale is a North Baldwin resident and a graduate of Duquesne University. Listen to Swampwalk.
Mars Jackson’s nominator anticipates that this Pittsburgh hip hop artist is poised to become a household name. Jackson, who describes himself as a “writer of funk raps,” is set to release his first album, “Good Days Never Last Forever,” under Misra Records next year. The album’s lead single “Heart Dance” has already been picked up on Triple J, Australia's flagship radio station. Jackson tells The Incline he loves Pittsburgh’s music scene and loves to perform. Jackson opened for artists such as Lupe Fiasco, and he was voted Hip Hop Artist of the Year in last year’s City Paper poll. A Slippery Rock University graduate, Jackson lives in the North Side. Listen to Mars Jackson.
Ethan LaPlaca has a packed school day. He’s Director of Choral Activities at Mt. Lebanon High School, where he conducts the Concert Choir, Chamber Choir, Men's Ensemble and Triple Trio, directs the annual spring musical, and teaches AP Music Theory. His nominator describes the “huge impact” the teacher has made: “The Choral programs saw an increase in members this school year and many students attribute that to Mr. LaPlaca's enthusiasm, inclusiveness, and all-around passion for music and teaching music.” LaPlaca empowered student choral board members to find ways to make the program “not just a class but a community,” his nominator explained. LaPlaca formed a parent booster organization and seeks opportunities for small ensembles to perform in the community. In addition to his work shaping a future generation of Who’s Nexters, LaPlaca has performed organ recitals at multiple venues throughout western Pennsylvania. He also works as a conductor, vocalist, recitalist and accompanist. The Brookline resident earned his bachelor’s degree at Duquesne University and completed additional studies in voice and choral conducting.
Jacquea Mae describes herself as a “teaching creative artist that loves working with the babies and breaking ceilings.” She’s a teaching artist at both 1Hood Media and The Corner, as well as an artist educator at University of Pittsburgh and a musician herself. At 1Hood Media, she creates workshops and performances on social justice, music and history with a collective of socially conscious artists and activists. At The Corner, a multi-purpose space in partnership with the Friendship Community Presbyterian Church, she focuses on music and social justice-oriented events, as well. At Pitt, she leads PRIDE interactive, an Africana arts program for Black children, ages 3-8, with their educator for local pop-up arts festivals. Her performances can be defined as “soulful” and “from the gut,” she told The Incline. The East Liberty resident said an education at Community College of Allegheny County offered much more than coursework. Listen to Jacquea Mae.
Nominators herald Jordan McLaughlin as the “best alt country singer in Pittsburgh.” His music is genuine and his lyrics are both relatable and inspiring, they said. With a folksy rock sound, he regularly opens for musicians traveling through Pittsburgh at Club Cafe and Hard Rock Cafe. McLaughlin writes music that spans generations and genres, his nominators note, and he plans to release an album this year. With what he describes as “deeply personal songwriting,” he told The Incline, “It's hard to find a song or lyric of his that doesn't resonate within you.” In addition to his music career, the Aliquippa resident also owns his own business, Choice Window Cleaning. Listen to Jordan McLaughlin.
Lucas Mickens, who goes by Mr. Godspell, has an audacious goal: “To help raise the vibrations of the people.” As the KRUNK (Kreating Realistic Urban New-School Knowledge Movement) Coordinator at Center of Life, a community-empowerment organization serving Hazelwood, he leads a youth “micro-enterprise” designed as a production company. Through the KRUNK Movement, students use elements of hip-hop to communicate messages to peers about mental and physical health while simultaneously learning the basics of the music business — from creating to performing, thinking, writing, music technology, and everything in between. The program teaches students how to be a professional artist in total control of their own economy, according to the program’s website. He began his music career in a “dormitory-closet-turned-professional-studio” with his friends at college. A 1Hood artist, Mickens also serves as teaching assistant at 1Hood Media Academy. “There are many who are gifted educators and others who are gifted artists. Luc is both,” his nominator wrote. A graduate of Albright College, Mickens lives in Highland Park. Listen to his music.
Under Lindsey Nova’s tenure, the Three Rivers Young Peoples Orchestras has expanded program offerings, increased the number of students it serves, created new community partnerships, grown a scholarship program and increased its audience from a few thousand to more than 30,000, her nominator said. She breathed new life into the organization, reviving it after it was hit hard by the economic downturn. “She has established herself as a key player in creating opportunities for musical kids in Pittsburgh, and creating bridges between Pittsburgh organizations,” her nominator said. Nova serves on the board of the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra, the New Leadership Council of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the Arts Advisory Council of the Pittsburgh Public Schools. She credits her mother, a mezzo-soprano who founded Classical Singer magazine, with her early exposure to the arts. An Ohio Township resident, Nova earned a bachelor’s degree and a prestigious performer’s certificate from the Eastman School of Music, a bachelor’s degree from University of Rochester and a master’s degree from University of Utah.
Before you begin reading, start by listening to this group’s music. To describe their sound, you’d likely never guess the guys behind the instruments range from 12-to-18-years-old. With a funk and jazz sound well beyond their years, this quartet consists of Winston Bell on saxophone, Eric Dowdell, Jr. on bass guitar, Henry Schultz on keys and Brandon Terry on drums. They fuse classic jazz styles with contemporary funk for a unique sound. The band describes it like this: “Each member of the project shines with complex chord changes, difficult rhythms and jaw-dropping solos while harnessing the finesse of veteran jazz legends.” This group has a long history: Several of the members met in elementary school at Dilworth Traditional Academy PreK-5 in East Liberty. Their nominator calls the band “a truly gifted group.” The group, with members hailing from the Highland Park area, will debut this first CD later this month. Listen to the band.
With his solid work ethic, DIY ethos and unwavering dedication, one person who nominated Brett Shumaker said, “Brett contributes more than anyone else to the continuation and success of the DIY music culture that exists in Pittsburgh.” He started Don't Let the Scene Go Down on Me! a decade ago in West Virginia and moved to Pittsburgh to reach a bigger audience. At Don't Let the Scene Go Down on Me!, he’s a one-man band, so to speak, serving as founder, promoter, head of social media, head of public relations and booking lead. He’s also the booking coordinator for The Mr. Roboto Project, a DIY event and show space in Garfield, and works at Lockjaw Media as a booking agent for national touring artists. Evidence of his commitment to Pittsburgh's music scene, Shumaker spends his time checking out new local bands, booking bands and always working on new projects. “His efforts have provided the framework for local music to exist and thrive in Pittsburgh,” another nominator said. Shumaker attended Bluefield State College and Radford University and now lives in Garfield.
Ray Dawn traded legal briefs for lyrics. After a top-five finish in a music video contest sponsored by Ford Motors and Common, he decided to leave law school and pursue a professional career in music. Since then, he’s played at SXSW and hip-hop festival A3C and has racked up more than 150,000 streams on SoundCloud. He also uses his communication skills at PNC, where he works in corporate communications. “He doesn't promote violence but instead talks about the pursuit of happiness and success and makes those concepts cool to young people,” one nominator said. Another lauds his approach to music: “Ray approaches his music from a dreamer's and striver's perspective and appeals to anyone trying to accomplish greatness. It has a great feel and the content is inspiring and super relatable to youth culture.” He is a graduate of Western Michigan University who lives in East Liberty. Listen to Ray Dawn.
Not only does singer-songwriter Liss Victory make her own music, she also makes the music scene easier to navigate for aspiring musicians. A nominator called her the “keystone to the Pittsburgh independent music scene,” who invests her time in helping new musicians grow. With skills to run sound, teach guitar and serve as a voice of encouragement, her work is a crucial addition to the Pittsburgh music scene, her nominator explained. As resident artist at Pittsburgh Art House, she coordinates community events and runs open mic nights. Victory also serves as frontwoman in the band Victory At The Crossroads. She also finds time to go on tour and to host and produce a podcast called “That Broad Cast,” focusing on art and activism. A graduate of Edinboro University, Victory lives in Highland Park. Hear her music.
Tim Vitullo knows something about engineering a schedule. He balances a full-time civil engineering job with a full calendar of performances (50 gigs in the past four months). As lead singer and guitarist of Tim Vitullo Band, he brings a blues influence the band’s debut studio LP “Josephine & Assorted Train Songs.” A fan of the album calls it “the kind of album you listen to on repeat for weeks, with beautifully crafted lyrics and incredibly awe-inspiring music that makes you think, feel, dance and sing.” Songs on the album combine to create a portrait of “contemporary Americana blues” with notes of jazz, jam band, country and blues. Another fan describes him as “an extremely intelligent, motivated young musician with an old soul.” The band is known as a fixture around town, often playing at venues such as the James Street Gastropub and at events hosted by local businesses. A Penn State alumnus, Vitullo lives in the South Side Flats. Hear the band.
When Cody Walters imagined the first Deutschtown Music Festival five years ago, he envisioned 12 bands on four stages. He’d never booked a band in his life. It ended up with 47 bands on 10 stages. This year, the July festival hosted 225 bands on 33 stages. With Walters’ hard work, the festival has grown each year, his nominators said. The festival exposes thousands of people each summer to a wide variety of local music, and it brings together North Siders, who volunteer to make the free event a success. The festival leaves a long-term positive impact on the city “by attracting talent, fostering a sense of community among residents and artists and generating business development and revenue to the area,” one nominator said. Indeed, another nominator said, his work is all about supporting local businesses, included family-owned and minority-owned businesses. “His work is inclusive, bold, and brings live music to tough spots on the North Side, such as Spring Garden — places that few people think of as a destination. … Deutschtown Music Festival is not just a bunch of people plopped down in a parking lot or midway — this is about business and economic development as well as public relations for a community that is in transition,” a third nominator said. He lives in Deutschtown and went to University of Pittsburgh.
A versatile vocalist and educator, Anqwenique Wingfield specializes in opera, classical music, jazz and soul. In addition to her own original work as a classically trained lyric soprano and jazz vocalist, she is the founder and director of Groove Aesthetic, “a Pittsburgh-based multidisciplinary artist collective experimenting with contemporary performance and collaborative processes,” according to Wingfield’s website. This work sparked a collaboration with a composer and a literary artist to create a five-movement song cycle for soprano, string trio and percussion. She also lends her talents as education director at Pittsburgh Festival Opera and studio manager of BOOM Concepts. A graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Wingfield resides in Friendship. Listen to Anqwenique.