"We're supposedly one of the most hip cities in the country right now -- why can't the music at our annual downtown festival get more diverse, more modern, and more adventurous?"
That was the gist of at least one reader email reacting to the announcement of the Three Rivers Arts Festival lineup:
June 3: Michael Franti & Spearhead/Caroline Rose
June 4: David Grisman Sextet
June 5: IBEYI
June 6: The Mendelssohn Choir and Steven Hackman
June 7: Leftover Salmon
June 8: Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires/Peter Wolf
June 9: Beth Orton
June 10: Guster
June 11: Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
June 12: Lake Street Dive
Booked by Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, once again it features performers who fit the format of radio sponsor WYEP, which means its rootsy and adult-oriented and solid and ... well, pleasant. Most of it is designed for a nice night in the park, with nothing that rocks too hard or is too dissonant to go with funnel cake and kettle corn.
Michael Franti & Spearhead on the opening night (June 3) and the Charles Bradley and the Extraordinaires/Peter Wolf bill on the second Friday night (June 8) will be rousing shows with three fiery frontmen.
The excitement drops off after that.
Beth Orton offers a pretty chill form of electronic pop/rock, and the one time I saw her, in 2012, the crowd at Rosebud rudely talked right over her. They'd better crank the volume to make this one work.
Lake Street Dive, which will draw big on the closing Sunday night, is the epitome of an easy-listening-at-work YEP band. Guster goes down pretty smooth as well, although we need to keep an eye on that possible jam with Mayor Peduto they've been tweeting about.
Why TRAF dedicates a whole Saturday to bluegrass I have no idea. Yeah, it's meant to be played and listened to outside, but a whole day for a niche genre rooted in the '40s is overkill and takes away from other tastes that could be served. And, in case you didn't get enough banjos and mandolins, they've added another bluegrass band on top of that with Leftover Salmon three days later.
Two nights are devoted to classical music, one of them being the fusion style of Steve Hackman (not to be confused with Steve Hackett). The one show coming up from under the radar is IBEYI, French-Cuban twin sisters doing soul/electronica who are also booked at Coachella.
Now for the not represented: hip-hop, country, metal, punk and (young) rock, for starters. The metal crowd is used to being passed over at TRAF, as metal has the potential to scare nice people away. But it does attract a lot of others who love music as much anyone else. (Deafheaven, perhaps?). Same with hip-hop, which is sometimes represented by local artists (like Formula 412 or Jasiri X), but not this year. We're up to our necks in bro-country around here, but anyone along the line of Kacey Musgraves or Sturgill Simpson would brighten up TRAF. (The Trust does a separate JazzLive International Festival with the Chick Corea Trio, Jeff "Tain" Watts Quartet and more June 24-26.)
What I miss the most in this lineup is that one vintage punk/post-punk act a la Patti Smith, Sonic Youth, The New York Dolls, Tom Verlaine or even the Baseball Project or Kaiser Chiefs (all past TRAF acts). I do understand that vintage acts don't grow on trees and there's lots of competition from local clubs (Flag, the B-52s and Violent Femmes are all booked elsewhere this spring/summer), but isn't Iggy Pop around?
Last year, they had Jenny Lewis, Alvvays and Benjamin Booker (which got rained out). Before that, they had Jake Bugg. This year's there's no young, hungry rock band to fit that mold. And there is no shortage of those.
Also Franti himself will sing: "Everyone deserves music."