In the past few years, Pittsburgh has been picking up steam on all kinds of “best of” lists and destination guides. A city loaded with colleges and opportunities triggered by the arrival of companies such as Google and Uber, Pittsburgh also has a thriving and innovative music scene. On the weekend of September 24, 2016, the city set out to prove it with the fourth annual Thrival Festival.
Thrival, which is actually a week-long event designed to celebrate innovation and change, starts with scheduled talks and conferences, and culminates with two days of music and art, which I was on-hand for.
This year the music portion of the festival was held at Pittsburgh’s historic Carrie Furnace site. The Carrie Furnaces are relic of the prewar iron industry that helped build Pittsburgh, and served as a fitting backdrop to the array of musicians and artists, local and otherwise, showcased at the fest.
Onsite, there was an undeniably cool and uniquely Pittsburgh vibe. Upon walking through the gates and past the hulking ruins of the furnaces and the outbuildings, one encountered rusting train cars and train tracks no longer leading anywhere. Looking up, you would find two-story art installations, inspired by the iron works themselves. Ringing the grounds were a plethora of vendor booths offering items from tie-dyed clothing, to air-filled portable seating and flower wreaths.
This leg of Thrival was about the music though, and the lineup featured a great mix of local Pittsburgh bands, including Beauty Slap, Denora, and Brooke Annibale, as well as some bigger names such as Chvrches, Metric, Thievery Corporation, and The Chainsmokers. The stages were hopping from just before noon until midnight. There was something for everyone: rock, funk, folk, pop, rap, EDM, and everything in between.
Because Thrival’s lineup covered so many different genres, there were plenty of times to break away and explore the grounds and booths. You could go hang out and watch the bikes over on the ramp from local indoor bike park The Wheel Mill. Or go grab a drink from local wine vendor Pittsburgh Winery. My favorite non-music activity, however, was watching as the welding artists crafted various metal sculpture on-site, or checking out the small smelting furnace and watching a team of metal workers in action. For a small fee you could grab a sand tablet and scratch your own design in it, and then watch as the metal worker artists from ROSA (Rivers of Steel Arts) melted and poured steel to make your own iron plate — an art in and of itself.
Overall, it was an amazing weekend. The location felt nearly surreal with the collision of ghost town iron furnace and innovative lighting, sounds, and art. For a young festival, this one seems to be doing all the right things to make itself into a summer “must do” for music and art lovers alike.