Spotlight on … Music in the Pittsburgh Summertime
The Allegheny County Summer Concert Series returns with a full lineup continuing through Labor Day.
There’s ballet and rock and roll. There’s opera and the Tamburitzans.
This eclectic lineup can only be found in one place, and it can be found there year after year, summer after summer.
The Allegheny County Summer Concert Series, which continues through Labor Day weekend at South Park Amphitheater and Hartwood Acres Park Amphitheater, is a regional tradition — and its outdoor locale makes it especially appealing as COVID-19 lingers.
Local musician and county special events manager Bill Deasy has been organizing the series for 11 years.
“Our goal is: something for everybody,” he says.
He believes the series began in the 1970s, but scheduling wasn’t as consistent in the early years. Today, shows take place every weekend from the first in June until Labor Day — every Friday at South Park and every Sunday at Hartwood Acres.
All concerts are free, and this year, food trucks and Hop Farm Brewing Company craft beer will be available at all concerts.
Deasy says some acts are on the schedule every year, such as the Pittsburgh Opera, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. The rest of the schedule is filled out with local and national acts.
“Even for the national acts, we try to have a local act do the opening slot,” he says. “We always try to bring attention to our amazing local talent.”
This month, ’90s radio hitmakers Spin Doctors will play at Hartwood Acres on Aug. 29. Local act Gene the Werewolf will open.
Gene the Werewolf guitarist Drew Donegan says the group, which has been together since 2007, previously opened for Blue Oyster Cult in 2015 at South Park; they eagerly accepted when Deasy invited them back this year. The performance in 2015 introduced Donegan to the series, and he says the experience was a pleasant surprise.
“I had never gone to one of these before, and it was eye-opening the audience it draws,” he says. “It’s all walks of life.
“Both spaces are beautiful. Especially for a band like ours that is usually captured in the dirty nightclubs, it’s fun to be outside in our beautiful parks and playing to that wide-array audience,” he says.
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre has long been a draw to the series, and they were no stranger to outdoor performances even during the pandemic.
Last summer, just after Susan Jaffe took over as artistic director but before she had even moved to town, the Ballet suggested a performance at Hartwood Acres where social distancing could be easily practiced.
“I was thinking, ‘it’s the middle of the summer, in the middle of the trees,’ and all of a sudden I thought [of] ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’” she recalls.
The open-air, informal venue was a gorgeous site for the ballet, Jaffe says, but for this year’s concert series performance on Aug. 22, the troupe will be back on stage.
The show will include four works: the last act of the Russian classical ballet “Paquita”, a contemporary piece by Kyle Abraham, a world premiere by Helen Pickett and a group work called “Napoli,” which Jaffe describes as a “huge romping celebration” centering around the people of the Italian city.
“At Hartwood Acres, that performance has over 1,000 people sitting on the lawn, and they’re there with their families and children and they’re having picnics, so we wanted to have an uplifting program,” she says.
The ballet recently finished a series of outdoor performances on Flagstaff Hill, and it seemed to mark a return to normalcy.
“We danced without masks, and many people on the lawn didn’t have masks on, and you could just feel the gratitude,” Jaffe says. “People are just so happy to be back out and looking at art and being together again.”
Deasy says he feels a sense of heightened appreciation this year.
“You can’t duplicate the feeling of being with other people listening to music.”
South Park Amphitheater
3700 Farmshow Drive
South Park Township
Aug. 6: The Spinners
Aug. 13: Low Cut Connie
Aug. 20: Spyro Gyra
Aug. 27: Shayna Steele
Sept. 3: Tamburitzans
Hartwood Acres Park Amphitheater
4070 Middle Road
Aug. 1: Average White Band
Aug. 8: The Jayhawks
Aug. 15: The Wood Brothers
Aug. 22: Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
Aug. 29: Spin Doctors
Sept. 5: Allegheny County Music Festival with The Commonheart
All concerts are free and begin at 7:30 p.m., except for the music festival. For that event, a requested donation of $20 per vehicle benefits the Allegheny County Department of Human Services. The festival begins with opening bands at 5 p.m.; The Commonheart takes the stage at 8 p.m.