No covers: Millvale Music Festival emphasizes original tunes

The classic rock cover band is a staple of community festivals, particularly in the Pittsburgh area. And looking at event calendars for a good many venues, it’s clear that music fans in the region don’t mind digging into the nostalgia that the genre provides.

But even with more than 300 bands performing May 20-21 at the Millvale Music Festival, there won’t be anyone belting out Bon Jovi or doing their best impression of Eddie Van Halen’s “Eruption” solo.

The borough street festival will feature bands performing all original music on 28 indoor and outdoor stages throughout the weekend.

“Pittsburgh is a melting pot of great original music across many genres,” said Dennis McGrath, 37, of Pittsburgh, who performs under the stage name Dioneesus. “Cover bands are cool, but original music pushes the boundaries of artistic expression, and we’re able to make something that’s unique to Pittsburgh and its communities in doing so.”

McGrath will release his newest record, a concept album called “2024 Side A,” in July, and will debut new tunes from the album at his festival performance on May 20.

The record, which fuses avant-garde pop with hip-hop, is a concept album intended as dark comedic commentary on the current socio-political climate, McGrath said.

“It’s influenced by futuristic films like ‘The Matrix,’ ‘Blade Runner,’ pop culture, and it incorporates elements of conspiracy theory,” he said. “I call it mythology for the modern age.”

After releasing 22 singles between March and October 2021, McGrath recorded a limited-release concept album last fall, “Vampire Outbreak,” which put him on the road to the new record.

“The concept album has contributed to a more engaged and interactive fan base, a better storytelling experience and a more fulfilling role for me as a creator,” he said.

In Westmoreland County, the reggae band Fubar, from Irwin, is gearing up for its appearance at the festival as they kick off performances to promote their new record, “State of Mind,” released April 29.

“We started out in 2011 as more of a punk rock band,” said singer and rhythm guitarist Jake Hursh. “Then we sort of mellowed out over the years.”

Hursh grew up listening to the raucous sounds of bands like Bad Religion and Pennywise, while lead guitarist Dave Cochran was immersed in the reggae-influenced style of bands like Sublime.

When the band members got back together after attending college, Fubar found the sound that defines them today: reggae with a heavy rock influence and no compunction about stomping on the distortion pedal every now and then.

Keyboard player and saxophonist Sam Wtorkowski said he loves the Millvale Music Festival’s entire atmosphere.

“I love how it’s set up, as a walkable festival with a ton of different venues,” he said. “They also do really well grouping bands together, so that if you find a stage you like, you can hang around and hear a lot of that same type of music for most of the day.”

The Millvale Music Festival is free to attend. For more information, including a listing of venues and artists, see MillvaleMusic.org and the festival’s Twitter page.

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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