Much like the city it’s trying to showcase, Pittsburgh’s Thrival Innovation & Music Festival has had a successful few years, scaling up from one stage in a bakery square parking lot, to a full-fledged regional music festival with top national talent. Much like Pittsburgh’s rise over the past few years, the festival’s ascent has been laden with speed bumps, but despite some logistical hitches, the fourth year of Thrival showed unmistakable promise for the future and was itself a very entertaining experience.
With each passing year, Thrival has grown tremendously in scope, necessitating new additions to the team behind the festival. This year, Thrival hired a PR firm to promote the event and worked with Great Area Productions to book this year’s acts. Both turned out to be great choices. This year’s installation of Thrival was the most visible the festival has ever been, with campus-specific promotion strategies a comprehensive social media presence and well-placed afterparties that brought a lot of the Pittsburgh music scene’s stakeholders together.
Grey Area Productions also put together a fantastic lineup, featuring the perfect mix of lower tier cards that outperform their draw, and headliners that live up to the hype. Early acts, Rubblebucket, Wild Child and Lettuce reliably put on shows that exceed their national renown and though day one’s headliners, CHVRCHES and The Chainsmokers have a bigger pull than day two’s collection of Rubblebucket, Metric and Thievery Corporation, all 5 acts put on shows worth writing home about.
From day one, notable acts included Pittsburgh native Daya, who received a warm hometown welcome and the legendary funk band Lettuce. On day two, Rubblebucket’s impressively outsized stage presence and orchestral instrumentation complimented Wild Child, who played earlier in the day and could be seen dancing along with the crowd to Rubblebucket’s set.
Almost all of the artists, including both of day one’s headliners CHVRCHES and The Chainsmokers remarked on how beautiful the location at Carrie Furnaces was. Both of the festival’s stages were placed in the shadow of the massive blast furnace that once produced thousands of tons of molten iron ore per day. In addition to just looking really cool, the setting juxtaposed Pittsburgh’s new face against its heritage as an industrial town.
Logistically, Thrival still has a few kinks to work out. Notably, beverages could only be purchased with a token system. Each token cost $2 and had to be purchased in a line of its own. This created a system where, in order to get a beer, a festivalgoer had to wait in three lines, one to get a 21+ wristband, one to get drink tokens and then another to get a beer. This system necessitated a ton of waiting and dissuaded many from getting drinks. Additionally, the lack of free water, a rookie mistake for a music festival, posed a legitimate health hazard to many who were dehydrated and didn’t have time to wait in 2 hours of lines just to get water. Finally, the festival actually sold out of water on day one, augmenting the water shortage.
Day two’s cancellation of Ty Dolla $ign, an unfortunate event outside of the control of the festival, also posed some logistical concerns. The first few acts on day two were on the wrong stages, Hudson Mohawke and Rubblebucket were switched, and before Hudson Mohawke there was a 45 minute period where no acts were performing. While this logistical hitch is certainly not Thrival’s fault, there were certainly a few things the festival could’ve done to avoid the confusion and dead air that ensued. None of these changes were announced to the general public, and though the festival asked Wild Child to extend their set, the dead air put Rubblebucket and Hudson Mohawke on track for the regular set durations.
The festival did a fantastic job showcasing local music, including Pittsburgh’s Meeting of Important People and Bastard Bearded Irishmen who opened the festival on day one, and Chalk Dinosaur, Donora, Brooke Annibale and Balloon Ride Fantasy who opened day 2. Day two’s local show culminated with local favorite Beauty Slap’s excellent synthesis of electronic music and brass. Though these local acts were as talented as their touring counterparts, the overwhelming majority of the crowd only showed up to see the touring acts, reflecting a frustrating truism of Pittsburgh music where local talent outpaces audiences looking to support local music.
Thrival has created a wonderful regional music festival that showcased wonderful local talent and brought very competitive national talent to a location that was very representative of Pittsburgh. Though the festival could’ve used some logistical help and audience buy-in, the festival showed unmistakable promise and a long-term commitment from a talented staff. In future years it seems that in addition to creating a top notch entertainment experience, it seems that Thrival must create the audience that wants to consume such an entertainment experience out of Pittsburgh’s largely disjointed music scene. Though next year’s festival has its work cut out for it, we’re thrilled to see something of this scale in Pittsburgh and we can’t wait to see next year’s installation of the very successful festival.