Pittsburgh Homeless Initiative's Annual Bluegrass Concert Goes Virtual

Shirley McMarlin, Tribune-Review



Four area bands will hit the virtual stage during the annual bluegrass festival to benefit St. Joseph House of Hospitality, a homeless outreach program of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

The long-running concert usually takes place in Synod Hall in Oakland. Because of the pandemic, this year’s program will livestream from 7 to 10 p.m. April 30.

Featured bands include:

• Steve Ludwig and the Casual Hobos, traditional, hard-driving bluegrass outfit;

• Hickory Bottom Band, playing traditional bluegrass in a contemporary style, featuring three-part harmonies;

• Lonesome Lost & Foggy, playing traditional bluegrass with three-part harmonies and gospel-style singing;

• Sweaty Already String Band, acoustic quartet playing traditional and modern bluegrass, along with some unexpected covers.

The concert is advertised as “the unofficial kickoff to bluegrass season in Western Pennsylvania.” It annually raises about $12,000 for the Hill District residence that provides rooms, meals and supportive services to older men, according to Meghan Wallace, the organization’s fundraising events manager.

Those served at St. Joseph are 50 and older with limited income and are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

“This festival is a big deal for me, because it is one of the first concerts I saw after moving to Pittsburgh in 2001,” Steve Ludwig said. “I saw my idol, Mac Martin and the Dixie Travelers, play there many times. It is a dream come true to play there for me and the band.

“St. Joseph’s does wonderful things assisting the homeless community in Pittsburgh. We are proud to donate our music to this worthy cause,” he said.

“As far as what fans can expect from our performance, (we) will be featuring selections from our new release, ‘Down in the Deepest Shade of Blue,’ as well as some of our other stage favorites,” he added.

“I’ve played at the St Joseph benefit several times over the last decade,” said Jim Kuzemka, mandolin player for Sweaty Already. “The folks who organize this event are some of the most caring and charitable people I’ve known.

“Fundraising is an amazing privilege for an amateur musician, maybe the biggest difference we can make,” he said. “There has always been a good solid lineup of traditional and progressive bluegrass bands at this event, and this year is no different, aside from being virtual.

“Our set will likely include a mix of old, traditional bluegrass songs and more progressive original songs written by (band member) Patrick Varine,” he added.

“I’ve played all but about two of these concerts throughout the years,” said Tim Custer, banjo player for Hickory Bottom Band. “It certainly is a good cause. Everyone is not dealt the same deck of cards.

“Those of us who play music were given that talent for a reason,” he said. “When you can reach out a helping hand, that’s the best thing you can do.”

The virtual access ticket for the event is $25, available at ccpgh.org.