About The New Annual Pittsburgh Blues & Roots Festival!

After a year’s absence, Pittsburgh is getting the blues again. The inaugural Pittsburgh Blues & Roots Festival was launched in 2017. 

Ron “Moondog” Esser of Frazer says many people have approached him since the Pittsburgh Blues Festival ended its 21-year run in 2015, after the sponsoring Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank decided to go in a new direction with its annual musical fundraising.

“A lot of people were really upset. It had become a tradition for them,” says Esser, who owns and operates Moondogs in Blawnox and who produced the event for the Food Bank, helping it raise $2 million dollars over two decades.

Now the music will play on under a new name, the Pittsburgh Blues and Roots Festival, at the Syria Shrine Center in Harmar. The complete lineup, which will feature national touring acts and popular regional musicians. Proceeds will support the work of the Autism Society of Pittsburgh and Band Together Pittsburgh.

Esser, and West Deer musician John Vento are founders of Band Together Pittsburgh, the force behind the rebirth of the festival.

The community-based nonprofit uses the power of music to enrich the lives of individuals on the autism spectrum and their families. The festival will be an inclusive environment that recognizes, respects and celebrates the lives of differently abled individuals and their families.

Festival planners are giving special emphasis to booking bands and artists who have been personally touched by autism. For example, veteran bluesman Tinsley Ellis, whose daughter is autistic was one of the headliners at the 2017 festival. Over his 40-year career, the Atlanta-based musician has released 19 albums and shared the stage with the Allman Brothers Band, Buddy Guy, Albert Collins and Otis Rush.

Esser, producer of the new fest, says the Blues and Roots Festival will be much smaller than the Pittsburgh Blues Festival was at Hartwood Acres. Even so, he believes the new event has the potential to be better.

“We’re going back to ground zero,” he says. “We’re staying away from the high-price acts, but they will be great acts.”

Esser says the Syria Shrine Center, located just off Route 28 and the turnpike, is a perfect place to begin anew. A covered picnic pavilion seating 1,000 will be used and there is ample free parking. “This was a no brainer. There is no reason why we can’t be there for years to come,” he says.

Rex Rutkoski is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.