This Saturday, Pittsburgh hosts the annual Rhinestone Steel festival, a queer music and arts fest that lasts all day and features both local and national queer artists, musicians and performers. A recipient of a Sprout Fund Seed Award this year, Rhinestone Steel has expanded their line-up and scope from last year’s inaugural festival, so we sat down with organizers, Lauren Jurysta and Teresa Martuccio, to talk about the festival and what people who attend can expect to see.
Rhinestone Steel is taking place Saturday at 3577 Bigelow Boulevard, just before the Bloomfield Bridge. Festivities start at 3pm and run until 1am. More information can be found on their website or Facebook event. It’s an all day, all queer festival, and you’re invited!
What exactly is Rhinestone Steel and how did it originate?
Lauren Jurysta: Rhinestone Steel is an all day queer music and arts festival that happens every summer in Pittsburgh, but the idea is much bigger than a one day festival. The idea is to create a space where queers can feel safe and artistically free to be who they are and perform without the limitations that one might usually feel as a queer performer in a mostly straight environment. Pittsburgh seemed to be lacking a big celebration of its queer culture. There are so many talented queer performers and artists but not many queer spaces dedicated to the queer arts, so we wanted to organize an event, not only to strengthen the community and celebrate our local queer voices, but to also inspire and provide a space for artistic freedom for the people in the local queer community. Rhinestone Steel is an opportunity to do both, encouraging people in other parts of the country to come to Pittsburgh to participate in the festival.
Why the name?
LJ: My co-organizer, Teresa Martuccio, and I sat down and made a list of words that made us think queerness and words that make us think of Pittsburgh. So we came up with Rhinestone Steel!
What inspired you to take this all on?
LJ: My good friend organized a one-time queer music festival called GLITZ Fest and it had a great turnout. That is kind of what sparked the interest in music festivals. I consider myself to be a queer artist and most of my friends are queer artists. We’re always making things and so are so many people in the queer scene in Pittsburgh. But all of our performances and art shows seem to be so spaced-out, so separated. I organize shows occasionally for out-of-town queer bands and its hard to get people in the queer scene to attend and it’s hard to get the right local bands to open for them because there isn’t a ongoing concrete list of queer bands to ask to play shows. So I guess I just saw a way to remedy these problems through creating Rhinestone Steel. And I think it’s important to not lose sight of the politics in an event like this. Many of our existences are very radical. Rhinestone Steel is for the people, and by the people. It’s accessible and open to anyone who wants to perform or take part in any way. Queers making queer spaces possible and making our voices be heard is important. Rhinestone Steel is different because we imagine a larger objective: to be equal members of the community of the world.
Teresa Martuccio: I’ve also attended a lot of other queer festivals throughout the country, such as IDApolooza and Mondo Homo. Just being a queer living in Pittsburgh, I wanted to see an event like this happen.
So Rhinestone Steel is just a local event? Or is it part of a larger national movement?
TM: Rhinestone Steel is specific to Pittsburgh, but it’s definitely part of a larger conceptual movement. The festival is as much a political event as it is a music and performance one. We care about all politics surrounding queer issues, about raising awareness and connectivity. We hope to stop homophobia and gaybashing (something that has unfortunately happened several times in Pittsburgh just in the five years I’ve lived here).We want to eliminate exclusion, fear, intimidation, and isolation.
LJ: There are queer music festivals all over the world, but I think it’s the first of its kind to happen in Pittsburgh other than GLITZ Fest.
This is your second year doing the festival?
TM: Last year was the first year we did it. It was a huge success but we knew there was more we wanted to do. So this year we have workshops and local organizations will be tabling. We want to include other organizations that we admire and respect to be a part of the event. We want to offer something to everyone.
LJ: Yeah, last year was a really big learning experience for Teresa and me. There were a lot of dreams and we worked to make what we could out of it but there was a lot that we realized we wanted to work on for this year. Last year’s fest was great but this year you can look forward to more queer and progressive organizations tabling and awesome workshops to participate in. And we have food vendors this year as well!
We have a bunch of out-of-town performers too, like Big Dipper, Cate Giordano, Cristy C. Road, Silky Shoemaker and Chiney Mayne. And we’re really excited about our great list of local performers this year as well, including Bekezela, Cbend, Moon Baby, Mahogany, Layne James and the Bang Gang, Boy Bush, Angry Fag, Jasmine Hearn & Beth Ratas, Sleazbo, and China White. Scott Andrew and Nina Sarnelle will also be presenting a preview performance of Group. As for tabling, there will be WWHATS UP?! Pittsburgh, Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania, Women in Prison Defense Committee, The Sprout Fund, Dreams of Hope and the Pittsburgh Aids Task Force. The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh will be there with a zine table too.
What are you using the Seed Award for?
LJ: First and foremost, we’re using the Seed Award to pay all of the out of town performers. Receiving the award will also allow us to turn the venue into an art installation, which was another one of our dreams from last year. We can even do advertising in the City Paper and other things that we wouldn’t have thought to put money toward before.
TM: We will be using to seed award to make the most fabulous Rhinestone Steel we can!
Why do you feel events like Rhinestone Steel are important to the community?
TM: There aren’t many queer events in Pittsburgh. There is Pride, but they are focused more on just the party and still play into the normative mainstream culture that queers try to stand against. Rhinestone Steel is meant to be more political. Even though we do celebrate and its more than just the party.
LJ: Rhinestone Steel is so important because it builds bridges between local and national queer organizations to create a tighter community and a wider reach. The festival strives to create personal relationships between individual people and performers, both local and across the country. The out-of-town performers will hopefully inspire queer Pittsburgh residents to start their own amazing music and arts projects, while at the same time, we hope to show the those same performers how great Pittsburgh is and how amazing the queer scene and its local performers are as well! We hope that the word will spread like wildfire and more queer performers will come through town when given the chance. We would like to create an all-inclusive, queer, artistic space that all good-hearted people can come in, feel accepted and become motivated! Rhinestone Steel is important because it’s what happens when you mix queers, music, art, politics, compassion, dance and inspiration!