March Musical Madness (Music Preview)

It’s March Madness time for the invited NCAA college basketball teams and their fans. The NCAA tournament utilizes a matches system within four brackets. Musically, March in Pittsburgh is looking very exciting, just like the college hoops playoffs. In the competition for our March entertainment dollars, each of our brackets contain some hot teams. By the very nature of St. Patrick’s Day occurring in the month, sounds of the fiddle, tin whistle, flute, uilleann pipes, bodhrán, and a harp or two will be heard. Playing in this bracket are the top international act Celtic Woman, joined by talented local groups including: Red Hand Paddy, Guaranteed Irish, Bastard Bearded Irishmen, and Corned Beef & Curry. There will also be many great marching units in the St. Patrick’s Day parade (Saturday, March 14).

Another bracket holds classic artists like Jefferson Starship, Leon Russell, Barry Manilow, Michael Bolton, Blue Öyster Cult, and Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes. The rising stars category has Ariana Grande, Cold War Kids, Lights and Rachel B. Our last bracket, a catch-all of established performers includes Sleater-Kinney, Maroon 5, Sara McLaughlin, The Gin Blossoms, and Marcus Miller. Who will win Pittsburgh Musical Madness? We will, of course, by having so many good entertainment options in town this month. There are many other cool shows, so get out and enjoy some live music.


Sunday, March 1

Sleater-Kinney had released one of the 2000’s most acclaimed albums (2005’s The Woods) and were at their commercial peak when they abruptly went on hiatus. It’s been 10 years, but 2015’s No Cities To Love outdoes all their past achievements while making the decade between releases worth the wait. On “Bury Our Friends,” the lyrics resound with riot grrrl empowerment, the guitar and drums with indie rock hooks. During the trio’s hiatus, Corin Tucker released two solo albums. Janet Weiss played with Stephen Malkmus (of Pavement) in Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks. Some readers will recognize Carrie Brownstein as the comedic assassin alongside Fred Armisen in Portlandia. Now they’re Sleater-Kinney, once more. Pittsburghers lucky enough to have tickets can see them at their SOLD OUT show at Stage AE. Lizzo opens. Doors open 7 p.m. 400 North Shore Dr., North Shore.

Thursday, March 5

Singer/songwriter Valerie Anne Poxleitner, better known by her stage name Lights, broke onto the music scene touring the Great Lakes region of the U.S. and Canada in 2008. The daughter of missionary parents, she lived in many interesting countries growing up including Jamaica and the Philippines, before the family settled in Canada. Her energetic synth-pop sound has helped her garner a large fan base and the 2009 Juno award for New Artist of the Year. She’s had additional success with hot tracks including “Toes” and “Drive My Soul.” Lights is touring in support of her latest album Little Machines.  X Ambassadors opens. 8 p.m. Mr. Smalls, 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale.

Friday March 6

Cathy Richardson , of Jefferson Starship, performs at the EQT Three Rivers Pittsburgh Regatta at Point State Park.

Cathy Richardson, of Jefferson Starship, performing at the EQT Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta at Point State Park. Photo: Martha Rial

1965 was the year rock turned seriously psychedelic. Among other things, three new groups emerged from the San Francisco area’s folk-rock scene sounding more like musicians from another planet: the Grateful Dead, Country Joe and the Fish (remember them?)—and Jefferson Airplane. Now Airplane’s co-founder, Paul Kantner, brings his successor band Jefferson Starship to The Palace in Greensburg on a tour celebrating the 50th anniversary of Airplane/Starship music. Kantner is now 73, but hey, 73 is the new 33. Grace Slick has taken the Grandma Moses track—she’s gone off to be a painter, not a singer—but new female vocalist Cathy Richardson has a big voice that wakes the echoes. Expect to hear Woodstock-era numbers like “Volunteers” and “White Rabbit” in a show that should be a trip. 8 p.m. 21 W. Otterman St., Greensburg.

Party at the Brew House!

Party at the Brew House!

Last summer, musician Rachel B decamped her Los Angeles address and moved to Pittsburgh. She said, “I came to Pittsburgh on a cross country tour and fell in love with the city and supportive arts community. I packed my bags and moved about two months later. I am learning more and more to trust my gut and something told me to move here. It was a great decision!”  Joining the Traverse City, Michigan native on the cross country move was one of her many musical collaborators Billy Castle, a multi-instrumentalist and producer, whom she met when they were both attending Berklee College of Music in Boston. The two have very different sounds that leave listeners with a unique and multifaceted collection of great songs.

A versatile singer, songwriter and keyboardist, she touches on several different genres including pop, dance, soul, and a little touch of jazz. Break It Down is Rachel B’s latest EP, dropping on Feb. 26. One of the EP’s featured tracks is “Get To You.” Another track, “So Good,” is a hot dance song with Rachel B’s outstanding vocals. Former Steeler Chukky Okobi co-wrote the song with Rachel B. and has a featured rap part. Rachel B and Billy Castle, along with Young Fox, are playing the Farewell to the Brew House Party. This is a fun event to pay tribute to a longstanding Pittsburgh institution and say hello to two new additions to our fine city. 8 p.m. BYOB. 2100 Mary St., South Side.

Tuesday, March 10

Celtic Woman are hitting the Benedum Center right before St. Patrick’s Day—what great timing—”gotta make hay when the sun is shining.” The multi-platinum-selling group of angelic-voiced women rose to fame on their vocal talents and quality production values. Many people learned of the group through their popular performance specials on PBS. Sharon Browne and David Downes, a former musical director of the long running Irish stage show Riverdance, created the ensemble. Although members have changed over the years, the group itself is currently on its Tenth Anniversary tour. 7:00 p.m. 237 7th St., Cultural District.


Ariana Grandecurrently one of the hottest stars in the pop music universe—started out as a child actor on Broadway and then was featured on a few Nickelodeon network TV shows. Her voice is of a four-octave range which gives it the dynamics to float higher, much like Mariah Carey’s. Grande’s music career was on fire right from the start when her first release Yours Truly debuted at no. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart in 2013. She won New Artist of the Year at the American Music Awards and two Grammy Award nominations for Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. She even cut a track with rapper and Pittsburgh native Mac Miller (see video above). Her second album My Everything reached no. 1 as well. Grande, known for her great voice, ponytail, short stylish skirts, and captivating brown eyes is bringing the party to Pittsburgh. 7:30 p.m. Rixton and Cashmere Cat open. Petersen Events Center, 3719 Terrace St., Oakland.

Wednesday, March 11

Every artist has a signature song and for Canadian singer/songwriter Sarah McLachlan it’s probably “Angel.” It showcases her melodic mezzo-soprano voice and channels it in a beautifully subtle way for ultimate effect. She can also turn up the power as evidenced by “Trainwreck” (see video above). McLachlan is a versatile musician who feels equally comfortable playing the piano or strumming a guitar. She is an eight-time Juno Award winner and a three-time Grammy Award winner. The music festival Lilith Fair was created by McLachlan in 1997 to highlight female talent and after a long hiatus the touring event resumed in 2010. She’s currently touring in support of her first new album in four years, Shine On. 8 p.m. Benedum Center, 237 7th St., Cultural District.

Thursday, March 12

“You have to have the will to win, though,” Win Butler said of his brother, Will, on The Colbert Report. Both Win and Will Butler are members of Arcade Fire, a Grammy-winning indie rock band from Montreal. Win Butler’s quote has become increasingly applicable the past few years. Whether co-writing Her’s Oscar-nominated score, which Arcade Fire performed, or showing up for guitar and keyboard duties during live shows, Will Butler definitely brings plenty of, well, “will” to the group. He released his first solo album, titled Policy, March 10, just in time for his show at Brillobox. The first single, “Take My Side,” sounds like it has all of Arcade Fire’s earnestness, with perhaps a bit more garage rock. TEEN opens. 9:30 p.m. 4104 Penn Ave., Bloomfield.

Friday, March 13

Maroon 5 concert is a great setting for a date or a girls’ night out. The radio-friendly rockers rose to fame with their 2002 album Songs About Jane, which includes singles “She Will Be Loved” and “Harder to Breathe.” Most recently, Maroon 5 is hitting the airwaves with singles from their latest album, Overexposed, including “Love Somebody” and “Payphone.”  If those songs don’t jog your memory, you may recognize lead singer Adam Levine from the musical reality show The Voice and as a recurring character on 2012’s season of American Horror Story: Asylum. Rozzi Crane opens for this leg of the tour, which includes a stop at Consol Energy Center. 7:30 p.m. 1001 Fifth Ave., Uptown.


One of the foremost bassists of the modern jazz era, Marcus Miller will indeed create a high quality and funky performance in two shows for the MCG Jazz series.  He has collaborated with such notables as Miles Davis, David Sanborn, Luther Vandross, and Dizzy Gillespie. Miller has won several Grammy Awards for his producing work. Fun fact: he was a member of of the “Saturday Night Live” band from 1978-1979. Miller’s Pittsburgh concerts are produced by drummer, friend, and collaborator Poogie Bell—a Pittsburgh native. 7 p.m. (sold out), 9:30 p.m. (tickets still available). Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild 1815 Metropolitan St., Manchester.

When Mike + The Mechanics take the stage at Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall, it promises to be another memorable you’re-not-gonna-hear-‘em-just-anywhere concert of the type the venue has become known for. Mike Rutherford, longtime guitarist/vocalist of the British super-group Genesis, started The Mechanics as a side project in 1985. They went to on release multiple albums of their own featuring hits like “All I Need Is a Miracle,” “Silent Running,” and more. Vocalists Andrew Roachford and Tim Howar have replaced the late singer Paul Young (featured in the clip above)—and the Homestead gig is part of Mike + The Mechanics’ first North American tour in 25 years. Daryl Stuermer opens. 7:30 p.m. 510 E. 10th Ave., Munhall.


How about a heaping helpin’ of Corned Beef & Curry before St. Patrick’s Day? No, we’re not talking about a food fusion entrée, but the popular Pittsburgh Irish band that has two Celts—John McCann and Brad Dindak who’s called “Hamish” (and is a Slovak Scotsman or a Scotsvak)—joined  by Bob Banerjee, who, on the band’s website, is described as their “chief outsourced Indian immigrant.”  Sounds like a fun night of Irish music at The Meadows Racetrack and Casino. 8 p.m. No cover. 210 Racetrack Rd., Washington.

Saturday, March 14 (St. Patrick’s Day Parade Day)

If you’re neighborhood seems a little quiet this morning it may be because over 200,000 Pittsburghers and visitors are downtown today for The Saint Patrick’s Day Parade. Billed as the second largest St. Patrick’s Day Parade in the Country, over 23,000 people will march in the parade including bands, Irish organizations, “Miss Smiling Irish Eyes” and every politician on the planet. The parade will proceed from the intersection of Liberty Avenue and 11th Street to Grant Street, then onto the Boulevard of the Allies, where it will turn right; then marches down the Boulevard of the Allies to the parade reviewing stand at Stanwix Street, ending at Commonwealth Place. Remember, anyone who wants to be Irish–is Irish–on St. Paddy’s Day! Parade starts at 10 a.m. Downtown.


One of the most happening spots to celebrate Parade Day (March 14) and St. Patrick’s Day (March 17) is Mullaney’s Harp and Fiddle. With a tent connected to the Pub the celebration space is doubled. Irish bands and performers hold court all day and night in both spaces beginning at noon and going until about midnight. Headliners are Red Hand Paddy and Guaranteed Irish. Donnie Irish will also be playing. St. Patrick’s Day features the same hours and headliners along with other acts including Whiskey Limerick and Weekend at Blarney’s. 2329 Penn Ave., Strip District.


Think traditional Celtic music but with some extra beats per minute—that’s Bastard Bearded Irishmen. The local group is helping Pittsburgh usher in St. Patrick’s Day a little early with their St. Patrick’s Parade Day Party at the Rex Theater. Their newest album, 2014’s Rise of the Bastard, features 12 originals, like the throttling “Tomorrow,” as well as three traditionals, like “Three Drunken Maidens.” In addition to their devoted, local following, the band is establishing a national presence. Rolling Stone mentioned them online as a “band to watch from Pittsburgh,” and they also have opened for heroes The Dropkick Murphys. The Commonheart and Black Masala open. 7 p.m. 602 E. Carson St., South Side.

Sunday, March 15

It would be stuffy and pretentious to call him a Renaissance Man, so let’s say Michael Bolton is one of those Renaissance Dudes. Bolton has made his mark as a singer, songwriter, actor, movie producer, and philanthropist … and he ain’t bad looking either. Three years ago, at the age of 58, he was featured in People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” issue. But if it’s music you’re after, Bolton is coming to The Palace Theatre in Greensburg to reprise some of his greatest hits, from “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You” to (if you behave yourself) maybe even a live version of his viral video sensation “Jack Sparrow.” 7:30 p.m. 21 W. Otterman St.

Tuesday, March 17

There’s nothing childish about Cold War Kids. Just listen to the ache in singer Nathan Willet’s voice, the bluesy piano which recalls old school alternative groups like the Velvet Underground. The band received international attention from their first album, 2006’s Robbers & Cowards. “Hang Me Up to Dry,” arguably their most popular single, epitomizes their metaphorical lyrics and twitchy instrumentation. They have had a few lineup changes over the years, the most notable of which was Joe Plummer, formerly of Modest Mouse, taking over drumming duties in 2013. The group averages an LP or EP every year and are no strangers to Pittsburgh. They played Stage AE on the Dear Miss Lonelyhearts tour and will be playing the venue again to promote their newest release, 2014’s Hold My Home. Nevada Color opens. Doors open 7 p.m. 400 North Shore Dr., North Shore.


Jergel’s Rhythm Grille has really been bringing in some popular national talent to their North Hills venue. Tonight that stream of talent continues with the rock band Gin Blossoms, who rose to fame out of Tempe, Arizona, in the ’90s. The band is sure to play some of their big hits, including: “Hey Jealousy,” ” Allison Road,” and “Found Out About You.” 8 p.m. 285 Northgate Dr., Warrendale. 9 p.m.

 Thursday, March 19

Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes are bringing their wall-of-sound to Jergel’s Rhythm Grille tonight. The band features a New Jersey rock sound complemented by a talented horn section. Southside Johnny’s first three albums were arranged and produced by the co-founder of the band and Bruce Springsteen associate Steven Van Zandt. The albums were mainly composed of songs written by Van Zandt and/or Springsteen. They are known for songs “Trapped Again,” “Without Love,” and “We’re Having A Party.” Norm Nardini opens. 8 p.m. 285 Northgate Dr., Warrendale.

Saturday March 21

Long before suburban sprawl, Long Island was known for its oyster industry—and then, in the strangest of cosmic convergences, the Island gave birth to Blue Öyster Cult. Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser, Eric Bloom, and company have been among the heaviest of heavy-metal and genre-busting rockers for more than a generation. Now Buck Dharma and Eric visit The Palace in Greensburg with the current incarnation of Blue Öyster Cult. Be prepared for songs including “Godzilla,” “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” and an oyster-y feast of many more. With Reb Beach Project. 8 p.m. 21 W. Otterman St., Greensburg.

Wednesday, March 25

American blues rock icon Leon Russell, whose piano playing has threads running through the music of Elton John, Badfinger, and the George Harrison-led Concert for Bangladesh, is in concert at Jergel’s Rhythm Grille tonight. Russell first rose to solo success on the Muscle Shoals-recorded album Carney, which was released in 1972. The album reached no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 200 chart and contained the song  “Tight Rope,” which reached no. 11 on the Hot 100 chart. Carney also contained the song “This Masquerade,” which several other artists recorded, including Pittsburgh native George Benson, whose version rode the charts to no. 10 on the Hot 100 in 1976. This is a great opportunity to see a legendary American musician. 8 p.m.  285 Northgate Dr., Warrendale.

Thursday, March 26

Barry Manilow has contributed several tunes to the great American songbook including   “Mandy,” “Can’t Smile Without You,” and “Copacabana (At the Copa).” In 1978—the zenith of his popularity— five of his albums were on the Billboard bestseller charts at the same time, a feat achieved by only seven other artists. Manilow and his music still remain popular. His latest album is My Dream Duets, in which he sings duets with his favorite singers, ones who also influenced him in his career. The singers are no longer with us, but, through modern technology, he was able to perform with them across the years. Manilow’s tour is called “One Last Time,” so this might be your last chance to see him in Pittsburgh..7:30 p.m. Consol Energy Center, 1001 Fifth Ave., Uptown.

Friday and Saturday, March 27-28

Various musical artists have been dubbed the King of This or the Queen of That, but there’s only one Duke. In a career that took him from ragtime piano playing to composing and band leading—and from nightclubs to New York’s Carnegie Hall and beyond—Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was a key figure not only in popularizing jazz in the 20th century but also in shaping and expanding it as a musical form. Now the MCG Jazz series presents a rare live performance of his first full-length jazz symphony: Black, Brown and Beige, composed for his Carnegie Hall debut in 1943. Ellington wrote B, B & B at a time when he was working closely with composer/arranger Billy Strayhorn, who grew up in Pittsburgh, so it’s a fitting tribute. The Jon Faddis Jazz Orchestra of New York will play the piece at Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild. 8 p.m., 1815 Metropolitan St., Manchester.

Tuesday, March 31

After nearly four years on hiatus, The Decemberists are back, with a new album: What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World. The band amassed a gathering over the past decade with their indie folk rock sound, culminating in their number one album, 2011’s The King Is Dead. In that same year, the band collided auditory, literary, and televisual worlds with their music video for “Calamity Song.” The video, directed by Parks and Recreation co-creator Michael Schur, adapts a scene from David Foster Wallace’s novel Infinite Jest. Their concerts are known for audience participation, so be ready to contribute to their show at The Benedum Center. At a recent concert in Glasgow, the band ended their set with “The Mariner’s Revenge Song,” a tune which details the story of a sailor swallowed by a whale. Frontman Colin Meloy cued audience screams while bassist Nate Query mimed rowing with his fiddle. 8 p.m. 237 7th St., Cultural District.

Rick Handler is the executive producer of Entertainment Central and a lover of great music.

Mike Vargo and Chris Maggio also contributed to this preview.


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