If all goes well, this spring musicians will be playing at a new Pittsburgh venue where their art takes center stage.
Although fundraising is still in the works, a nonprofit “listening room” called The Bridge Music Hall is planned for a springtime opening in East Liberty.
Located on the second floor of a N. Highland Street building that’s been vacant for a decade, the new venue would host national and touring acts for small concerts and events. Picture a room where 250 audience members are getting lost in the music, rather than a crowded bar where the drinks and social scene pull the focus from the hardworking performers on stage.
The Bridge concept has been on Rich Dieter’s radar for several years. The long-time concert promoter used to book shows at the now-defunct clubs Graffiti and Rosebud.
“Everybody gets into the big box venues like KeyBank Pavilion and PPG Paints Arena and Stage AE — and there’s nothing wrong with those places,” he says. Many of the smaller venues are as much about their beer menu as their music.
“The heart and soul of the music scene,” Dieter says, “is in places that focus on music, not food and drinks.”
He and his 24-member board of directors are currently raising funds for the project. They hope to have $300,000 by the spring.
Dieter modeled plans for The Bridge off The Ark in Ann Arbor, Mich., and The Bluebird Cafe in Nashville — intimate venues that allow performers to connect with audience members instead of fighting for their attention, while getting paid fair wages for their work. He says the new facility, which is a former events space and American Legion post, will be the perfect spot for a concert.
The space will feature a 29-foot-by-21-foot stage with sound provided by Graham Audio, plus a green room and a recording studio. There will be cocktail tables and seating for approximately 250 patrons, but some concerts may host an audience of 300 or 350. Self-serve drinks will be available for purchase at a small bar, and although no food will be served, customers are encouraged to visit nearby bars and restaurants before and after the show. Hotel Indigo, located across the street, can provide accommodations for visiting troubadours.
Dieter currently books performers at Wallace’s Whiskey Room + Kitchen at Hotel Indigo and uses it as a testing ground for his “listening room” concept.
Over the past three years, he’s met with more than 400 people, including musicians, developers, promoters, community organizations, local residents, strategic partners and potential patrons, to gauge interest in The Bridge.
The consensus, he says, is overwhelmingly positive.
Developer Nigel Parkinson, who owns the hotel and the building that will house The Bridge, has been a staunch supporter since day one.
“Finding somebody that has that kind of love for music has been the key to arranging the agreement for this space,” Dieter says.
Along with evening shows encompassing everything from classical and jazz to country and hip-hop, the venue will be available for private events. During daytime hours, it will also serve as the new headquarters for the Calliope Folk Music Society. A meeting space will be available free of charge to local community groups such as East Liberty Development.
Dieter says The Bridge will also offer an after-school mentoring program for young musicians and music therapy for people with vision and hearing impairments, dementia, developmental challenges and traumatic brain injuries.
“It’s been a passion and a dream of mine for years,” he says of The Bridge. “It’s not something earth-shaking. It’s just a simple concept: When an artist performs, you listen.”