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Phillter Music Festival Spotlights One-Person Bands Of The Digital Age

Among the many things remade by digital technology, don’t forget the one-person band.

Phillter International Music Festival runs Wed., May 30-Sun., June 3, at various venues. Tickets are $15 for individual events, with festival passes available.

It’s no longer just someone playing a guitar, blowing harmonica while banging a bass drum with a foot pedal.

Pittsburgh-based musician MikeWhy, for instance, started out in an a cappella group. Then, he says, “I realized that I could replace the other five guys in the a cappella band with a little mixer in front of me.” The machine lets him sing all the parts, and digitally “loop” them, replaying his recorded vocal components while he adds a new part live. Y also vocalizes the sounds of bass, drums and other instruments – virtually a tabletop orchestra.

He’s among the co-founders of Pittsburgh’s Phillter International Music Festival. The five-day event showcases all the ways one person can sound like a full band, including live looping.

The second annual festival takes place this Wednesday through Sunday at various intimate indoor venues around the area, including the Andrew Carnegie Free Library, in Carnegie, and The Funhouse at Mr. Smalls, in Millvale.

Phillter features some 30 artists from across North America playing in a variety of genres, from folk and rock to beat-boxing.

“We focus on things that are weird and wired,” said Mike Why. “Basically anybody who has a proficiency in a traditional music form but also uses technology to kind of make themselves a sort of one-person band.”

The performers originally hail from places as diverse as India and Bulgaria. Phillter includes a Friday showcase for women artists, and evenings dedicated to solo-instrumental masters, guitar rock, and beatbox and fusion.

Artists include Dixie Duncan, of Atlanta, Ga., a “one-guitar symphony of the mind”; acoustic blues, folk and roots from from Alabama-based Katie Martin; “mountain dulcimer alternative rock” from Butch Ross, of Chattanooga, Tenn.; LethalFX, of Columbus, Ohio, who has supported Wiz Khalifa and Snoop Dogg; Violoncheloops, from Guadalajara, Mexico; Pittsburgh-based Bob Banerjee; beatbox champ Napom, from New York City and Pittsburgh; and electronic folk-rock artist Jean-Paul De Roover, from Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Other performance venues include the Starlite Lounge, in Blawnox, and Hambone’s, in Lawrenceville.

For more information, visit the festival website.


Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: