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Three Rivers Arts Festival turns 65 with revised layout

The Three Rivers Arts Festival is back this week for its 65th year, with a slightly different Downtown footprint and more Artists Market vendors than last year.

The festival, organized by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust with Dollar Bank as its main sponsor, includes 10 days of free music, art and more starting Fri., May 31.

Like last year’s festival, the 2024 version will center on Fort Duquesne Boulevard, with two differences. One, the main stage for headlining concerts like closing-night act Ben Folds is moving up Fort Duquesne Boulevard to 9th Street, to create more space both backstage and for fans. And the Rachel Carson Bridge will close to host a second stage and part of the artists market, said Sarah Aziz, who organizes the festival for the Trust.

crowd of people on city street
Pittsburgh Cultural Trust
A mainstage crowd at the 2023 Three Rivers Arts Festival. The 2024 festival has a slightly altered layout.

The move was the festival’s latest adjustment to its layout since 2022, when it left its longtime home in Point State Park.

“Everybody was missing that iconic Pittsburgh feel that you get in Point State Park, and so incorporating a bridge felt like [something] new,” Aziz said.

Meanwhile, that artists market — with its painters, jewelry-makers, ceramicists, photographers and more — will include 320 booths, up from fewer than 300 last year, said Aziz.

In addition to singer-songwriter Folds, the 10 music headliners range from the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra to hip-hop pioneers The Sugar Hill Gang & The Furious Five, rock bands Los Lonely Boys and Ozomatli, dance-pop vocal trio Say She She, and blues singer and songwriter Martha Redbone.

Family attractions include shows by Cirque Kikasse, a five-person, Quebec-based circus that performs out of a food truck with a focus on comedy and acrobatics. Cirque Kikasse gives four daytime performances June 8 and 9.

Other attractions include the annual Juried Visual Art Exhibition, at SPACE gallery, with dozens of artists from the region contributing work on the theme “Furry Friends,” and a 40th-anniversary display of photographs documenting the 1984 arts festival, at 707 Penn Gallery.

At the Harris Theater, there’ll be free screenings of three recent music documentaries. “Fanny: The Right to Rock” tells the story of the first all-woman band to sign with a major label. “The Blues Society” looks at the Memphis Country Blues Festival, which white artists organized in the 1960s to celebrate Black music in the segregated South. And “Trouble and Mind” is Ethan Coen’s doc about rocker Jerry Lee Lewis, whose offstage controversies were even more notorious than his fiery performances.

The Three Rivers Arts Festival was first staged in 1960. It occupied Point State Park most every year until 2020, when it went virtual because of the pandemic. In 2021, the event returned in scaled-down form with a layout more dispersed around Downtown. The 2022 festival left the park and adopted a city-streets footprint, with the main stage at 9th Street and Penn Avenue. Last year it moved to a Fort Duquesne Boulevard alignment, with the stage at Stanwix and facing upriver toward a crowd confined to the westbound traffic lanes.

This year’s alignment is relatively similar, except that the main stage will be at 9th Street and face downriver toward both the westbound and eastbound lanes, leaving more space for audiences.

All lanes of traffic along Fort Duquesne between 7th and 9th streets will close for all 10 days of the festival. Between 6th and 7th streets, the westbound lanes will close for all 10 days but eastbound lanes will close only on weekends.

More information is here.

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: