Thrival Innovation + Music Festival Preview

September 20-24th, Pittsburgh, PA

By Tyler Schrenker


Each year the live music scene in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania becomes bigger and brighter. Local bands continue to progress  through the resources of local venues like The Thunderbird Cafe, The Rex Theater, James Street Gastropub, and dozens of others. Meanwhile, national touring acts like Billy Joel, The Rolling Stones, Ted Nugent, and Beyonce, have all made recent performances in the Steel City. With so much hype in the city’s music scene right now, it is no surprise that Thrival Innovation + Music Festival will return this summer, September 20th-24th, for three days of Innovation workshops and exhibits, as well as two days of live music at Pittsburgh’s historic Carrie Furnaces. Sponsoring and producing the festival is local non-profit, Thrill Mill.

Thrill Mill, Inc, “A non-profit organization, was created to attract the best talent to Pittsburgh, foster and cultivate that talent in an early-stage accelerator space, and play a pivotal role, through Thrival Innovation + Music Festival, in Pittsburgh’s continuous growth as a prime destination for entrepreneurs across a variety of industries, while concurrently supporting community-based innovation.” Their services vary largely; they provide anything from simple advice and business programming, to funding and personal work spaces for new start-ups across the region.  Thrival Festival began in 2013 with just a single day of talks about innovation, and musical performances by artists RJD2, De La Soul, Frightened Rabbit, and Formula 412. In subsequent years the festival has grown in both size and popularity, paving a bright future for both the innovation of small businesses and the ever-growing music scene in Pittsburgh.      


The Festival kicks off Tuesday September 20th with three days of networking events, innovation workshops, and keynote speakers lasting until Thursday, September 23rd. Innovation events will be split between two different venues in Pittsburgh’s North Side, Alloy 26 and The New Hazlett Theater. Alloy 26 will be hosting the free daytime events. The venue is true to the spirit of the festival; normally it acts as a co-working space that provides a work environment to local small businesses and start-ups equally fueled by a passion for changing the world. And the New Hazlett Theater, just a short walk away from Alloy 26, built in 1889, will house the ticketed keynote speakers each evening. To register for free daytime events or to purchase Thrival Innovation Keynote Speaker passes, visit

Each of the three days will follow a “less is more” philosophy. According to executive producer Dan Law, each day will revolve around its own unique theme, “Lost and Found” (Sept. 20), “AunthentiCity” (Sept. 21), and “The Ripple Effect” (Sept. 22), allowing for more focused discussions each day. “Lost and Found” reminds us to look at the value of our past experiences and former industries as tools for future growth. Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist, and the character portrayed by Will Smith in Concussion, shall end the “Lost and Found” programming Tuesday evening aided by Concussion author and University of Pittsburgh alumni,  Jeanne Marie Laskas,  with a talk entitled, “Collision Course: Accountability, and Fighting for the Voiceless”. After Dr. Omalu and Mrs Laskas finish speaking there will be an after party at nearby James Street Gastropub, less than a half of a mile from the New Hazlett Theater, featuring live music from local artists The Anton DeFade Trio (Jazz), DJ B-NARDO (Dance), and Ferdinand the Bull (Folk/Americana).

Following the first day of Thrival Innovation day two’s theme “AuthentiCity” seeks to explore what Pittsburgh, and other cities in the midst of a new wave of relevance and popularity, can do to stay ahead of the curve and look to our future under the lens of culture, identity, and authenticity. The day will revolve around the idea of community, education, the effects of inevitable change and ultimately culminates with the keynote talk for the evening “The American Identity: Who Are We, And Where Are We Going?”.  Speaking at the Hazlett Theater this evening will be host of the syndicated radio talk show America Now, Meghan McCain, as well as Eugene Robinson a journalist for the Washington Post, and will be moderated by Marita Garrett, a Councilwoman from Wilkinsburg a borough just outside of Pittsburgh. Again less than a half of a mile from the New Hazlett Theater, City of Asylum (324 Sampsonia Way Pittsburgh, PA 15212) will be the host for the second evenings after party, including local acts Chupacabra (Rock/Pop) and DJ Gianni Carter.

To complete the Innovation schedule for this year’s Thrival Festival, on Thursday September 22nd, we will be presented with the idea of “The Ripple Effect”, that albeit something may be small, that it no way makes it insignificant. This day’s programming aims to talk of the little things, things that may seem thoughtless and  insignificant, that are precursors the creation of the next big thing.  Leading off bright and early at 8:00am are Dan Drake and Hank Gustafson, the founders of Dancakes the folks who brought you this pancake video announcing this year’s full musical lineup. Finishing three eventful day of programming will be 18 year old Ann Makosinski, an inventor named one of Time Magazines 30 under 30, with a talk titled “Straight Outta My Parents Basement: How To Be A Differentist”. Following Ann’s presentation, and half a block away from the previous night’s after party, The Mattress Factory (500 Sampsonia Way Pittsburgh, PA  15212 ) welcomes King Britt, Phil Hartnoll, and Tommie Sunshine, setting the tone for the next two days of incredibly talented musicians to take the helm of Thrival Innovation + Music festival.

Photo by Luxe Creative

This year’s Thrival Music Festival will be staged at the historic Carrie Furnaces, which produced iron (between 1000-1250 tons daily) before being ferried across the river to the Homestead works where it was forged into the steel the city is known for. Since the collapse of the steel industry in the region, these are the last non-operational blast furnaces in Pittsburgh to remain standing. On September 23-24 Thievery Corporation, The Chainsmokers, CHVRCHΞS, Lettuce,  Metric, and a host of 18 other national and local acts, will take over the furnaces on two stages.

September 23rd, the first day of music, will start off whats sure to be a beautiful weekend with a few Pittsburgh locals; indie pop/rockers Meeting of Important People opening the stage at 4:30, followed by the Bastard Bearded Bearded Irishman who combine elements of punk, gypsy, and celtic musics with a dash of high octane rock’n’roll. Rounding out the Pittsburgh locals for the day is Daya, a singer-songwriter who is featured on the Chainsmokers hit “Don’t Let Me Down”, starting at 6:15pm. Leading us into the sunset for day one is Sir the Baptist, a self described “church pub rapper” like a smooth gospel in a small bar and a dash of witty wordplay, comes to raise hell on the second stage at 7 pm sharp. With the sun set, funk powerhouse Lettuce takes over at 7:45pm. Moving into the later evening CHVRCHΞS will take us along with them through their colorful synth-pop journey beginning at 9 pm, leaving the Chainsmokers, who’s single with Daya went double platinum in the US, to close a packed Friday lineup with their amazing DJ interplay.

Day two, Saturday, September 24th, kicks off a bit earlier. Gates will open at 11am and music will begin shortly thereafter with a few more Pittsburgh artists; the first taking the guise of Balloon Ride Fantasy, a 6 piece electro-pop outfit hailing from Pittsburgh at 12 noon. After a taste from Balloon Ride, poppers and rockers Donora take the stage for a show of what the city has to offer. Following Donora is Chalk Dinosaur, one man equipped with a looping pedal and a slew of instruments creating beautifully entrancing jams, begins at 1pm. Brooke Annibale, a local singer-songwriter with an absolutely enchanting voice, and her band, come to  provide their musical touch at 1:30pm. Coming across the country from LA, scheduled at 2:15pm, is Cheat Codes; an electronic dance band who have had multiple tracks in the top 15 on the US Dance Music charts. Immediately after Cheat Codes at 3 pm Cappadonna (member of Wu-Tang Clan), Killarmy, WuLords, and Ezekiel XI come to rock the mic. Keeping the energy high, this next group bills themselves as electro-brass-thunder-funk, and if that doesn’t get you in the mood to groove I’m not sure what will, Beauty Slap, another up and coming pittsburgh group, brings the funky storm to stage at 4 pm.  Taking us into the late afternoon at 4:45 is Wild Child, a member of Lootpack, bringing the old school hip hop back to life with his own west coast style. Taking a step back from the rap game, Rubblebucket comes to us on stage at 5:45 to deliver us some indie dance music. Hudson 1Mowhawke comes to us live and bass heavy at 7 o’clock, just in time to bring the sun down and the party up.  Ty Dolla $ign, a rapper who dabbles in a little bit of everything, will be the signal to hop back over to the first stage at 8:15pm, and just in time to get down. Neighbors from the north Metric, a critically acclaimed group that ranges from new wave to synth-pop, come to stage next at 9:15, our penultimate group for the weekend. Tying together 5 days of enlightening talks and fantastic music, none other than Thievery Corporation bring their own brand of swirling, worldly, and otherworldly music as a closing touch to the festival.

Thrival at heart aims to give opportunities to growing businesses that they would not receive elsewhere by giving all profit made back to Thrill Mill, Inc. and its mission. Making a trip to this year’s Thrival Innovation + Music Festival may just end up supporting your new favorite local business! We can’t wait to hear Dr. Omalu speak, as well as the nightly after parties hosted so close to the Northside Innovation locations.  Thievery Corporation, Lettuce, Hudson Mohawke, and Ty Dolla $ign are sure to be standout performances, but don’t sleep on any of the other artists, including the Pittsburgh locals, especially Meeting of Important People, they will definitely be a pleasant surprise. So make sure you get out, and participate in everything you can during this year’s Thrival Innovation+Music Festival. Although it will be back, each year is unique and you never know what you’re going to miss!

For transportation information to the event visit the directions page on Thrival’s website.

For ticketing information visit

Article by: Tyler Schrenker