Concert focuses on making friends, raising money

Tuesday, April 10, 2018 - Updated: 11:59 pm

By William Cone Editor

For nonprofit organizations, it’s sometimes just as important to raise friends as it is to raise funds. St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality knows that well.

The program of Catholic Charities that houses older men who were formerly homeless has gained lots of friends by offering a bluegrass concert for nearly 20 years at Synod Hall on North Craig Street in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood.

The organization’s 20th Annual Bluegrass Benefit Concert is set for 7 p.m. Friday, April 27, with pre-concert craft beer sampling provided by Rivertowne Brewing starting at 5:45 p.m. The donation for tickets is $20 per person, and a free-will offering will be taken during the night to try to keep future ticket prices low.

Paul Dvorchak, former director of St. Joseph’s, started the concert and has played in bands at the event every year. He remains involved in the concert, and will perform with his son and their current band, Fern Hollow, this year.

“The thing about bluegrass is it’s sort of back-porch music or ‘ground-up’ (grassroots) music,” he said.

“It’s been pretty accessible music for a lot of people, and that was one of the things that attracted me to it.”

Organizers had thought about trying other types of music to attract concertgoers, Dvorchak said, but they have stuck with the friendly sounds of bluegrass because that’s the kind that he and his friends know and love.

The bands that perform in the show are unpaid. This year’s lineup includes the Pittsburgh-based Allegheny Drifters, marking their 15th anniversary as a band; Ohio-based Black Diamond; Echo Valley, which features seven young siblings from Beaver County; Fern Hollow; and Lonesome Lost & Foggy, from Pittsburgh.

Dvorchak said bluegrass groups usually start calling in December and January about the possibility of playing in the concert, which marks the unofficial start of the bluegrass festival season. Bluegrass festivals are normally held outdoors.

Most bluegrass bands use only microphones and no amplified instruments, so good acoustics is important. The performers love the acoustics in Synod Hall, which Dvorchak calls “a little Heinz Hall.”

“I remember the first year one of the bands came off stage and they said, ‘Wow, they’re really listening to us,’” he said. “Usually they’re playing in a festival somewhere or a bar. It really is a nice place to play. And that’s been a blessing for the concert.”

The emcee for the evening will be Bruce Mountjoy, who hosts a bluegrass show Sunday nights on WYEP-FM 91.3. He has been the emcee for all 19 previous concerts.

The concert is the sole fundraiser for St. Joseph’s, which has been located in Pittsburgh’s Hill District for more than 80 years. There will be a 50/50 raffle and prize auction during the evening.

Tom Kneier, current St. Joseph’s director, said, “The revenue from last year’s concert covered the equivalent of almost 4,000 congregate served meals in our dining hall.”

Dvorchak said the concert brings people in from different points of view, and introduces them to the mission of the House of Hospitality, which provides a single furnished room, meals and supportive services for 60 residents age 50 and older.

“I think it’s been important in keeping the music going and promoting it in different ways,” he said. “To St. Joseph’s, I think it’s been a friend-raiser.”

Tickets can be bought through the Catholic Charities website (www.ccpgh.org), by calling 412-471-0666 or at the door.

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