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At Steamworks Creative, musicians find open stage, ears

October 13, 2018

Joe Grushecky is used to playing to big crowds.

For decades, raucous performances with his band The Houserockers (not to mention with his buddy Bruce Springsteen) have been met with loud cheers and applause from throngs of wild fans.

But sometimes, Pittsburgh’s rock ‘n’ roll legend wants people to sit quietly and listen to the music.

At Steamworks Creative, artists can showcase their talents in an intimate setting that’s more about being heard than being seen.

“First of all, it’s a very warm, receiving audience,” Grushecky says. “They’re with you -- at least they were with me -- every step of the way. That’s very reassuring and freeing when you’re going solo.”

The venue on Route 8 in Hampton Township is purposefully small, boasting just 50 seats.

“We allow 50 people and we stick to that,” says owner John Vento. “There’s no talking or clanging of bottles. This is a true listening room.”

Vento, frontman for the Neid’s Hotel Band, opened Steamworks Creative in January after a bad concert experience at a local club. Long lines, an overcrowded space, horrible sightlines and faulty sound equipment had him longing for a place away from the smoky bar scene where he could actually enjoy a show.

Unable to find one, he made his own.

Located in the former Steamworks Vape Shop, Vento, 59, of West Deer, modified the name, leased the adjoining storefront and reached out to local musicians and touring troubadours who now flock to the unassuming hotspot. There is no green room, so they mingle with audience members after the spot light dims.

Steamworks Creative, which is BYOB, hosts three to five shows a week, from folksingers and full bands to comedy teams and amateur acts.

Once a month, the business offers an Autism Open Stage. Sponsored by the Autism Society of Pittsburgh, the event gives people of all ages and musical abilities the chance to express themselves through song or instrumentation. Mics, keyboards, guitars, amps and percussion is available for folks to use and pizza and soft drinks are provided.

The program is an extension of Band Together, a nonprofit organization that Vento formed in 2016 with his friend Ron Esser (owner of Moondog’s and the Starlite Lounge in Blawnox) that provides individuals on the autism spectrum with access to music, including education, mentorship and performance opportunities.

Joe Hnath is a regular on the Autism Open Stage, where he belts out Linkin Park tunes. The 19-year-old Murrysville resident says he feels comfortable in the setting because he’s surrounded by people like himself, which gives him confidence.

His parents, Lisa and Jeff Hnath, believe Steamworks Creative has helped him blossom, both musically and socially.

“It’s a very welcoming environment where there is no judging,” Lisa Hnath says. “Everybody is there for the same purpose.”

Vento relies on a small team of volunteers to keep the good times rolling. Kim Coles oversees the venue’s website and social media accounts.

In June, she went to Steamworks Creative to see her friend, Bob Banerjee of the Corned Beef and Curry Band, play.

“I now go several times a week. Absolutely love it. I’ve been following local music for most of my life,” says Coles, 51, of O’Hara Township. “It’s a wonderful experience for me because not only do I get to hear live music all the time, I’m meeting some of the artists I followed years ago.”

Grushecky, whose been churning out albums since the ’70s, believes Pittsburgh needs more sites like Steamworks Creative. He’ll make his third appearance there this December.

“We need more venues, we need more musicians, we need more public support,” he says. “There are a lot of world-class musicians in this city. It’s time to get behind them.”

Steamworks Creative is at 4967 Route 8, Suite 6. For more information, visit www.steam workscreative.com.

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