By Olivia Ciotoli
Point Park News Service
Using their basement as a stage, Pittsburgh residents Sandy Parker and Dylan Bahney provide a place for local musicians to perform and music fans to enjoy shows of all genres on a college student’s budget.
The front porch with mismatched chairs and empty paint cans appears to be the entry to a normal house in Oakland, but it is better known as the Vatican’t: the gathering spot for the young people of Pittsburgh to enjoy music in a friendly environment that other venues cannot offer.
“Whenever a show goes really well, you’re just sitting there watching everything, thinking, ‘We did something good. We helped out. We provided a place for this to happen,’” Dylan Bahney said about his job at the house venue, where he books and runs shows for local and touring bands.
Breaking into the spotlight has always been a difficult task for bands that are just starting out. Many larger venues in the Pittsburgh area actually enforce a “pay-to-play” restriction, forcing bands to sell a certain amount of tickets or literally pay out of pocket to perform at a show, according to Bahney.
The crew at the Vatican’t, which is named simply for pun’s sake, aim to give musicians a place to perform their music for free, helping them reach a larger fan base they might not otherwise have access to.
If money from the door fee is left over, the local bands may actually profit from the show instead of losing money like they might have at a larger venue.
Sara Savage, a musician in the Pittsburgh-based band, Fun Home, has performed at the Vatican’t several times and claims that the experience is always a positive one. After hearing about Bahney and Parker’s venue through mutual friends, Savage sought out the space for her band to perform specifically for its size.
“It’s a smaller space, so it is more interactive,” Savage said in an email interview. “It’s also more intimate, and I like that. The whole vibe is a lot more relaxed, and I think that usually helps us perform better.”
Savage explained that Bahney and Parker are incredibly accommodating when working with lesser-known bands, and they go out of their way to make certain the show is successful.
Bahney also described one of the greatest experiences in running the venue is “…really little shows where not many people show up, because without this place, the show might not have happened at all. There are not even many people here, so I feel good for giving them a place to play.”
He talked about how great it made him feel when small bands would thank him for allowing them to play, since larger venues would have shut down a show with so few attendees.
Music fans also benefit from attending shows at a house venue. Instead of paying the higher ticket prices that occur at professional venues, the door fee for a show at the Vatican’t is usually donation based and rarely exceeds $5, according to Bahney.
Sandy Parker, another manager of the Vatican’t, had other ideas regarding the door fee. Parker commented that sometimes he thought about having a mandatory cover of $5 and accepting any further donations attendees wish to contribute.
“It would be nice to charge a minimum, but at the same time, I’m not gonna turn someone down if they come to a show and don’t have money,” Bahney said. “Or if they only have money for the bus, I’m gonna be like ‘Come on in, it’s fine.’”
Bahney and Parker ensure that all of the money goes directly to the performers or food for attendees. Bahney will occasionally have a “Pizza Club” night, by adding $1 to the base donation price and using the extra money to order pizza for guests. The managers of the Vatican’t make no financial profit from their shows.
While locals obviously benefit from a house venue setting, touring bands from around the country can also find advantages in playing at a smaller venue.
Parker and Bahney both said any touring bands involved in a show receive about half of the total amount of money donated by attendees. Bahney expressed that while it can be difficult to make every musician completely happy at a show, he always tries to make sure that any touring band receives enough money for fuel and food.
Another benefit for national acts is that the venue provides a place to stay for the night, free of charge. Most touring bands must pay out of pocket for hotels or be confined to sleeping in their vehicle. House venues such as the Vatican’t give musicians a cheaper, safer alternative.
“The venue is the house. They can just crash on the couch,” Bahney stated.
Organizing shows at a house venue is a group effort.
Bahney and Parker both admitted that setting up the lineup, organizing the bands and greeting all the attendees can be a hectic experience. One of the biggest struggles is making sure all the bands know the lineup of the show throughout the night.
Bahney said he puts forth extra effort to ensure the bands are aware of the schedule, but there will always be some mix-ups.
The Vatican’t crew reiterated how important working together is when managing a show. According to Justin Watkins, a resident at the Vatican’t, there have been several occasions when Bahney was not available during a show he had booked due to work priorities, forcing Parker and Watkins to take over.
“He [Bahney] books shows, and then he leaves, and then we have to do it,” Watkins said. “It’s happened like a million times.”
Managing a business out of a basement might seem like a full-time commitment, but the managers of the Vatican’t have many other jobs to attend to as well. Bahney, Parker and Watkins all balance part-time jobs and several bands on top of running a venue out of their house several nights a week and almost constantly booking new shows.
Bahney works on all of these commitments with a positive attitude.
“It’s easy as heck,” Bahney said. “I love it…It was always my dream to have bands play in my basement.”