PITTSBURGH - When catastrophe strikes, musicians respond by doing what they do best.
Many of Pittsburgh's best-known rockers will play tonight, sharing the Mellon Arena stage to help Hurricane Katrina victims.
Donnie Iris, the Clarks, Joe Grushecky, Rusted Root, B.E. Taylor, Bill Deasy, Crave and Good Brother Earl will perform at the 7 p.m. show. Rounding out the lineup are Fayette County's on-the-verge-of-fame country band Povertyneck Hillbillies, and budding vocalist Margot Bingham, the 2003 National Miss Black Teen.
Tickets cost $10 and $20, with 80 percent of the proceeds going to the Red Cross to help hurricane relief efforts in the Gulf Coast. The remaining 20 percent will stay at home, directed to the South Western Pennsylvania Red Cross disaster relief fund that assists local families.
Bingham, the daughter of former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Craig Bingham, got the benefit show rolling by suggesting such an event to Rick Witkowski, a well-known figure in the local music scene as guitarist for B.E. Taylor's group and owner of a Weirton, W.Va., recording studio.
Witkowski and Taylor booked Mellon Arena for a benefit show, not realizing that at the same time Rob James of the Clarks was putting together a separate benefit show with fellow Beaver County rocker Donnie Iris, drawing inspiration from last year's successful Allegheny County Flood Relief concert organized by Dormont rocker Joe Grushecky featuring his pal Bruce Springsteen.
The local rockers agreed to merge their efforts into one big concert, forming a coalition that includes business and civic leaders, under the name Pittsburgh Lends Emergency and Savings Efforts (PLEASE.) The PLEASE effort includes Ticketmaster, the ticket-selling giant that is waving its normal fees for the show.
"It's nice to see the city come together and support something like this," said Good Brother Earl vocalist Jeff Schmutz. "Given the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan last year, I feel a strong desire to help."
While the mission of the concert is serious, fans can expect to have fun.
"All the bands are going to bring out their 'A' game for something like this," Schmutz said, "not necessarily to try to outdo each other, but because everyone is watching from both sides of the stage.
"Fans at the Mellon Arena are truly going to get the best Pittsburgh has to offer," he said.
The evening likely will end with an all-star jam, James said. The entire show will be loose enough to allow band members to make surprise appearances during the sets of other bands.
So don't be surprised if the Clarks call Iris onto the stage, or if Deasy, James and Grushecky play together.
"We've been talking about blurring the lines between who's in a band and who isn't," James said. "There will be people sharing the stage all night."
Concert organizers have been busy producing a video package that will remind concertgoers of the hurricane devastation and the massive rebuilding work that lies ahead.
"There will be a little educating going on," James said. "There will be a little reminding during the show of why we're there."
The concert comes at a hectic time for James, who, along with his wife, is scheduled to close on a new house in Beaver today, but there's no way he was going to miss a chance to help raise money for hurricane victims.
"Like everyone else, I had been watching the events unfold on TV, and I was just moved beyond words," James said. "The devastation made my heart so heavy."
He hopes the concert will serve as a flashpoint for those who felt the same way.
"If you feel you want to do something to help, but were wondering what you can do, all you've got to do is come down to the show, plop down $10 or $20, and you've done your part," James said. "But hopefully it won't stop there."