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Dirt Emo in the Steel City

Ruston Kelly Introduces Pittsburgh to Dirt Emo

// words and photos by Mollie Crowe (Little Blackbird Photo)

On Thursday, April 27, 2023, Nashville-based Ruston Kelly made his Pittsburgh debut to an enthusiastic crowd at Thunderbird Cafe and Music Hall. Encouraging the audience to mosh, sing along, and do your own thing was the vibe for the night - especially for Ruston, who’s been a chameleon and catalyst for change since his 2018 release, Dying Star. Fans of the artist recognize him for his blend of Americana, alt-country, indie and “dirt emo” musical style. From featuring his father, Tim Kelly (or “TK” as his friends and family refer to him) on the pedal steel, to his younger sister Abby performing back-up vocals, fans of the self-proclaimed Crowmaster have grown to love and appreciate the angst, regret, pain, shame, and sorrow that Kelly has referenced throughout his catalog; all referencing battling his demons and addictions.

Now sober and on the mend, Kelly’s music has transformed and reflects the light he’s found through self-awareness and healing, as well as the support of those around him. He opened the evening with “St. Jupiter,” which paints light to the things we take for granted in the moment but often miss when they’re gone. He kept the momentum going with songs from Dying Star, 2019’s Dirt Emo, Vol. 1 EP, 2020’s Shape and Destroy, and his most recent release, The Weakness. Several of my personal favorites, “Wicked Hands,” “Radio Cloud,” and “Mockingbird” made the set list, as well as covers including “Hurt” (the Johnny Cash version) and “Teenage Dirtbag” by Wheatus.

So what’s next for the King of the Crows? He’ll be on the road through the beginning of June promoting The Weakness, with stops in Chicago, Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Dallas, with the final show taking him back home to Nashville.


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