When Hollywood Nights, a Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band tribute band, performed at the Monongahela Aquatorium last summer, band members were struck by the natural beauty surrounding the outdoor concert venue located on the Monongahela River.
“That place is amazing. It’s incredibly picturesque,” says Chris Uyvari, lead guitarist for Hollywood Nights. “Being that close to the river is really pretty cool. We had a lot of boaters who anchored there, and they were rowdy, boisterous and fun. The whole crowd was great.”
Since it underwent extensive renovation in 2012, the aquatorium has grown into a venue that is sought out by touring musicians.
“We field many requests from bands who want to perform here. We have them emailing, sending applications, contacting us on our Facebook page,” says Terry Sebben, president of Aquatorium Innovations Inc., the nonprofit organization that organizes the “Rockin’ on the Mon” summer concert series, which kicks off its fifth season on June 17 with a performance by Come Together, a Beatles tribute band. “We’re excited about the lineup this year. We like the events we’ve got scheduled. We’re bringing in popular tribute bands from the ’70s and ’80s, which seem to attract the largest crowds for us.”
The aquatorium will host other events, too, including the popular Dock Dogs, a canine aquatics competition, which took place May 19-21, and Witch Festival 2017, which Sebben describes as “one of the most unique events ever.”
“It’s almost magical. It was something cool to behold,” Sebben says.
More and more people are once again discovering the outdoor amphitheater, which fell into disrepair in the 1990s. It was built in 1969 at a cost of approximately $80,000 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the city of Monongahela. Local businesses and members of the community, led by construction company owner Noble J. Dick – for whom the aquatorium was originally named – donated supplies and labor to construct the venue.
The aquatorium became a part of some of the most memorable events in the lives of Mon Valley residents.
Monongahela Mayor Robert Kepics recalls that before the current Ringgold High School was built, commencement exercises were held at the aquatorium, and in 1975, when the high school prom was held on the Gateway Clipper, the boat docked at the venue for promgoers to board.
In 2011, the Washington County Redevelopment Authority deemed the 46-year-old venue unsalvageable. The wooden bleachers were splintered and faded, and the concrete stage was cracked and crumbled after years of being inundated by high water and debris from flooding.
The city of Monongahela decided to invest about $1.8 million to make improvements to the auqatorium to help revitalize downtown Monongahela.
The city also enlisted Aquatorium Innovations Inc. – which has a mission to provide low- or no-cost entertainment to the public – to schedule events.
Concert admission is $10, and food and refreshments are available for purchase at vendor booths.
Aquatorium Innovations is made up of about 20 volunteers who handle all aspects of coordinating events, and another 20 who help out whenever they can.
Sebben points out that Aquatorium Innovations volunteers return to the superstructure every morning following concerts and events to pick up trash. “We couldn’t do anything without the volunteers. They’re awesome and dedicated,” she says.
The aquatorium can seat 3,700, and Sebben says concert-goers often set up chairs on the lawn surrounding the venue. In addition, the stage is situated in a corner of the amphitheater to accommodate the high boater attendance.
Sebben says as many as 130 boats tie onto the stage, dock at the guest docks, or drop anchor in the water during concerts.
“This is a beautiful place. Once dusk hits during the summer, it’s a difference place,” Sebben says. “It cools down, the water is calming, and the boats are tied up. People who attend the concerts regularly are happy they have somewhere to go that’s not Downtown Pittsburgh to see live music.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing the aquatorium is the weather – the concerts are held rain or shine.
Mark Matteo, lead vocalist and guitarist for No Bad JuJu, a classic rhythm and blues and rock band, recalls the time the group, which has appeared at the venue nearly every year since it reopened, played through a downpour. “It just kept coming down. But there was still a small crowd that turned out,” he says. “It’s a very, very nice venue and a very supportive crowd. We’re looking forward to playing there this year.”
Sebben notes the aquatorium is open to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week and is available to the community for rent.
She’s grateful for the corporate sponsors, donations and grants – Washington County Tourism recently provided a $5,000 grant for the concert series – that keep the aquatorium afloat.
“This is an all-volunteer effort that relies on corporate sponsorships and donations to keep us going,” Sebben says. “It takes a very large effort to make this work. We’re proud to provide quality entertainment and to make a positive impact in the Mon Valley.”
For tickets and information about the aquatorium, call 724-258-5905, or visit www.monaquatorium.org.