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Hot nights and cool tunes at a riverside amphitheater in the Mon Valley


Whether you like your music smokin’ hot or mellow and cool, there is no better place to take in a live concert than the Noble J. Dick Aquatorium in Monongahela. That’s right — aqua-torium. As in water. Seating over 3,700 people along the banks of one of the most beautiful segments of the Monongahela River, the venue provides a magical backdrop for a summer’s night out.

Built in 1969 to celebrate the town’s bicentennial, the Aquatorium was one of the first venues of its kind in the country. For years, it was used mainly for Fourth of July celebrations. But then in 2012 a group of local citizens stepped up to expand programming, forming the nonprofit Aquatorium Innovations, Inc.. Led by Claudia Williams, the organization raises funds to maintain, schedule, staff and promote the facility, all with the goal of providing low-cost weekend activities to the public.

Another essential voice in getting the word out about the Aquatorium is the Mon River Coalition. The coalition is made up of 13 towns along the river, including Monongahela, which joined together in 2013 to promote the valley’s many recreational opportunities. Headed up by Cathy McCollom, principal of McCollom Development Strategies, LLC, and Donna Holdorff, executive director of The National Road Heritage Corridor, the coalition’s tagline — “Come Down to the River and Play” — says it all.

Last summer, one event featured Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers offering up a high energy slate of tunes against the tranquil backdrop of pleasure boats bobbing on the river, lit by a slowly setting sun. Vendors lined the pedestrian walkway: An eclectic mix of artisans sold crafts while concession stands offered everything from gyros to ice cream. Claudia Williams was found manning the tap at the beer booth.DSCN1957

Born and raised in nearby New Eagle, Williams clearly loves Monongahela. She has had a business in town — CJ’s Furniture — for over 27 years.

“This place is just one more wonderful thing to enhance a thriving community,” she enthused between pulling icy cold drafts.

Musician Grushecky is another longstanding fan of the Aquatorium — he spent a lot of time in the Mon Valley while attending California University of Pennsylvania (which affectionately refers to as “Harvard on the Mon”).

“I played the Aquatorium way-back-when with my college band,” he recalls. “It is a great venue in a great town, and I am proud to be part of its musical heritage.”

Grushecky will be back again on August 6, 2016; the summer slate is packed with shows ranging from country to classic rock to soul. The Aquatorium will also host Dock Dogs (May 21 – 22), a canine aquatics competition, which promises to be great fun for the whole family. Check out the complete Summer 2016 schedule here.

Among those enjoying the Houserockers last summer were Diane and Bob Anthony from New Eagle. It was definitely not their first time — they attended a number of 2015 shows, including B. E. Taylor and local favorite The Clarks who, according to the Anthonys, “totally packed the place.” The couple noted that people are beginning to show up from outside the area, which they are happy to see.

Williams agrees.

“As word gets out, attendance keeps going up,” she says. “More and more boaters are coming in, and more and more enhancements are being made to the facility” which is progressing toward being fully ADA compliant.

“All you people from the Mon Valley — we’re glad to be back!” called Grushecky from the stage. “Don’t forget where you’re comin’ from!”

WENDY DUCHENE is an attorney with offices in Allegheny and Somerset Counties. She is also an avid user of the many hiking and biking trails in western PA, where she can often be found on her recumbent bike or walking her dog Sander.

This story was created in partnership with the Mon River Valley Coalition |

Region: Southwest

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