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PITTSBURGH CURRENT | JUNE 25, 2019 | 5
The Clairton Coke Works seen from a surrounding hillside (Current photo by Jake Mysliwczyk)
WILL TWO FIRES IN SIX MONTHS AND A LAWSUIT FINALLY FORCE CLAIRTON COKE WORKS TO CLEAN UP ITS ACT?
t 4 a.m. on Dec. 24, a fire ripped through U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works facility. By the time it was finally extinguished five hours later, the mechanical fire had badly damaged the facility’s coke gas processing system, discharging high levels of sulfur dioxide emissions into the air. Several residents in the surrounding communities didn’t see or hear the blast that rocked the Clairton facility. But they could feel it. And in the months since, Clairton residents and those living as far away as Squirrel Hill say they’ve also felt the impact of the pollution the fire dumped into their air. That morning, some people experienced respiratory issues and woke up with headaches. Others had to be hospitalized in the following weeks. The pollution levels spurred by the fire triggered a 22-communitywide air-quality alert. Soon after, the Allegheny County Health Department issued an advisory
BY REBECCA ADDISON - PITTSBURGH CURRENT CONTRIBUTING WRITER REBECCA@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM urging people with pre-existing respiratory and heart conditions, along with children and elderly residents, to limit outdoor activity. In the aftermath, U.S. Steel said they’d spend $40 million to fix the damage caused by the fire and repair the broken gas processing system. Some called for a shutdown while repairs were made, but U.S. Steel declined. “U.S. Steel is employing significant resources around the clock to investigate the incident,” U.S. Steel Plant Manager Michael Rhoads said in a January letter to Allegheny County. “While the investigation is being completed, we have expended substantial resources and costs to employ mitigation efforts to reduce any potential impact from the incident.” Then, last week, just two months after repairs from the first fire had been completed, another blast tore through the Clairton Coke Works facility.
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“They’ve had a second fire in less than six months,” Dave Smith, outreach coordinator for Clean Air Council, said at a June 20 press conference. “They are not addressing the problems.” Smith was one of several protestors who gathered in front of U.S. Steel’s corporate headquarters in Downtown Pittsburgh last week. The group criticized the corporation not only for the recent fires, but also for what they see as a failure to protect Allegheny County residents from the pollution caused by their facility. “We are here to hold them accountable, to call for transparency and to ask for an independent investigation of this plant so the public can know what’s going on because we don’t trust U.S. Steel to do that,” Smith said. “If this industry can’t clean up their mess, someone else needs to... If their employees had been in the plant on Dec. 24 when that huge explosion took place,
there would have been hundreds of people killed. We’re concerned about workers. We’re concerned about citizens.” U.S. Steel has long been criticized for the negative impact its facilities have had on the health of Allegheny County residents and the environment. Activists say the recent fires are indicative of larger problems at the Clairton plant. They say outdated equipment has exacerbated the county’s already poor air quality and they want U.S. Steel to make necessary upgrades to reduce their environmental impact or close the plant down. “We no longer need discussion or a debate,” Clairton resident Melanie Meade said at last week’s press conference. “We already know that their pollution has caused great harm. We already know that there have been lives lost because of this pollution and we know that those currently living within the pollution are being affected.”
Meade has lived in Clairton most of her life. A mother of two and grandmother to two more children, Meade has long been concerned about the pollution emanating from Clairton Coke Works. The recent fires have only intensified those concerns. “Some of the people in the community were getting sick and being hospitalized and didn’t know why,” Meade tells the Pittsburgh Current. “My youngest was experiencing severe allergies during the winter when the first fire took place. It was strange. I didn’t realize why he was sneezing so much and having allergies. I got worried about giving him so much allergy medicine and a lot of times it didn’t seem to lessen the symptoms.” Meade says pollution from the plant has an irreparable impact on the lives of children living in the Clairton community. According to a 2018 report, children at Clairton Elementary School have roughly double the asthma rates of other Pennsylvania children. Meade says the more she learns, the less likely she is to let her kids play outside. “It’s very disturbing because you have to tell children they can’t do what they’re supposed to be doing which is playing outside and being curious,” says Meade, who is currently working on a doctoral degree in naturopathy. “We can’t do the things I would like them to do, like go to the playground. You can’t play outside without being concerned about the environmental harm.” Over the past year, Allegheny County health officials have levied more than $2 million in fines against U.S. Steel for emissions violations, including a $700,000 fine in April for continued pollution from its three Mon Valley factories. However, Meade says the fines are insignificant and fail to address systemic problems at the plant. “These fines are so small compared to their revenue. People are suffering. When I hear sirens now, I get concerned that something major is happening at the plant,” Meade says. “How many of these
Clairton resident Melanie Meade at the Clean Air press conference on June 20th outside the U.S. Steel Building downtown. (Current photo by Jake Mysliwczyk)
accidents are because of fixes that should’ve been made? Why are we trying to put bandaids on 100-yearold equipment? Get rid of it and rebuild something new so that we can breathe and our children can have a better quality of life.” Meade is one of several residents involved in a class action lawsuit alleging negligence by U.S. Steel. The lawsuit, filed in April seeks damages to compensate residents, as well as punitive damages. The funds could go toward preventative measures like residential filter fans to protect homes from pollution. On June 18, a judge approved the Allegheny County Health Department’s request to join the federal lawsuit alongside environmental groups Clean Air Council and PennEnvironment. “Joining this action will ensure the strongest case possible is brought against U.S. Steel,” county
health department officials said in a statement. “After reviewing the initial filing, our legal counsel determined that collaborating with the citizens’ groups would increase the resources available to the department and allow for the best possible outcome of our enforcement action for public health and impacted residents.” In May, U.S. Steel announced it would be making a $1 billion investment in it’s Mon Valley facilities. The corporation claims the investment will allow them to produce sustainable steel, while improving their environmental performance and energy conservation and reducing their “carbon footprint associated with Mon Valley Works.” “U. S. Steel’s investment in leading technology and advanced manufacturing aligns with our vision to be the industry leader in
delivering high-quality, value-added products and innovative solutions that address our customers’ most challenging steel needs for the future,” U.S. Steel President and CEO David Burritt, said in a statement. “We believe that adding sustainable steel technology to our footprint will create long-term value for our employees, our region, our customers and our investors.” However, activists say the newly announced investment will do little to address issues at Clairton Coke Works. “U.S. Steel has pledged that they’re going to invest a billion dollars, but what they didn’t say is most of that money isn’t going to Clairton Coke Works,” says Kelly Yagatich, Southwest PA outreach coordinator for Clean Air Council. “U.S. Steel keeps saying they’re going to decrease emissions and improve
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The emissions from Clairton Coke Works (Current photo by Jake Mysliwczyk)
air quality, but they’re not really investing in the part of the plant that has been the problem.” Yagatich says problems at the plant lie with the operation of its coke batteries. Each battery includes several ovens that bake coal at high temperatures to remove impurities, turning it into coke which is used to make steel. This process generates gas, containing pollutants such as particulate matter, hydrogen sulfide, benzene and toluene. Gas leaks are common at facilities like this, but activists say due to the age of equipment at the Clairton plant, the leaks are more widespread. Activists say this is why Allegheny County ranks so poorly when it comes to air quality. A 2005 National Air Toxics Assessment report listed Clairton as having the 3rd highest rate of cancer risk from air pollutants
in the nation. And a 2011 report ranked Allegheny County in the top 2 percent of risk nationally. “There are people living in the shadow of this facility who have experienced negative impacts because of this. There are a number of people who have had cancer, who have had relatives who have died from cancer and lung diseases,” Yagatich says. “We all share the same air. It’s not like Clairton Coke Works’ emissions stay in Clairton. It’s the largest polluter in the region.” Pollution from Clairton Coke Works doesn’t just impact residents in the nearby community. It impacts residents throughout Allegheny County, including those living in the Squirrel Hill. Among them is Howard Rieger, a Squirrel Hill resident and former president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater
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Pittsburgh. “Our city is so proud to announce that tech companies have moved here. But our city doesn’t say a word about how we’re in the bottom seven percent of counties in the United States of America for air quality,” Rieger said at the June 20 press conference. Rieger has lived in Pittsburgh since 1981, but from 2004 to 2011 he lived in New York City and he says there’s a noticeable difference in the air quality of the two cities. “I’m a daily runner. I never missed a day running in New York City because the air smelled or because I had a breathing issue. In Pittsburgh, I’ve missed too many days to count,” Reiger said. “We know what the problem is...Some of our officials have been holding listening sessions. I say the time for
listening is over, the time for action is now.” Ruth Fauman-Fichman, another Squirrel Hill resident says her health has suffered as a result of pollution from the facility. “The behavior of U.S. Steel Clairton is a stain on Pittsburgh’s moniker as a livable city. I’ve lived here since 1980 and have suffered from countless nights woken up by headaches, sore throat and burning sinuses. I check the air before I go out to exercise or walk to see if I can stand it,” Fauman-Fichman said at the press conference. “Indeed, I awoke in the middle of the night Monday, June 17 with a headache and burning sinuses. Only later did I find out they were caused by another fire in the same location at the Clairton works as the December 24 fire.” Following last week’s fire the ACHD issued an order requiring U.S. Steel to repair Clairton Coke Works processing systems within 20 days. The corporation was required to submit a plan for repairs within 24 hours. If the requirements laid out in the order are not met, Clairton Coke Works faces a potential shutdown. “I implore U.S. Steel to use all due speed to get this fixed as soon as possible and to take immediate steps to put in a back-up system for their operations,” County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said in a statement. “The health of the people of Clairton and surrounding communities, and the U.S. Steel employees, is too important to do otherwise.” But despite the actions of local authorities, many residents worry U.S. Steel won’t clean up its act. Moving forward, they’re calling for an independent review of the facility. “It’s difficult for me to believe that U.S. Steel will stop fowling the air. Both of my children have abandoned Pittsburgh and I believe they are healthier for it,” says FaumanFichman. “To make Pittsburgh livable, U.S. Steel must focus on the pollutants we can not see or smell, or shut down those batteries for good.”
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Scenes from the first round of the Steel City World Cup tournament on Saturday June 22nd (Current photo by Jake Mysliwczyk)
STEEL CITY WORLD CUP BRINGS TOGETHER FOOTBALLERS OF ALL NATIONALITIES
hey come from places like Baghdad, Kigali and the Gaza Strip. They live in Greentree, Duquesne and the North Hills. They are Pittsburghers now. Led by team captain Karwan Jabbar, this is team Iraq, one of the 24 teams to participate in the Steel City World Cup soccer tournament, the first two rounds of which took place on June 22 and 23. Jabbar was late to the gathering and most of his team waited around
BY JODY DIPERNA - PITTSBURGH CURRENT CONTRIBUTING WRITER JODY@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM for him to roll in. He got there with his young boys as the Italy-Turkey match finished up, just minutes before Iraq’s first match of the day against Team Bhutan. This is the third year that PUMP [Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project] has run this event. The Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC generously donated use of their practice facility, the Montour Junction Sports Complex in Coraopolis, for the first two rounds of play and the championship game
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will be played at their home field, Highmark Stadium on the South Side. This tournament is sevens. The teams are co-ed and, in fact, each team is required to have two female players on the field during play, explained Jave Brown, special projects coordinator with PUMP. The idea is to build community and bring people together through their love of soccer. Watching teams as disparate as Germany, Mexico
and Congo, Bosnia and India warm up around us, Brian Magee, the CEO of Pump said, “I don’t think you can find another event like this.” This year, there are two teams each representing the USA and Peru, plus teams representing 20 other countries. In order to register, a team must have at least three players who are from that country, or who have one parent from that country. Wandering past the fields earlier, I heard Spanish and Turkish, Italian
and Swahili, and what I thought was Yoruba, but I’m not certain. Players shifted seamlessly between those languages and English. “We wanted to make sure that teams had representation from the country. Most teams are about half,” Magee said. “But we also wanted to encourage teams to be built to bring people together. We had a list of people who wanted to play, but weren’t on a team already. Team Nigeria had a few players drop out, so we could put those players in there. They don’t even know each other. They’re going to come here today and all play under the Nigerian flag. That’s how we designed it.” Mateo Villa, who plays for team Canada, chimed in, “There are five or six people on my team I’ve never met. That should be interesting. We’re going to play some teams who play together all the time, so we might get smoked.” Iraq is one of those teams that plays together regularly and there is an ease within the group. They won their opener with the first goal of the day coming off the right foot of Jabbar. Despite the win, his teammate Ahmet Arafat felt they left too many opportunities out there, but was confident in their ability to make it through group play. Arafat lives in Churchill, but grew up in Gaza, the self-governing Palestinian territory that borders Israel. He says that he is “one hundred percent Iraqi, one hundred fifty percent Palestinian.” But there is room in his heart for all of the places he loves. “All of us are from different countries, but what brings us together, we’re all Americans.” Becky Schoenecker, one of the American-born women who plays with Iraq, said she’s only learned a few words of Arabic, but is anxious to learn more. As with anything, the language she’s picking up is specific to soccer. The first word she learned was ‘huda,’ or ‘shoot.’ During their matches, I heard netminder Marven Khalid, who has driven in from Blairsville to play with his team, shouting instructions and encouragement in both English and
Scenes from the first round of the Steel City World Cup tournament on Saturday June 22nd (Current photo by Jake Mysliwczyk)
Arabic. Each team played three 45-minute matches on the first day. To get in all the group play in one day, four matches took place simultaneously on the newly laid turf fields. The knockout rounds happened the following day to set up the championship game. Iraq advanced before losing to one of the Peruvian teams during the knockouts. Jabbar was disappointed but already looking forward to next year. Plus, he will see his international teammates later this week for more rec league play. “Growing up in Iraq, we played soccer all the time, everywhere, in the street. Just everywhere,” he said. “I still play all the time -- too much probably.” The final between Team USA and Team Poland will take place on Saturday, June 29 at Highmark Field, following the Riverhounds game against the Birmingham Legion.
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A screen capture from Taylor Swift’s music video “You Need to Calm Down.”
NOT SO SWIFT
BY JESS SEMLER - PITTSBURGH CURRENT COLUMNIST INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
t’s been 50 years since LGBTQ folks rioted during a police raid at the Stonewall Inn. The raids were routine, but people had had enough and their rebellion was a bell for the movement that couldn’t be unrung. Fifty years later, June is Pride Month and rainbows are everywhere. Companies have been courting that rainbow dollar for years and last week Taylor Swift performed in front of Stonewall to promote her new single, “You Need to Calm Down,” an LGBTQ anthem, question mark? We’re in not the worst spot when queer culture is profitable and not vilifiied by the most famous pop star on the planet; until very recently, companies didn’t want anything to do with the queers. Now, we’re a marketable demographic. We’ve made it, baby! Well, not really. Ironically, I’ve seen variations of the phrase “You Need to Calm Down” a lot this week, not because I’ve been listening to T-Swift, but seeing folks tell LGBTQ people who raised questions about Taylor’s genuineness and approach with her new-found activism. The fact
that this is a conversation is OK. We need to be able to think critically about folks who make money by championing the causes of others. This is especially relevant in 2019 in Pittsburgh. The Daily Show with Trevor Noah chose the Steel City to do a quick piece about corporations capitalizing on Pride. We heard from Pittsburgh’s own Ciora Thomas and Duane Binion. When asked if we should be happy that companies are rainbow flexing because we’re a marketable demographic, Binion said “no… it would be beautiful if those actions were genuine.” But it isn’t and shouldn’t be the bare minimum to sell rainbow and queer merch. For example, a few years ago you could buy “hers and hers” or “his and his” pillow sets, at Urban Outfitters. Cool. Cool. Richard Haynem their CEO, has given more than $14,000 to Rick “Santorum“ Santorum. AT&T claims to be LGBTfriendly and has engaged in coming out campaigns, but they donated nearly $2.8 million to 193 anti-gay politicians from 2017 to 2018. The Stonewall Riots didn’t happen so that white, straight (or, at least, straight-presenting)
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millionaires could release queerbait during the month of June. T-Swift and her team chose April 26th, National Lesbian Visibility to make a “major announcement.” In weeks leading up to this many a gay Easter egg was dropped; changing pronouns in songs to “her,” the rainbow color motif, and more. When the day came she didn’t announce that she was coming out, but a new single sure was! I’m one of the queer folks who thought this clearly intentional bait-and-switch move was not cool. Writer Ellen Cushing quipped about this: “...the pureness of heart to think Taylor’s orientation is anything other than ‘capitalism.’ How many focus groups did her team have to go through to feel that it was safe and profitable for her to release this?” Taylor using gay iconography in 2019 to make money is suspect in part because she built her career with songs that perpetuate sexist gender roles. From a piece I wrote about Tay Tay in 2011: “When I think of Taylor Swift, I think of horses, unicorns, big, poofy prom dresses, and, you know, probably chastity and purity rings.” It’s disjointed
that she’s sought the approval of a conservative audience for years. Her last album, Reputation was adored by the alt-right and Breitbart News. Swift threatened to sue a blogger who wrote a piece questioning why Taylor wasn’t vocal about folks making her a poster child of the altright. Is the bar so low that we can’t expect people to literally denounce fucking Nazis? As a rule folks shouldn’t center themselves when being an ally for marginalized communities. But, she’s already centered by virtue of who she is… isn’t this an example of a person with privilege using the tools in her toolbox for good? She tried, but impact over intent. The song conflates people trolling Taylor on Twitter with LGBTQ experiences and homophobia. Folks commenting snake emojis online is not the same as the vitriol and danger queer folks face just by exisiting. The statistics are daunting. Ten percent of teens are LGBTQ but make up 40% of homeless teens. This isn’t by accident; we have people in power who are actively trying to erase queer people from existence. While the lyrics conflate shade on Twitter to LGBTQ discrimination, the antagonists of the song and video are caricatures of poor, bigoted rednecks. The video should have featured white folks in pressed suits rather than folks missing teeth and wearing flannel with signs like “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” The people actively working to disenfranchise the LGBTQ community are CEOs, judges, politicians. Punching down to folks that resemble Taylor’s initial country fan base is cheap and inaccurate. The “You Need to Calm Down,’ video is full of kickass queer activists, but as my fellow queer friend, Grace, said when we watched it, “She’s not hyping up queer people, they’re literally her back up dancers.” Allyship means lifting up those most affected and elevating their voices, not putting yourself in the middle and using queer folk as adornments and props.
SAY IT AIN’T SO JOE
“He’s too late!” In his campaign announcement he touted his many strengths, including his 31 years in the Navy, and said “What Americans most want today is someone who is accountable to them, above self, above party, above any special interest...I want to be that President who serves the American people the way they deserve to be served.” Now, I’ve had the opportunity to get to know Joe Sestak and while I think he truly believes his country needs him and the leadership he can offer, I don’t honestly believe that he will gain any traction amongst his 24 other competitors in a nationwide race. What I do think he will accomplish, and what his fellow candidates will see, is a man who has a lifetime of service to our nation, understands politics and policy, and may be getting his name on the top of the list for a cabinet position for whomever takes over the oval office in 2021. Now, the United States will certainly need a new Secretary of Defense or Secretary of State, and I could see Joe making a play for either of those roles. What better opportunity for those who will have to make that appointment than to be reminded of who and what Joe has
done. Joe is no lightweight and was out there upholding and voting for progressive ideals before the Democratic party even began to use the term. Because of that, he gained significant support nationwide because of that leadership. He is also known to have challenged the Democratic Party (time and again) when it was necessary and even as a Naval Admiral, he stood up for his values while in uniform; these are the things that set him apart from the crowd. Needless to say, it will be interesting to see how this all shakes out. I know that I am personally looking forward to hearing from the 2020 candidates that have met the DNC fundraising requirements and are allowed to participate in the debates this week (Wednesday and Thursday night in Miami, when 10 candidates take the stage each night). While I know we all won’t agree on who to support this primary, it could be fun to start making Cabinet level selections from the pool ... who wants to play that game with me?
BY ARYANNA BERRINGER - PITTSBURGH CURRENT POLITICAL COLUMNIST ARYANNA@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
hen Admiral Joe Sestak entered the 2020 Democratic Presidential Primary Sunday, he became the 25th candidate in the race (though there could be more, who really knows at this point). Many of them are now racing all over the country to position themselves to become the Democratic Party nominee for President. Many of you may remember Joe from his last campaign in which he walked across the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to run for U.S. Senate back in 2016. He also had successful runs for Congress in 2006 and 2008 in his
home district outside Philadelphia. In 2010, he ran against the now lateSen. Arlen Specter in the Democratic Primary for Specter’s seat. To the surprise of most everyone, Sestak beat Specter before losing a close race to Pat Toomey that November. His unexpected campaign announcement shook my social media newsfeed and there seemed to be a common refrain from all of the different factions in the Democratic party: “Say it ain’t so, Joe”. “There are already too many people in the race.” “How is he any different than the other old white guys running?”
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IGNORED AND ERASED
BY SUE KERR - PITTSBURGH CURRENT COLUMNIST INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
hen I was notified in early May that my lesbian blog had won a national award from GLAAD, I anticipated local media interest in the story. After all, this was a few weeks before Pride Month, the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, and the first Pittsburgh media outlet to win this national award in its 30year history. Pittsburgh alum Billy Porter also won this year as part of the ensemble for “POSE.” And Michael Fuoco of the Post-Gazette has been nominated twice while photojournalist Michael Henninger was nominated once. But that’s it. No awards for the PG, the Trib, the alt-weeklies, or any of the television or media stations. Colleagues working in local media markets told me that the story was ignored because newsroom’s resources are limited, staff are overextended (and underpaid) and that more than a few local journalists back away from LGBTQ stories
because of the complicated nuances of our language. I do not dispute these facts, but I think it is important to put another phrase in play—queer erasure (alternatively LGBT erasure or gay erasure, but I prefer queer.) Queer erasure is when queer people are erased from the cultural narrative. Examples include casting queer stories and television shows with cisgender, heterosexual actors. Another example is not including the experiences of bisexual folks in conversations around LGBTQ topics. Queer erasure is sending a reporter out to cover a pickle chip eating contest but not alloting a single resource to cover a local lesbian blog winning a prestigious national award for the first time in the 30 year history of said awards. Staff being afraid to tackle LGBTQ stories because of the confusion over terminology is just ridiculous. There’s no reason not to know the language and best practices. Yes,
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language can be fluid but that is not a good reason to avoid a story, especially when the target community has provided multiple resources to address that specific issue. Links to the media guides are always available on my blog. Ironically, GLAAD is the media watchdog for the LGBTQ community so failing to report when they say “this award winner got it right, folx” seems counterintuitive if you are hyper-focused on language. Tight resources do not lift the ethical responsibility to focus on the news itself. Queer folx are in the top target communities for this administration. We represent about 4.5% of the population, but make up a large portion of the policies being rolled back. I’d argue that’s more of a reason to be attuned to queer visibility in every section of the media and strive for fairness and accuracy. For example, in May, the PostGazette erased us LGBTQ folx from
a story in the caption of the new art installation in Shadyside. This art installation is a tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. This isn’t the long arm of the Block family editing photo captions. Or is it? The only real solution to queer erasure is to have an LGBTQ beat and an experienced, informed journalist in that role. I’d add the required use of a style guide and an examination of why there are a few dozen LGBTQ folks who aren’t “out out” at work in the local newsrooms. There is a local chapter of the national LGBTQ media association with over 40 members. They don’t all work on LGBTQ beats. Erasure in their workplace cultures is one reason you do not know most of their names. I do want to acknowledge the first outlet to assign resources to this story - the Northside Chronicle followed by Queer Pgh and then the Pittsburgh Current. The former ETRT curation newsletter picked up the story as did The Incline via their e-newsletter. The very first outlets to cover the story were local blogs 2 Political Junkies and Melissa Firman. Positive queer stories that underscore our accomplishments, as well as our voices, are far and few between. Refusing to acknowledge that a local queer blog won a national award from a highly respected media institution is just nonsensical for media outlets. I didn’t expect to be invited to “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and awarded a new car, but I would hope programs such as Pittsburgh Today Live or the Lynn Hayes-Freeland radio show or the Lynn Cullen podcast would see the value in this conversation. They don’t owe me anything but don’t they owe you that much? The conversation has now shifted away from the award to the erasure. I’m working with GLAAD and other sources to organize local training for the media and the community. I hope it is not another 30 years until Pittsburgh’s media accomplishments on LGBTQ stories are recognized.
LOVE PGH MUSIC MONTH
Ryan Hoffman and the Pioneers. (Current photo by Jake Mysliwczyk)
LOVE PGH MUSIC MONTH INITIATIVE WILL SHOWCASE PITTSBURGH’S LOCAL SCENE
BY ANNABELLE HANFLIG - PITTSBURGH CURRENT INTERN INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
ere’s a question. Would you rather see a past-theirprime arena rock band from the nosebleeds of Heinz Field for a couple of hundred dollars, or be front row at an up-and-coming rapper’s gig for five bucks? If you find yourself imagining which one of your friends you’d want to catch the second option with, the folks behind Love PGH Music may have some ideas. The new non-profit initiative aims to connect the power players of Pittsburgh’s music scene and cultivate local but loyal fanbases for the city’s many performers. Through a new website and network of local industry professionals, Love PGH Music will highlight and connect artists across all genres as they take the stage at festivals, venues and house shows in the Pittsburgh region. The project is an offshoot of next month’s inaugural Love PGH Music Month, but both come one year after the release of the Pittsburgh Music Ecosystem Study. Conducted over a period of 10 months, the study set out to
complete an audit of Pittsburgh’s music scene and pinpoint areas where improvement was needed most. The results suggested a “complex and interconnected system of creative and business professionals” whose ultimate goals were stifled by “economic struggle and frustration,” according to the executive summary of the survey. Former WYEP General Manager and Love PGH Music Month Board Member Abby Goldstein was heavily involved in coordinating the survey. She noticed that while the world had no trouble looking to Pittsburgh to be on the cutting edge of tech and culture, they often turned a blind eye when it came to the city’s music scene. “We started looking at the systemic issues around why the Pittsburgh music ecosystem doesn’t have the same level of civic pride and support as some of the other amenities that the city is known for, and what would it take to change that,” she said. Ultimately, Love PGH Music is the product of Pittsburgh creatives deciding that their music scene
deserved more credit that it was getting. The venture started with a collaboration between Goldstein and Pittsburgh Current Associate Publisher Bethany Ruhe to actualize some of the survey’s recommendations. One idea was planning a citywide music awards event. Wanting to avoid pitting local artists against one another, the two settled on a month of highlighting festivals and gigs in celebration of Pittsburgh music. This was the genesis of Love PGH Music Month, and of Love PGH Music. “I see a group of young artists that have been working really hard, making their own connections and really trying to see how hard they can push their careers,” said Love PGH Music Board Member and BOOM Concepts Co-founder Thomas Agnew. “I think Love PGH Music was definitely built off of trying to help artists and venues get seen and heard.” Festival directors, publicists and musicians alike jumped at the chance to collaborate on a project that could put the city’s music scene
on the map. They’ve always known that Pittsburgh wasn’t short on talent, yet still saw the struggle to be recognized for it. “I think that Pittsburgh has never taken up a music scene as a point of pride,” Ruhe said. “From my perspective, I feel like people are just not aware enough of how great [the scene] is.” Here’s another question. What comes to mind for out-oftowners planning a trip to the steel city? Pirates? Pierogies? Peduto? Deutschtown Music Festival Director and Love PGH Music Board Member Cody Walters would rather they try punk in a Pittsburgh basement. “When people travel to New Orleans, whether it’s Jazz Fest or whether it’s Mardi Gras, they expect a party and live music,” he said. “I would like to put that expectation into the mind of the tourist when they show up [in Pittsburgh].” While one goal of Love PGH Music is to draw new crowds to the local scene, Walters believes that there’s already room for growth from within. He hopes to see people put their money into their own neighborhoods by supporting the musicians that inhabit them. “Creating a culture where people actually pay for music is something a number of people are trying to do,” he said. At the end of the day, what Love PGH Music aims to do is change the way Pittsburghers think about music in their city. The project is forging a new music ecosystem, one where artists don’t have to work a slew of part-time jobs to stay afloat or leave the city for better opportunities elsewhere. If Love PGH Music takes off the way its founders hope, local artists will have bigger shows, bigger audiences and bigger aspirations for themselves and their peers, said Goldstein. “The idea here is that we’re creating a big megaphone that we want to use to shout to audiences, ‘This is your chance to fall in love with a local band.’”
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Wiz Khalifa. (Current photo by Jake Mysliwczyk)
A SOMEWHAT ALPHABETICAL LIST OF FOLKS WHO ARE, HAVE HAD, OR WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN PITTSBURGH’S MUSIC SCENE BY CHARLIE DEITCH AND MARGARET WELSH - PITTSBURGH CURRENT STAFF CHARLIE@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
The whole idea behind Love PGH Music month is to shine a light on the incredible talent taking stages across the city night after night. While it’s possible to an exhaustive list of local musicians past present and future, we wanted to highlight a few, 26 to be exact, who have either had a hand in shaping the scene or, more importantly, will keep it moving into the Future. 16 | JUNE 25, 2019 | PITTSBURGH CURRENT
Neo-soul artist Clara Kent is one of Pittsburgh’s most exciting voices. Raised in Wilkinsburg surrounded by art and music, she has a subtle, heady, sophisticated approach to writing and performance that brings to mind Sade and Erykah Badu. Check out Kent’s exquisite debut record, Aura, which she released last year via Tribe Eternal Music Group.
Despite frequent listens to this brass quintet, I’m still not sure I could verbalize what their stated genre, Future.Brass.Thunder.Funk, actually is. If you were to ask me, I’d only be able to reply, “Beauty Slap.” The band is the genre is the band. Catch them next month at Brilobox on July 12 and at Picklesburgh July 26.
Yes, I’m a journalist, but I’ll freely admit that I am a fan of Brittney Chantele. So far, 2019 has been her year. She released her new record, the pop-centric A Fire on Venus, a celebration of Queer Love. Earlier this month, she completely owned the stage and the audeince who cme out to see her on the main stage of the Three Rivers Arts Festival. Her nearly hour-long set was complete with a full band and backup dancers. Catch her now, because she’s just about ready to blow up.
When this groundbreaking doom-influenced death metal was was co-founded in 1988 by Sharon Bascovsky, it was first of its genre to feature an all-female lineup. In 2012, the band released its debut fulllength. The band is still very active and features Robin Mazen on bass, Mike Laughlin on drums and Pittsburgh legend “Metal” Mary Bielich on guitar.
A steadily rising part of Pittsburgh’s underground scene, catchy postpunk band Empty Beings is set to release its debut LP, Dead and Pathetic, later this summer. The band
is fronted by the endlessly charasmatic Shani Banjeree and features some of the hardest working punks in Pittsburgh Music, including Nick Leombruno, Adam Thomas and Dave Rosenstraus.
Yes, Anne Feeney is a well respected folk musician, singer, songwriter and guitarist. But she’s always felt like more than that. She’s an activist, a provacateur, a voice for the worker, a voice for the voiceless. She was arrested at the 1972 Republican National Convention protesting RIchard Nixon. Ane Feeney is an accomplished musician, but more than that, she’s an accomplished human being.
Despite a name that instantly reminds me of an awesome Rockabilly band, this quartet is pure riot grrrl/ pop. Made up of seasoned musicians, Becki Gallagher of Lo Fi Delphi, Jenn Janon-Fisher of The Park Plan, Mara Jacob of Action Camp and Steve Gardner of Rebreather. Last fall, they released their new EP,
Dirty Hair and played Three Rivers Arts Fest in recent weeks.
Few people know the Pittsburgh music scene better -- or care about it more -- than Hugh Twyman. A prolific and talented photographer, interviewer, blogger, event organizer and general music lover, Twyman serves as the band curator for the Deutschtown Music Festival, and hosts a monthly TV show featuring performances by local artists. Bookmark www.hughshows.com and you’ll never be at a loss for new music.
Although he was born and raised in Lawrence County, Donnie Iris is all Pittsburgh. It’s hard not to picture him as the quintessential Steel City rocker. Formed The Jaggerz in 1964 and scored nationally in 1970 with “The Rapper.” He then played with Wild Cherry before forming the iconic Donie Iris and the Cruisers.
At the age of 88, this jazz pianist,
bandleader and Pittsburgh native is still touring the world playing his music. He’’s a member of the American Jazz Hall of Fame, named a “Living Legend” by the Kennedy Center for the performing Arts, received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, played on several dozen records and, to top it off, has been named as one of Miles Davis’ influences.
Frontman Jimmy Beaumont was a major part of the city’s music scene for decades. This perfect Pittsburgh Doo-Wop group recorded one of the greatest songs of that era, Since I Don’t Have You. It topped out at number 12 on the Billboard Charts in 1959. Their ability to take local music beyond the Three Rivers.
More than a decade ago, Jimmy Rose and Dusty Hanna threw a birthday party that would eventually grow into one of the city’s best known music festivals. If you doubt the power or quality of Pittsburgh’s punk scene, just talk to any of the studded
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Earth Opens Wide using an all-star collective of local musicians. He’s one to watch alone or with the Big Bend.
He’s the man most recognized for putting the Pittsburgh hip-hop scene on the map and on display for the rest of the country. From his first mixtape, Prince of the City, Welcome to Pistolvania, Wiz has been on a trajectory to the top. But the best part of Wiz making it, is the help he gave other Pittsburgh artists inluding Hardo, Mac Miller, Choo Jackson, Jimmy Wopo and more.
Funky Fly Project
vest-wearing out-of-towners who, by the end of Skull Fest, are ready to relocate. This year’s fest happens August 15-18 and features headliners Poison Idea, Dropdead, Rubella Ballet and more.
My Favorite Color:
This Penn Hills product is preparing to drop his new record later this year. In a May Vice article about Pittsburgh’s rap scene in the wake of the deaths of Jimmy WOPO and Mac Miller last year, the writer says of MFC: “His music is powerful. Each bar drips with the confusion and existential dread of a man who feels out of place in his world.”
If you only know Joe Negri as the handyman on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, he’s probably OK with that. But we’re not and you shouldn’t be either. Negri Is an accomplished jazz guitarist and composer and also spent his life as an educator teaching local musicians of the future.
Dance nights come and go, but Pandemic is an institution and a priceless musical resource. For 13 years, the monthly dance party has opened ears to music from around the globe, fusing traditional folk with contemporary dance. Pandemic is also the force behind Pittonkatonk,
one of the city’s most beloved annual musical events, as well as various live music performances throughout the year.
Sad Girls AQuatics Club:
This indie-pop duo of Chelsea Rumbaugh & Marie Mashyna have received a fair amount of attention locally after releasing their debut EP, Vodkawine in November. The positive press has been well-earned thanks to their five-song debut. If you haven’t heard them yet, start with “Oh Billy,” and its earwormy chorus and you’ll be hooked.
There’s no one reading this who has never heard this band’s music. You may have not even known you were listening to Rusted Root when you heard it. Their worldbeat anthem, “Send Me on My Way,” has appeared in countless commercials and TV shows and movies. The band was founded in 1990 by Michael Glabicki, Patrick Norman and Liz Berlin
GirlS Rock Pittsburgh:
Most rock camps focus on performance, but -- while learning to play in a band is certainly a part of Girls Rock -- it’s really all about confidence. At the week-long camp, young girls are mentored by woman
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and non-binary musicians, make their own merch, participate in workshops, and at the end, perform an original song for an enthusiastic audience of their friends and family.
Terry and the Cops:
This wild rock outfit is a prime example of old being made new. It’s basically the same lineup as the long running, now (usually) inactive band the Dirty Faces, but frontman Terry Carroll needed a fresh start, and here swaps his historically darker tendencies for something a little more fun and experimental. Carrying on the legacy of Pittsburgh label/collective Rickety Records, Terry and the Cops is proof that it’s possible to grow up and stay weird.
Joe GrUshecky and the Houserockers:
On the last day of the recent Three Rivers Arts Festival, Joe and the boys, which now includes his son, he’s been doing this so long, played to a full lawn of folks who showed up o watch him do what he’s been doing since 1976.
Most people recognize this singer/ songwriter as the frontman for The Big Bend, a folk-rock group. But his solo work is some of the best folk music being produced in the city. Last year he released Where the
To call Jasiri X just a hip-hop artist is doing his talent and his life’s work a disservice. One of the founders of 1Hood Media, he has not only written and released transformative lyrics, he has transformed the lives of many young people through art and media. And that’s in addition to his tireless work, along with Celeste Smith and others at 1Hood, as a social justiceactivist. In fact through his lyrics, teachings and work in social justice it’s more fitting to calll him a proactivist. Unquestionably one of the most important voices in our city.
FunkY Fly Project:
A Few words come to mind when you hear the music produced by these young jazz/funk musicians, none older than 19: virtuoso, prodigy and genius are a good start. The quartet is made up Winston Bell, Brandon Terry, Eric Dowdell Jr. and Henry Schultz. Their sound is astounding. The fact that their already doing it at their age is otherworldly.
While he is mostly known as the frontman for garage-rockers, Nox Boys, Keim also deserves to be recognized for his solo work as a folk musician. In 2017, he released First Step on Get Hip Records. It showed his range and talent as an artist and makes us al wonder what he has in store for the future.
Mark Zubrovich. Photo by: Katie Krulock
ARTIST MARK ZUBROVICH FINDS INSPIRATION IN DOGS AND PITTSBURGH’S SPORTS-OBSESSED CULTURE
t hasn’t been all fuzzy puppies and sporty doggos for Bunker Project’s most recent artist-inresidence, Mark Zubrovich. While working in an open studio in Queens, a woman saw his work and approached the artist about it. “She walked in and, not even knowing I was the artist, started yelling at me about how this art was gross, about how I should think about the church, you know, going on this whole rant to me. And then the only thing I could think of to say in the moment was, ‘Don’t worry, it’s only up for one day.’ And she said, ‘good’ and stormed out.” Despite feeling vulnerable and jarred in the moment, the memory now inspires him. “That kind of reaction just makes
BY AMANDA REED - PITTSBURGH CURRENT STAFF WRITER AMANDA@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM me want to make more art about it,” he says. Zubrovich’s work centers around a fantastical world of anthropomorphic, homoerotic baseball-obsessed dog people. His show, “Mutts and Goodboys,” runs through the end of June at Bunker Projects in Bloomfield. Zubrovich explores how these pup-people might show their sports pride through soft sculpture, embroidery and painting. According to Zubrovich, he grew up in a “both very creative and very strictly religious” house. “I kind of got this odd mix of, ‘art is important but make art that’s safe,’” he says. His work focused on religion while in college at SUNY Purchase.
According to Zubrovich, a gift from a friend helped lead the way to his current practice. “A friend of mine gave me a big box of 3000 baseball cards and said, ‘You can probably do something with this,’” he says. So, he began painting animals onto baseball cards, painting animal heads and paws onto human baseball players. Eventually, the dogs stuck. “We, as humans, think we understand dogs. We’ve evolved next to dogs and they’ve evolved next to us. We can read their emotions. They have eyebrows! So we tend to put a lot of human emotion into canine affectation, even though we’ll never really know what’s going on in a dog’s brain,” he says.
Soon, he decided to create his own sporty, dog-filled alternate universe. “At some point I needed to have this world become more my own and less influenced by the real life histories or names or dates or locations that are involved in the mythology of baseball,” he says. According to Zubrovich, dogs were also an interesting way to comment on gender. “Dogs are not necessarily sexually dimorphic to the human eye, but we almost always present them as male and masculine in pop culture. If you want a female dog in your cartoon, you gotta put a bow and eyelashes on her!” he says. This combination of gender, sexuality, sports culture and dogs
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“Mutts and Goodboys” by Mark Zubrovich
allows for multiple entry points to the show, he says, offering different viewpoints from a wide net of audience members. “The ability to bring different perspectives in is something that has been really fruitful and kind of surprising for me,” he says. But, according to Zubrovich, living in Pittsburgh—a place with a specific sports culture where even the bus seats are black and yellow— inspired him to focus more on the dog fans instead of the dog players when creating the show. “It’s caused a pretty radical shift in the way I am positioning myself as the artist and the viewer and as somebody who is coming to relate to this world,” he says. “That entire unified world was so inspiring and it made me kind of step outside of the world that I was exploring, and it made me approach it from a more personal perspective.” For his artist residency at Bunker Projects, Zubrovich wanted to push himself out of his comfort zone. His show incorporates painting, soft sculptures of baseball bats and balls and embroidered patches featuring scenes between his dog-people. “It ended up being that when I sat down in front of it [the sewing machine], I realized that the mark of a sewing machine is just a line. And I’ve been missing that in my work, that kind of closeness and the slowness because the paintings have been relatively quickly especially because I’m working with an airbrush,” he says.
According to Zubrovich, these patches bridge reality with the imagined. “I think of the patches not only functioning as compositions, as paintings, as images that we can understand as supplementary or contributing to this world, but I also think of them as things that exist in this world and now exist in ours,” he says. After his residency at Bunker Projects, Zubrovich is headed back to New York City for a bit, and then to Vancouver for another artist residency, where he’ll continue to build on incorporating different mediums into his practice. “That’s been kind of an inspiration for me, to kind of push this material diversity a lot more,” he says. Zubrovich’s work is as small as a playing card and takes up entire walls. According to him, this variety immerses people in the world he’s created. “I love that push and pull of getting somebody to get really close to it, but then feel the need to step really far back, but then they want to get close again,” he says. “I think that’s something that all painters want.”
You are where you eat. The Sustainable Pittsburgh Restaurant designation gives you the power to make dining decisions that align with your personal values. There are over 150 designated restaurants in our region that care about the growth and health of our region. With a range of price points, a variety of cuisines, and all types of dining experiences, Sustainable Pittsburgh Restaurants make it easy for you to eat sustainably.
Look for this symbol. Find out what it means at EatSustainably.org.
MARK ZUBROVICH, “MUTTS AND GOODBOYS.”Sundays 12-4 p.m. or by appointment. Through June. 5106 Penn Ave., Bloomfield. www.bunkerprojects.org
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A Program of Sustainable Pittsburgh
Sustainable Pittsburgh Restaurants pictured: Bado’s Pizza Grill & Ale House; Della Terra Italian Bistro; Dinette; fl.2; Franktuary; Millie’s Homemade Ice Cream; Spirits & Tales; Sugar and Smoke; and Yuzu Kitchen. Additional photography credits: Adam Milliron, Laura Petrilla, and Nathan Shaulis.
18 | OCT. 23, 2018 | PITTSBURGH CURRENT
by Andrew Schubert
Phineus: Teen Wizard
By Barry Linck Â© Barry Linck phinmagic.net PITTSBURGH CURRENT | OCT. 23, 2018 | 19
Best in Show By Phil Juliano
Sucks to Be an Animal
By Sienna Cittadino
CARTOONISTS CARTOONISTS WANTED WANTED pittsburgh current is looking for local artists who would like to have their comics featured on our twice-monthly funny pages.
email: firstname.lastname@example.org 20 | OCT. 23, 2018 | PITTSBURGH CURRENT
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NEIGHBORHOOD OPERA PITTSBURGH FESTIVAL OPERA REVIVING WORKS BY FRED ROGERS TO OPEN ITS 42ND SEASON
BY EMERSON ANDREWS - PITTSBURGH CURRENT INTERN INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
or many in Pittsburgh, watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was a staple of childhood. Whether your favorite part was the Land of Make-Believe, learning how crayons were made in a factory or feeding the fish, the show had something for everyone. Yet nothing was as spectacular as the one-act operas Fred Rogers wrote himself, which were then performed by most of the same cast that was there episode after episode. The Pittsburgh Festival Opera is hoping to recapture some of that spectacle in its upcoming 2019
summer season. The company is opening its 42nd season on July 13 with re-staged performances of two of Rogers’ operas; the first performances of them since their original PBS broadcasts in 1980 and 1982. Rogers wrote thirteen operas for his program in total, from which Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s Artistic Director Jonathan Eaton was permitted to choose after approaching the Fred Rogers Foundation with the idea. Windstorm in Bubbleland and Spoon Mountain are the two operas the
company is reviving, which Director Tomé Cousin believes is because of each of the opera’s’ “inner messages of unity, love, acceptance, forgiveness and happiness.” Cousin has a unique connection to Rogers himself. He originally played the character Ragdoll Tomé on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, a toy of Prince Tuesday’s that came to life through the power of imagination. “I was drawn to the project by a wonderful opportunity to work with Fred’s creative spirit again and play with this material again,” said Cousin. “My time on the program I still count as magical, so any chance to revisit and reconnect with old friends is a dream.” He brings that experience of the show with him to rehearsals every day, sometimes unintentionally. “Just yesterday in the rehearsals I’ve had a small problem addressing one character in Spoon Mountain by his correct name of Prince Extraordinary,” Cousin said. “When I was on the program I was the created playmate of the puppet Prince Tuesday. That name is burned in my brain, and I just call out Prince Tuesday instead of Prince Extraordinary.” More importantly, Cousin wants his actors to live in the world Rogers created. “That is what I’ve been aiming for in each rehearsal the more and more we work...to make the stage feel like the full Land of Make-Believe so the singers can be inside of that free space,” he said. Cousin has had to navigate some challenges that come with translating a production written
and filmed for television into a live performance. “With television, the audience’s frame is directed by the camera,” he said. “With stage work, the director, blocking, stage dimensions, choreography, props, musical timing and media—by Joe Seamans—all have to be blended together.” As a professional artist for 50 years, Cousin has had plenty of experience in making sure all of those moving parts flow smoothly. In the case of a Rogers opera, that includes puppets. The Pittsburgh Festival Opera had new puppets for the shows created by costume designer Anthony Sirk. The company wanted to keep the puppets rather than have actors perform traditionally, partly for the unique opportunity and partly due to the importance of puppets to Rogers. “Fred created many puppets, and most, if not all, were very subtly based on real people, favorite personalities in his life,” said Cousin. “They were not ‘just puppets’ to him. They were real fleshed-out personalities.” He says today the operas may reach a different audience than the children they were intended for when first broadcast. “Those past children are now adults, and they have children. They want their kids to experience the same values and also be reminded themselves.” “They were loved for the messages of love, acceptance, friendship, forgiveness, adventure, silliness and pretend,” he added. “In 2019 and beyond all those are still present and needed but I believe magnified by one-hundred!” Cousin has nothing but words of praise for his fellow collaborators on this project. “Our wonderful conductor Robert Frankenberry had the huge task of fully fleshing out Fred’s musical material and making it timeless. The cast has brought such high level skills to the material and just dove in fully,” Cousin said. “Fred would be so honored, touched and, knowing him, humbled.”
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GAY IN APPALACHIA NEW FICTION/POETRY COLLECTION EXAMINES COUNTRY LIFE FOR LGBTQ FOLX BY JODY DIPERNA - PITTSBURGH CURRENT CONTRIBUTING WRITER JODY@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM “When I was in high school in Hinton, West Virginia, which, in the 1970’s was definitely not a place to be queer, I wanted to get the hell out of there as fast as I could,” Jeff Mann says in a high mountain drawl you could drown in. We’re talking about growing up gay and living life as an out, gay man in Appalachia. The persistent notion that you cannot live an authentic life in Appalachia if you are LGBTQ, that you have to move in order to thrive, is one of the ideas that Mann and Julia Watts are able to address in a recent collection they edited together. Watts chimes in, “There is this sort of idea that there is one way to be Appalachian and we’re all super conservative, backwards … But that is only one of the stories.” Released by WVU Press this spring, “LGBTQ Fiction and Poetry from Appalachia” expands our understanding of the LGBTQ experience in America. The book
‘LGBTQ Fiction and Poetry from Appalachia’
first started as an idea of Abby Freeland, the Fiction Editor and Marketing Director at WVU Press whose mission is to publish diverse voices and stories from the region. Mann, who has published poetry, essay and memoir teamed up with Watts, who has written more than a dozen novels, most of which explore the lives of LGBTQ folks living in small-town Appalachia. The queer experience in Appalachia is an area of deep expertise for Mann and Watts, both professionally and personally. This June 28th marks the 50year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, when drag queens and lesbians, gay men and transfolk at Greenwich Village’s Stonewall Inn, fought back after an early morning police raid. It set off a week of riots and demonstrations, sparking the modern gay rights movement. The stories of Storme DeLarverie and Marsha P. Johnson inspire the LGBTQ community to this day. But there is the idea of a singular gay narrative, that all gay stories come from urban centers like New York and San Francisco, which is not reflective of the diverse experiences of the LGBTQ community. “I think in this anthology, you’re getting better representation of different stories and different viewpoints,” Watt says. “You see pieces by [LGBTQ] people who have stayed in the region. They may have moved to a more urban part of the region than where they were raised, but they still stayed.” Just as Appalachia can be stubborn and narrow-minded, it can be welcoming and fierce; it is a tinderbox of story-telling and gathering of family and friends. It is, as all places are, many things, some of them contradictory. “That oral tradition of people sitting
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around talking … I think a lot of the reason that I’m a writer is because I spent a lot of my childhood sitting around listening to people talk,” Watts said. “Those voices stayed in my head.” With literary luminaries like Dorothy Allison (best known for her brilliant coming of age novel, “Bastard Out of Carolina” ) and the great poet, Maggie Anderson contributing, it’s an all-star line up of queer Appalachia. The scope of the work is broad. Some of the works are mournful, like Anita Skeen’s poem, ‘The Quilt: 25 April 1993.’ Some are funny, as poet Savannah Sipple uses her sharp quill for some delightful takes on “WWJD.” Novelist Silas House delivers one of the most relatable coming-of-age tales in his short story about two high school friends who sneak away from their small town for a night at a drag show in Lexington. Rahul Mehta’s story of a young, gay, IndianAmerican man who feels out of place in New York and also his childhood
home in West Virginia is a blast of fresh air. The collection stands as a testament to the survival of Appalachian LGBTQ folks. Not everybody leaves. Even those who left were shaped by these mountains and rivers and hollows. For Mann, it is impossible to leave behind. “I can look out my front windows and look at the green mountain across the valley,” he says. “When I drive to Virginia Tech to teach, I can take backroads on the way home and I’m out there in my little pickup truck with my country music on, driving through the pastures and the forest. It gives me a real sense of belonging.” Plus, he inherited the family house in Hinton that he fled as a young man. He and his husband spend a lot of time at this house at the trailing end of the New River Gorge because he is a gay man whose heart is, as Mann himself might say, in the hills and hollers.
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Thorgy Thor. Photo by: Santiago Felipe @santiagraphy
CLASSICAL DRAG THORGY THOR’S THORCHESTRA MAKES U.S. DEBUT WITH PITTSBURGH SYMPHONY
BY AMANDA REED - PITTSBURGH CURRENT STAFF WRITER AMANDA@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
here are two other times that Thorgy Thor was this nervous: as a contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race, combining high fashion and comedy in mini challenges and on the runway; and when she was young, performing a solo onstage in front of her teachers. But Thor says nerves are part of the job of being a drag performer and musician. “I would say this as a performer, the minute you stop being nervous about things, it’s the minute you stop being a performer,” she says. The latest round of nerves for Thorgy Thor, a RuPaul’s Drag Race veteran and “Brooklyn’s Fashion Clown,” comes as her “Thorchestra” journeys to the United States for the first time this Thursday, performing with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser. Thor — the drag persona of Shane Galligan — studied violin, viola and cello and earned a dual degree in violin and viola performance from the State College of New York. While in rehearsal, Thor would close her eyes and think about set
design or imagine a character in front, soloing with props. She says it was natural to combine classical music and drag based on her past experience in rehearsal. “I always just thought, ‘I need to combine being a ridiculous entertainer with this beautiful classical music,’” she says. The Thorchestra came about on season eight of RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2016, when Thor mentioned she wanted to combine drag and classical music with orchestras all over the world. “I got home and I had 500 emails that week,” she says. “Thorgy and the Thorchestra” made its debut with Symphony Nova Scotia in 2018 with two sold-out shows. For the U.S. debut, audience members can expect a program varying from Bach and Tchaikovsky to Madonna, with Thor showcasing her violin, viola and cello abilities. There’s even audience participation. “Expect to laugh your butt off, but also to sit back and to, maybe, cry a little bit because we really bring the audience through a whole spectrum
of the history of LGBTQ issues as well as playing beautiful Tchaikovsky pieces for no reason because they’re beautiful,” Thor says. Classical music is sometimes considered stale. Thor hopes this program breaks that stigma. “It’s like, ‘oh classical music, how boring,’” she says. “I have never felt like it was boring.” Despite the lighthearted show, Thor feels a great responsibility for the U.S. premiere of the Thorchestra. “Whether I was in drag or not, I’m literally playing in front of the concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. And I’m a great player. I mean, they’re the best in the world,” she says. “No matter what, the nerves are there, but drag definitely helps add a little bit of humor and lightheartedness to it,” she says. In the future, Thor wants to work with local and new composers and conductors when putting on her show. “I would love to debut brand new work or allow amateur
conductors to come and conduct,” she says. Thor’s ultimate goal after performing with the PSO? World domination. She wants to bring her Thorchestra to every major symphony in the United States and conduct or solo with an orchestra at the end of the Emmy Awards, an award Drag Race is familiar with. “How many did we win?” Thor asks. “4,000 already? “I don’t see it that far away in the reality of me, you know, on a rotating platform, step up and say, ‘And now Thorgy Thor conducts the orchestra at the Emmy’s.’ And I would be like, ‘Yes, duh, why not?’”
THORGY AND THE THORCHESTRA WITH THE PITTSBURGH SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA.7:30 p.m., Thursday, June 27. Heinz Hall, 600 Penn Ave., Downtown. $35-$150. 412-392-4900 or pittsburghsymphony.org
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Vintage Dirty Faces featuring drummer Chris Cannon (photo courtesy of Juli Werner)
RICKETY RECORDS CELEBRATES A FAMILY REUNION OF SORTS AT THE BRILLOBOX
t’s a complicated series of events through which a Pittsburgh-based band called Tiny Little Help found itself living in an Albuquerque strip mall on Route 66 in the early ’90s. But it mostly boils down to the fact that the members – which then included guitarists Alan Lewandowski and Ernie Bullard, bassist Mike Bonello and drummer Sheryl Johnston— needed a temporary change of scenery. It was a romantic era, in an unsettled, punk-rock sort of way.
BY MARGARET WELSH - PITTSBURGH CURRENT MUSIC EDITOR MARGARET@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM After first living in a one-room efficiency with two futons which they folded up during the day, Bonello describes the relative privacy of the storefront space, which doubled as a practice space. “At that point we each had our own bed with rows of boxes between the beds so that when you were laying down on your futon you couldn’t actually see anybody else.” Lewandowski and Johnson were married at the time but luckily, Bonello adds with a chuckle, “there were a couple of motels in the strip mall where you could rent by the
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hour.” Those couple years served as a kind of extended Southwest tour for the band. And it was there that Bonello and Bullard started Rickety Records, a label/collective/general umbrella under which all their future bands would (more-or-less) gather. Now, nearly three decades later, Tiny Little Help reconvenes for a show at the Brillobox, along with fellow Rickety bands the Dirty Faces and the Bumps. It’s a family reunion of sorts, or “a party masquerading as a show,” Bonello says. The event is
in honor of Bullard who’ll be visiting from his home in Maine and wanted to play some music while he was in town. Like most Rickety-adjacent acts, all three bands have jumbled histories with lots of little dramas and blow-ups and personnel changes. But Friday’s show represents two different eras of Tiny Little Help: Pittsburgh, 1991-92, with drummer Joelle Levitt Killebrew; and Albuquerque, 1993-95 with Sheryl Johnston. The Dirty Faces—a band with enough past members to start
a football team -- will appear as its 1998-2001 configuration (a.k.a. the Millennium Edition), which includes Terry “T-Glitter” Carroll, Bullard, Bonello and drummer Sam Pace. Bonello and Bullard will both do triple duty with the Bumps, perhaps the most rickety band of all Rickety bands, along with drummer Leah McManigle (also a former Dirty Faces member) and Sam Matthews on guitar. “Terry will do some singing, there may be more [people],” Bonello explains later. “If Sheryl ends up playing with the Bumps, Joelle will be the only person playing on Friday who hasn’t. Heck, we should just see if she wants to play maracas to rectify that.” Tiny Little Help fell apart as a band when they returned to Pittsburgh around 1995. But the members all joined or started other projects (the Working Poor, Dead at 24, Anita Fix, and the Johnsons, to name just a few) and began hosting Rickety nights, a long-running
series of weekly shows that featured dollar admission and dollar tequila. (And when they eventually raised admission to two dollars, Bonello says, some regulars were not happy). It was, at that point, a thriving sub-scene, with several associated members living and practicing in the Rickety House, on Melwood Ave. There was even a newsletter, the Rickety Record. “There was a lot of stuff going on. I had just started working at filmmakers so there was this whole visual element to things,” Bonello says. “Which really, the people involved in it didn’t stop. We’ve kind of all been doing the same stuff since then.” The Rickety bands all landed at different spots on the loose, weird lo-fi rock spectrum, from the prolific Guided By Voices-style college-radio rock of Tiny Little Help to the Dirty Faces, a band that ripped plenty from Wu-Tang and Biggie, and which Bonello says was formed around Carroll and Bullard’s idea of what a punk band should sound like in
1997. “Which,” he adds, “people who identified as punk rockers in 1997 probably wouldn’t agree with.” But intentionally or not, the over-arching philosophy of the collective is right there in the name. “Alan wrote this thing for our first record about rickety roller coasters, old wood rollercoasters like the Thunderbolt, where they feel like they’re going to fall apart at any moment,” Bonello says. “There’s this kind of thrilling terror involved and this thrilling anxiety where it feels like it’s going to fly apart at any second, but somehow you get through it.” That sense of impending collapse is in the music itself, but it was also present in the way the bands themselves operated. The older we get, the more stressful or chaotic that can be. But it also feels like liberation, a tantalizing suggestion that you can do whatever you want, stay up as late as you want, live wherever you want, play whatever you what, with whoever you want.
Rock ‘n’ roll is supposed to remind us of those possibilities. “The whole thing about Rickety … is that we’ve always been so selfsabotaging. We just do it because we love to do it and we just go for it,” Bonello says. “There’s this kind of reckless-abandon feel because it’s not like any of us were ever trying or able to take it beyond what we were doing in terms of popularity and airplay and being professional. “That’s the thing,” he adds. “You do what you do and you put your heart into it and it’s going to be cool. And that’s kind of the overarching ethos of it.”
TINY LITTLE HELP, DIRTY FACES, THE BUMPS. 9 p.m. Friday, June
28. Brillobox, 4104 Penn Ave., Bloomfield. www.brilloboxpgh.com
IT’S WHATEVER FLOATS YOUR BOAT.
EVENT SCHEDULE NOW AVAILABLE www.YouGottaRegatta.org PITTSBURGH CURRENT | JUNE 25, 2019 | 29
Dos Santos (Alex Chavez, center). Photo courtesy of Andrea Falcone
CHICAGO’S DOS SANTOS EXPLORES MUSICAL AND VERBAL CONVERSATIONS
BY MIKE SHANLEY - PITTSBURGH CURRENT MUSIC WRITER INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
ogos, the 2018 album by Chicago-band Dos Santos, tends to draws hyphenated descriptions, thanks to the band’s potent combination of Latin-based grooves with psychedelic guitars and keyboard lines. Guitarist/keyboardist Alex Chavez, who sings all the lyrics in Spanish, says the album was built on something deeper than that unique sonic blend. “Pretty much every single song on the album that has lyrics — there’s only one that doesn’t – references dialogue [or] conversation of some kind, where there is this kind of inter-relational sense of talking,” he says. “If you read the lyrics, it can create some sense
of vertigo, I think, in terms of who’s talking, from what perspective.” Given the current political landscape, Chavez says the band realizes that Logos might be considering a political statement. “It’s not lost on us that being Latinos, being folks of color in contemporary 21st-century America, but more as artists, that our artistic statements take on a certain kind of politics,” Chavez says. “And that’s not because they’re inherently political. But we’re definitely living in a politicized moment now, where the thing you put out there has a potential to contribute to a much larger conversation about what America is.”
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Between the unique musical hybrid and the lyrics — which are printed in Spanish and English in Logos’ cover — Chavez says a listener might ponder the question, what makes this music possible? “As soon as you ask that question, then the answer comes at you: these complex and rich histories of migration, of people creating transnational communities between the U.S. and Latin America,” he says. “As soon as you go down that rabbit hole, all this talk about a wall… really, the absurdity of that reveals itself.” Dos Santos came together in Chicago in 2013. The members of the quintet have varied backgrounds,
ranging from punk rock, jazz and Spanish folk music. Inspired by the wide variety of Latin American musics, the band wanted to interpret those styles in a more unconventional manner. “There is some intentionality but [we are] willing to experiment and to explore: How do I take this thing and distill it in this particular way that might be unconventional [while] being okay with that? Then taking it to the edges of that logic,” he says. “Acábame,” which opens Logos, offers a good example of their approach. Conguero Peter “Maestro” Vale and drummer Daniel Villarreal Carrillo introduce a Guagancó, an Afro-Cuban rumba, at a rapid tempo that would make dancing a challenge. Instead of joining them at that speed, the rest of band takes a different path. “We’re playing whole notes. And it makes everything sound really slow,” Chavez says. “We’re floating on top of that in a way that’s somewhat unexpected, I think.” The overall feeling has a dreamy quality, especially when combined with Chavez’s vocals. As far as his lyrical language of choice is concerned, Chavez says listeners don’t question it. “I remember singing in Spanish almost 20 years ago and I would always be asked, ‘Why don’t you do it in English?’ Well, I don’t want to. Now I don’t get that question anymore. There’s seems to be, at least in the context of popular music, a little less of a stigma around Spanish. And with this revolution in how we listen to music and the accessibility to music, it seems as if folks are less siloed in terms of what they listen to. Potentially they are open to listening to music in a different language. It’s not, ‘Oh, I don’t understand this.’ It’s more like, ‘So what.’”
DOS SANTOS WITH RIO MIRA. 8
p.m. Saturday, June 29. Roundabout Pop-Up Beer Garden, 1836 Oxline Ave., North Side. $10-15. www. pandemicpgh.com
Colleen Green. Photo courtesy of Colleen Green.
GROWING UP AND CHILLING OUT A CONVERSATION WITH COLLEEN GREEN
I’m thinking of different conversations I’ve had with other women about your music. One of my friends felt a deep connection with “TV,” another listened to “Deeper than Love” on repeat after a bad break-up. I often sing “Whatever I Want” in my head when I’m feeling trapped by life. Is it odd to have other people (especially strangers) relate so heavily to your personal thoughts and experiences? It doesn’t feel odd to me. I’m compelled to put my all into lyrics when I think that people will be able to relate to them. Those have always been my personal favorite type of lyrics. I also acknowledge that I’m no enigma. I’m just a normal person from a normal place living in a time when many of us share thoughts, ideas and experiences. Do you ever regret putting yourself out there in your lyrics? Yes.
I assume you’ll be playing older stuff on this tour, what is it like to revisit those songs years after writing them? Do you connect to your past self, or does it feel like playing someone else’s song? I am playing older stuff and I find myself becoming somewhat embarrassed by some of it. This is stuff I wrote 10 years ago, and I do feel like I was a different person then, going through a lot and just trying to get my shit sorted. Now I’m in my mid-30s and feel like I do have my shit sorted and I’m chilling pretty hard at this point. But I’m still proud of anything I’ve ever created and I’ll never be ashamed of writing a song that people liked.
COLLEEN GREEN WITH DRESSY BESSY, POTTY MOUTH. 8:30 p.m.
Friday, June 28. The Funhouse at Mr. Smalls. 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. $12-15. www.mrsmalls.com
BY MARGARET WELSH - PITTSBURGH CURRENT MUSIC EDITOR MARGARET@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM n 2015, Colleen Green laid learned from delving into it? bare her soul with “I Want To I just had some time to kill several Grow Up.” That record recalled years ago and just decided I would the deceptively simple, almost do it. I started the project in 2012 frustratingly relatable songwriting and came really close to completing of “Exile in Guyville-era” Liz Phair, it, but lost all the files when my but also held true to Green’s punk computer crashed. After that, I was roots: her plain-spoken narratives so depressed and discouraged that are Ramones-esque and the record it took me a few years to start it up title itself was a wink to fellow again, but I was determined. Californians, the Descendants. The original record played a Green, who comes to the Funhouse big role in my development as a at Mr. Smalls on June 28, is planning musician and as a person. I was to record a new record in July. obsessed with Blink-182 for years “I’m getting tired of strumming so after first seeing the video for much and have been writing songs “Dammit” on MTV. They were a with more lead guitar,” she told the band that [my friends and I] loved Current via email. “I Want To Grow and we wanted to be like them. Up” was very lyrically draining for Through covering the record me so a lot of my new songs are I learned that a lot of it was way more instrumental.” harder to play than I realized, even at 70 bpm. I’m sure Blink-182 has You just released a track-bybeen dismissed as a shitty pop punk track cover of Blink-182’s Dude band, even by themselves, but each Ranch on Burger Records. How did member is incredibly talented and that project come about, and can they had amazing chemistry as a you tell me about your relationship unit. to that record and what you
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a chance to walk the bases and warning track, a professional photo in the dugout, and, of course, a chance to meet the Pirates Parrot. There’s also live music from bands and DJs including Walk of Shame, Right Turn Clyde, Enn Era, Outtareach, T-Robe, DJ H, DJ L’Herb, Keebs, DJ Xavier and DJ Magic Mike. Guests can also play Giant Jenga, Connect Four and cornhole. General Admission tickets are $49.95. There are different VIP ticket levels that get guests more time to taste and access to lounges and activities, too. To find out more and buy tickets, visit ballparkfestival. com/pittsburgh. Be sure to use the promo code “paar5” to get a $5 discount and to support the local nonprofit, Pittsburgh Action Against Rape (PAAR). Each year the All Star Craft Beer, Wine and Cocktail Festival chooses a charity benefactor. Last year it was the Alzheimer’s Association for The Longest Day, and the donation exceeded $5,000.
All Star Craft Beer, Wine and Cocktail Festival returns to PNC Park June 29. (Photo via UpcomingEvents.com)
DRINKING FOR A CAUSE
CRAFT BEER, WINE AND COCKTAIL FEST AT PNC PARK TO BENEFIT PROJECT LAST CALL BY HALEY FREDERICK - PITTSBURGH CURRENT MANAGING EDITOR HALEY@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM The All Star Craft Beer, Wine and Cocktail Festival returns to PNC Park this Saturday, June 29, for its second year. Hundreds of beverage brands and makers will be set up throughout the park and continue on Federal Street, giving unlimited samples to attendees. The event, produced by national marketing and media agency UpcomingEvents.com, debuted in 2017 at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, PA and premiered in Pittsburgh to sold-out crowds one year later. This fall they’ll also be taking
the festival to Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas. “We are thrilled to bring this event back to one of the best ballparks in the Majors – the Home of the Pittsburgh Pirates,” says Festival Producer Ray Sheehan. New this year, the event is split into two sessions that guests choose between when they buy tickets. Day drinkers can attend from noon to 4:30 p.m., or wait until the second session from 6:30-11 p.m. to see the sun go down and the stadium lights come on.
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The special guest appearances— all Pittsburgh Pirates alumni—vary from session to session. Sid Bream (first base, 1985-90) and Kent Tekluve (pitcher, 1974-85) will be at the daytime session, while Omar Moreno (center field, 1975-82) and John Candelaria (pitcher, 1975-1985) will be at the later session. Whether you’re more interested in the beverages or the Bucs, the All Star Craft Beer, Wine and Cocktail Festival will keep you occupied on all fronts. With your festival ticket you receive a keepsake glass, two tickets to a 2019 Pirates home game,
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This year, UpcomingEvents chose to support PAAR and their Project Last Call initiative. PAAR will receive proceeds from a silent auction featuring sports memorabilia onsite at the event, as well as 20% of the ticket sales using the PAAR promo code ”paar5.” PAAR teamed up with the Pittsburgh chapter of the United States Bartender Guild to launch Project Last Call, a program to provide sexual harrassment prevention training to staff in restaurants and bars. They’re trying to start a dialogue around the issue of sexual harassment in the service industry that brings awareness to the ways the culture needs to change. The program launched earlier this year, and Julie Evans, director of prevention at PAAR, says that they’re building momentum. They’ve done trainings for places like Full Pint Wild Side Pub, Spork, and Shiloh and Harris Grill so far. “We keep going out and meeting with other establishments to make sure that they’re aware of it and that they’re thinking about how much of a benefit it would be to their employees to work in a place that’s free from sexual harassment,” Evans says. The program has been getting very positive feedback, according to Evans. Not only does starting the conversation about sexual harassment in the workplace give employees an opportunity to talk about what they may have experienced but been uncomfortable to share, it also allows people to learn how to identify the behaviors that consitute harrasment and to think about what they can do if they encounter them before it happens. “We all know sexual harrassment happens—sexual violence happens,” Evans says. “But we don’t want it to happen, so that’s why we have to talk about it.” Evans says that participating in Project Last Call is a great way for restaurant and bar owners to show their staff that they care about their safety and will enforce policies that protect them.
Cory Hart, PAAR; Ray Sheehan, Upcoming Events; Sadie Restivo, PAAR (Photo via UpcomingEvents.com)
PAAR will be present at the festival to spread the word about the program. “The Pittsburgh All Star Craft Beer, Wine and Cocktail Festival reaches so many people within the hospitality industry that we felt it was our obligation to support PAAR’s Project Last Call,” says Sheehan. “We want our attendees and individuals within the bar and restaurant communities to feel safe. “Project Last Call brings attention to this mission and the conversation to end sexual violence in the workplace to the forefront,” he said. “We want everyone to have a good time, while doing some good!”
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Erick Williams at Apis Mead and Winery in Carnegie. (Photo by Haley Frederick)
THIS TASTES FUNNY:
DINNER AT APIS MEAD AND HEY TABOULI WITH ERICK WILLIAMS
BY HALEY FREDERICK - PITTSBURGH CURRENT MANAGING EDITOR HALEY@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
’m meeting Erick Williams in Carnegie because he’s on a show tonight at Apis Mead and Winery. When I’m considering the local food options, I see that Hey Tabouli is going to be serving up their Lebanese menu at Apis that night. I do a quick google and find next to nothing about Hey Tabouli. But admittedly I’m intrigued by the elusiveness of it all—in the age of information we’re all used to getting answers, and since Google doesn’t have them this time, I have to go find out for myself. So mead and Lebanese food it is. We get to Apis around 6 p.m. Hey Tabouli is setting up its table with slow cookers and ice trays stocked with containers of hummus. The show, “Hurry Up, Say Something Funny!” is a crowd work comedy show presented by the Epicast Network on Thursdays at Apis Mead. Day Bracey (comedian, podcaster, Fresh Fest organizer, and beer columnist for this very paper) hosts the show. “It’s the only show in Pittsburgh where the crowd is encouraged to
heckle,” Williams says. While he says crowd work isn’t necessarily his forte, he sees this as an opportunity to challenge himself and step outside his comfort zone. A show that focuses on crowd interaction gives comics new and old the opportunity to work some different muscles. Williams thinks that newer comedians are often so focused on getting their set down that they don’t know how to change course and handle an unexpected heckle or a completely unresponsive audience. “At a certain point, people realize it’s not just about the set,” he says. “You get those moments where jokes don’t work or the crowd doesn’t bite on something but you know how to just be you in that moment and make it work anyway—to be live. That’s the most important thing in live comedy.” Since Williams is on the show, he drinks for free. I decide to get a flight of five meads. There’s a pretty long list to choose from. A bartender says that the Dorsata is the most classic mead with just honey and water, so I get that one. Then I get the Hopped
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Passionfruit and Hopped Pineapple because he says the hops help balance the sweetness, and then Lemon Bourbon and Peach Apricot because they just sound good. The hopped meads are my favorite—they do have the most manageable sweetness to me—and Peach Apricot is a runner up. Williams used to host a variety open mic at Cannon Coffee in Brookline and then after that closed, they moved to the Brookline Teen Outreach Center. He says a huge range of acts, from hip hop to stand up to poetry, and people of all ages came through, but it ran its course and they decided to end the regular open mic there this past year. But he is hosting the first annual reunion show at the Outreach Center in August to carry on the mic in some capacity. Now his most regular show is a podcast with Vince Didiano called “POVincent.” “Every week we go out and watch a movie and then we come back and are like, ‘Hey, this was the movie,’” he says. “We discuss movie news, we B.S., get tangential—it’s a good time.” They’ve been doing the podcast for a year now. It streams live on Twitch and then gets uploaded on The River’s Edge website. While they do sometimes get into the weeds of the movie business or do a serious critique, Williams assures me that he’s “always looking for the laugh in things.” Apis is starting to fill up as the show gets closer. The Hey Tabouli table seems popular, and we go up
once the line dies down. There’s a menu hanging on the wall with about ten items listed. I get the spicy chicken and lubia (green beans and tomatoes) with rice and Williams gets the same plus the lamb meatballs. The man filling our styrofoam containers loads them up with spoonful after spoonful of food. He hands it to me and it must weigh at least two pounds. There’s definitely enough for me to have three meals. Then the man brings us a plate of avocado hummus, just because. It’s not just quantity, it’s quality. The chicken is spiced perfectly and everything together in the container forms a delicious stew as the rice soaks up the juices. And it also feels like it can’t be bad for you. It’s not greasy or laden with butter. As long as you don’t try to eat the whole thing at once, you’ll walk away feeling good. “This is really good,” I say. “I’m just thrilled that there’s a food truck that has vegetables,” says Willaims. The Hey Tabouli mystery has been solved. We each do our best to make a dent in our Lebanese plates as more and more local comics arrive—some to be on the show, and some just to watch (and probably heckle). They gather to get ready and Williams goes to join them. ERICK WILLIAMS hosts The Brookline Open Mic Annual Reunion at the Brookline Teen Outreach Center on August 7th at 8 p.m. Free admission and open sign ups for the variety mic.
Spicy Chicken and Lubia with rice from Hey Tabouli. (Photo by Haley Frederick)
KEEPING UP WITH PITTSBURGH’S CRAFT BEER SCENE BY DAY BRACEY - PITTSBURGH CURRENT CRAFT BEER WRITER INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM I’ve been busy. May 26, 3 p.m.: Hootie of Blowfish BBQ and Steve Sloan of Roundabout Brewing are in the Work Hard Studio for a podcast. Hootie brought enough smoked Cajun shrimp mac and brontosaurus bones to feed a festival. Steve, a man of few words, lets the beer speak for him. It has a lot of great things to say during our interview. Did you know “Marama” means moonlight?
May 26, 5 p.m.: John Lasher of Cellar Works stops by to chop it up about the science of brewing and his “farmhouse philosophy.” Ed Bailey and I are booted and zooted off red meat and moonlight from episode one, so the convo quickly devolves into debauchery. We apologize to the Lasher Family, and encourage anyone around Sarver, PA to go support this great brewery. May 30, 2 p.m.: I’m meeting with Meg Evans, newly appointed Production Manager of North Country Brewing, to plot ways we can sneak more women and minorities into the industry. Kicking in the front door while screaming at the top of our lungs was the subtlest and most effective approach we could devise. She leaves me with a four pack of Blueberry Cobbler Sour Ale. Have I told you how much I love lactose? May 30, 5 p.m.: I’m with Erin Hart of Farm To Table, a nonprofit with the goal of increasing awareness and access to fresh foods for all consumers. Erin has been one of our biggest supporters over the years, and helped to restore some of my faith in white women after 2016. You can catch her next Lunch & Learn, July 9th at Tarenbee in Tarentum. While you’re there, go see the Lasher family! (Farmtotablepa.com/connections/ events) June 2, 1 p.m.: Ed Bailey and I are in NYC for a super secretive photo shoot for a super-secretive industryrelated award. They put makeup on us, most of it on me. You never feel
as ugly as when a MUA spends twice as long on you than your friend. As I get out of the chair she says, “Hold on. Let me get that too.” Ouch. We’re in a fancy Manhattan loft overlooking the city, surrounded by fine wines, cheeses, and successful, cultured individuals. We blend in by striking rapper poses, pouring Jack’s Abby on ourselves and on the floor, and leaving with most of their booze. You have been well represented, Pittsburgh. June 8, 2 p.m.: Mike Potter and I are in Harlem for The African Film Festival. The Fresh Fest documentary, A Fresh Perspective, has been selected as an entry. While here, we stop by to help celebrate the one-year anniversary of Harlem Hops, a black-owned craft beer bar and community support system. We sip Uncle Nearest whiskey, Harlem Brew, and Brooklyn Brew, while Celeste Beatty and Garret Oliver wax poetic about their love for ales. Did you know Garret is coming to Fresh Fest in August? He’s our VIP podcast guest. June 8, 5 p.m.: After 16 u-turns we arrive at the Other Half, a well-respected brewery on a one way street in an obscure section of Brooklyn. The bathrooms are unisex, the bro-dudes are extra brodudey, and The Dreamiest, a hazy oatmeal DIPA with lactose, tastes like something you’d order off of a Good Humor truck. I hate to say it, but I don’t know if anyone in WPA is brewing a hazy as decadent and delicious as this ale.
sought after and usually expensive beers. We break the Guinness World Record for beers consumed in an hour-long Pittsburgh podcast by two black dudes in an Allentown basement. Look it up. June 15, 3 p.m.: Beers of The Burgh is one of Pittsburgh’s best and longest-running brew festivals. We’re peddling tickets for Fresh Fest while pouring For The Culture 2.0, the 9.1% imperial brut IPA collaboration between East End and black Brew Culture. Sobel’s Obscure Brewery stood out with their custom made booth and Honey Blossom Hefeweizen that tasted like grandma candy. The good kind, not the old, partially melted ones you ate out of pure desperation, sugar addiction, or boredom. Pittsburgh Smokehouse 50/50 pulled pork, brisket mac with the spicy BBQ sauce is worth your time, money, and admiration. June 19, 9 p.m.: I’m at Nepenthe Brewing in Baltimore. I order wings fried extra hard. They serve me boiled, soggy, pink-boned chicken in berry sauce. Nothing else about this place matters. June 19, 10 p.m.: Max’s Taphouse is said to have the best selection of beer in the area. They do not disappoint. That is, until the tab comes and I appreciate the cost of living in Pittsburgh, while contemplating which bill won’t get paid this month. June 20, 9 a.m.: Guinness Open Gate Brewery and Barrelhouse. I’m hungover, but ready to brew…
June 9, 6 p.m.: The Pittsburgh Craft Beer Society is in the studio. They bring a bucket of “whales,” hard PITTSBURGH CURRENT | JUNE 25, 2019 | 35
East Liberty Presbyterian Church is seen through the trees along Penn Ave. (Current photo by Jake Mysliwczyk)
hen looking back at the past century of Pittsburgh’s history, one of the most defining characteristics is development. The mid-20th century saw several neighborhoods experience massive renewal projects meant to boost areas that were perceived as blighted and unsafe. These projects run the gamut from the wildly successful development of the downtown Cultural District to the decimation of the Lower Hill District. But certainly one of the poster children for the effects of urban renewal is East Liberty. Sitting at the heart of the East End, East Liberty has experienced a roller-coaster history marked by high highs and low lows. The neighborhood first
BY NICK EUSTIS - PITTSBURGH CURRENT CONTRIBUTING WRITER INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM developed as a tavern town in the mid-19th century, and grew largely independent of Pittsburgh proper due to the five mile distance between East Liberty and downtown, which took several hours to traverse in those days. As a result, the neighborhood developed its own institutions independent of Pittsburgh, including East Liberty Presbyterian Church, which still dominates East Liberty’s modern skyline. Beginning in the 1890s, East Liberty began on a path similar to neighboring Bloomfield and Friendship. Upper-middle class Pittsburghers saw the East End as a place to escape the pollution of downtown’s heavy industry, and moved there in great numbers. An explosion of new home construction
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resulted. “You see East Liberty truly become Pittsburgh’s second downtown by 1910 or so,” said Justin Greenawalt, a board member with the East Liberty Historical Society. The 1930s, however, sowed the seeds for East Liberty’s later struggles in two ways. The first was the unpreventable circumstances of the Great Depression, which stagnated growth in the area and put considerable pressure on the neighborhood’s large working class population. The second was a phenomenon called redlining, which affected low income and majority African American neighborhoods nationwide. In 1934, the U.S. federal government would pass the National Housing Act, which was intended to
make homes more affordable as the Depression wore on. This resulted in greater government involvement in mortgage support. To better determine where to allocate mortgage funding, several government-sponsored agencies did surveys of cities across America and broke them up into districts ranging from Type A, the most desirable to lend to, to Type D, which were deemed “hazardous.” Type D neighborhoods were often working class, African American neighborhoods. East Liberty was categorized in a 1937 map as Type D. These redlining practices meant mortgage funding for neighborhoods like East Liberty was almost entirely choked off. With little funding to make repairs, homes in the neighborhood fell into a state of
PITTSBURGH CURRENT | JUNE 25, 2019 | 37
The Joy Of Life statue by Virgil Cantini along South Whitfield Street. (Current photo by Jake Mysliwczyk)
dilapidation, and some properties were abandoned entirely. Compounding this, the accessibility of the automobile and rise of the suburbs after World War II created a steady stream of residents moving out of East Liberty to the North and South Hills. “Post-World War II, that’s when you begin to see this mass exodus to the suburbs,” Greenawalt said. “Suddenly, the automobile is accessible to the average person, and you have people saying, ‘Why am I staying here?’” This exodus eventually became too great for East Liberty’s Chamber of Commerce to ignore, and in the 1960s, they appealed to the city government for funding to revitalize the region. The end result was the largest urban renewal project in the history of Pittsburgh at that time, with over 350 acres affected. The plan was incredibly ambitious, meant to compete with new suburban shopping malls and inspired by similar concepts in Fort Worth, Texas and Toledo, Ohio. The business district was to be consolidated onto Penn Avenue, and then closed off to automobile traffic to create an outdoor pedestrian mall. Surrounding this mall would be new apartment towers, parking garages,
and three ring roads that would allow those with no business in East Liberty to bypass it. This plan, unfortunately, was flawed from the ground up, and failed for a number of reasons. A major factor was a failure to take the existing East Liberty community into consideration. The project was intended to attract those leaving the neighborhood to come back, but did not think about those who were still living nearby. “What happens when you take a neighborhood that’s 200 years old and completely reconfigure it? People get very disoriented and eventually, they just stop going there because it’s confusing and they don’t like it,” Greenawalt said. Another contributing factor was ripple effects from the other major projects happening at that time. The new apartments built as part of the East Liberty project were intended for middle-class families, a captive audience for the shopping district. What the designers did not account for was the impact of the Civic Arena project that leveled most of the Lower Hill District. “These apartment buildings were built for middle income families, but with the demolition of the Hill District, people were being displaced
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to East Liberty, and they put them in these towers,” Greenawalt said. “Well, the people that lived in these towers couldn’t afford to shop at the shops in East Liberty.” The cumulative effects of redlining policies and botched urban renewal left East Liberty in stark condition. The two decades from 1959 to 1979 saw the number of businesses in the area plummet from 575 to 98. The neighborhood quickly became perceived as an unsafe, blighted area that those who did not live there actively avoided. East Liberty would languish in this state for the remainder of the 20th century. The start of the 21st century saw the beginning of East Liberty’s renaissance. With the help of the city government and neighborhood business leaders, 2005 saw The Home Depot open between Station Street and East Liberty Boulevard. This economic shot in the arm paved the way for more urban big box stores, including Whole Foods and Target. In less than two decades, the neighborhood transformed from a commercial desert to one of Pittsburgh’s trendiest neighborhoods. Boutique restaurants and large modern apartment buildings opened at breakneck pace, but at a cost that not all are comfortable with. The legacy of problematic development projects in East Liberty continued when in July 2015, more than 200 residents of the Penn Plaza apartment complex were given eviction notices and informed the building was to be demolished. Planned for the site was a mixed-use facility, with a new Whole Foods as the centerpiece of the project. “They all got a 90-day notice for evacuation of the premises,” said Crystal Jennings, an activist with Penn Plaza Support and Action. “It came out of nowhere.” Zach Gumberg, principal and managing member at LG Realty, the owners of Penn Plaza, said in an email that “Penn Plaza had reached the end of its useful life,” and that
it would have “required millions of dollars to address all the repairs and renovations projects necessary to continue its operation.” Gumberg also said they had “four years of conversations, with lots of community input” regarding the decision. But that is not reflected in the response of residents to the eviction notice. They organized a tenant’s union and pushed back, getting the attention of Mayor Bill Peduto, who was able to negotiate a deal allowing the residents more time to find alternate housing. Penn Plaza was largely Section 8 housing. 95 percent of its residents were African-American. One of these residents is former Pittsburgh Public School Board Member Randall Taylor, an activist with Penn Plaza Support and Action. “I very much enjoyed living there,” Taylor said. “I think most of us enjoyed living there, close to East Liberty, close to transportation. Rents were affordable for many people.” While Taylor was employed and eventually able to find housing outside of East Liberty, he knew that other residents of Penn Plaza would not be so fortunate. “I had very, very big concerns about some of the seniors and other people who had lived there,” Taylor said. “I had very grave concerns for how things would turn out for them.” Those concerns were far from unfounded. “There were a lot of residents who did not find affordable housing and are still couchsurfing now,” Jennings said. “Four of them that I know of are living in shelters or on the streets.” The saga of Penn Plaza has become symbolic of the problems with gentrification, and thanks to the help of activists and their supporters, has propelled affordable housing to a top priority issue in Pittsburgh politics. While there may be much more to do, East Liberty has made its mark and hopefully the neighborhood’s struggles will pave better roads for the future of city planning.
wait. It’s not easy to get in and get treatment as quickly as some of the children need it, so we’re able to provide that. How does Youth Smiles help children without access to expensive dental care? We do accept basically every insurance that I know of, private and Medicaid. When we opened, it was an office that would see primarily Medicaid, because that was such an underserved population, and that was our main focus, because we wanted to be able to reach those children that can’t otherwise get the dental care they need. That’s still been our main focus. The majority of the children we see here have Medicaid.
Dr. Michelle Hershberger. (Current photo by Nick Eustis.)
NEIGHBORHOOD CONVERSATION: NEIGHBORHOOD Q&A: DR. MICHELLE HERSHBERGER
BY NICK EUSTIS - PITTSBURGH CURRENT CONTRIBUTING WRITER INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
hen it comes to taking care of yourself, one of the most important things you can do is take care of your teeth. Poor dental hygiene can result in needing expensive dental work and tooth loss, and can also have detrimental effects on the body as a whole. That’s why developing oral care habits early is so important, and that is part of the work Dr. Michelle Hershberger does at Youth Smiles Dental. Her Penn Avenue practice sees over 100 patients a day, and accepts nearly all forms of insurance to ensure that those who need access to quality dental care the most can get their regular checkups. How did you decide on dentistry? I always wanted to go into the medical field, and I had a chance to observe some dental offices with dentists that I knew, and I just thought it looked like a very interesting field of medicine to go
into. The nice thing is you have the medical background, but you also get to be creative, because of the different types of treatments you get to do. It was kind of the best of both worlds, you get to do scientific things, but you also get to be creative as well. What brought you to East Liberty? This practice opened originally in 2008 under a different company and name. I was working in general practice and I had the opportunity to come to this area. I was actually the first dentist at this office when it opened. Then, that company left the area, they closed and they were going to close the office. I didn’t want to see the office close, so I was able to buy the practice from the original company in 2014, and I was able to make it my own. Why did you want to keep the practice in East Liberty?
There are a lot of children in this area. We do see some parents and grandparents of our patients, but for the most part we like to focus on children, teenagers and young adults, because there’s a lot of need for that. If the practice would have left, there is Children’s Hospital down the street, but there’s a long
What advice would you give to those who are scared to go to the dentist? The nice thing about working with children is, if we give them a good experience when they’re little, they have less chance of having fears when they get older. I would just say, find a nice dentist that you feel comfortable with, because a lot of times, once you find that, you don’t move to another dentist easily. That’s why it’s nice to start a good relationship with your dentist younger, so you have a good history and you don’t have those bad experiences to draw from.
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tice after their transgender friend is brutally murdered by a U.S. marine. Call Her Ganda is a blend of personal tragedy, activism and the legacy of U.S. imperial rule in the Philippines. The screening is free with reservation. 7 p.m. 40 W. North Ave. Free. 412-435-1110 or Kzeigler@cityofasylumpittsburgh.org Liberty Magic hosts Mark Toland and his show “MIND READER.” The mentalist uses his skills along with humor to give skeptics and believers alike an experience that explores the mysteries of the mind. Toland will be performing through August 4. 7:30 p.m. 811 Liberty Ave. $40-$65. 412456-6666 or culturaldistrict.org
James Patterson brings his newest book, “Unsolved,” to the Carnegie Lecture Hall. A hardcover copy of “Unsolved” is included in the ticket price. 7 p.m. 4400 Forbes Ave. $35. 412-622-8866 or email@example.com
Kaju Big Battel (Courtesy of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust)
THE CAN’T MISS BY EMERSON ANDREWS - PITTSBURGH CURRENT INTERN INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM FEATURED EVENTS IN AND AROUND THE PITTSBURGH REGION
City of Asylum @ Alphabet City hosts editorial cartoonist Rob Rogers for a reading from his most recent book, “Enemy of the People.” The book includes a tutorial on creating editorial cartoons, short essays from other cartoonists and journalists about the importance of the First Amendment, and several of Rogers’ political cartoons from the last three years. The event is free with a reservation. 7 p.m. 40 W. North Ave. Free. 412-435-1110 or kzeigler@
cityofasylumpittsburgh.org Kristin Hensley and Jen Smedley bring the spirit of their viral web series, #IMOMSOHARD, on a second live tour with “Mom’s Night Out: Round 2.” The two mothers promise an all new show at Heinz Hall, and are also in the process of developing a half-hour sitcom with CBS. Ticket prices vary by seating. 7:30 p.m. 600 Penn Ave. $39.75-$179.75. 412-3924900 or culturaldistrict.org
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Ona Louise reads to kids at Classic Lines for this edition of “Drag Que7en Story Hour.” Children can experience stories and gender fluidity with a role model that embodies the ideas of dress up and imagination. 2:30 p.m. 5825 Forbes Ave. Free. 412-422-2220 ReelQ presents a screening of “Call Her Ganda” at City of Asylum @ Alphabet City. The film follows a group of Filipina women seeking jus-
Stories That Heal continues their series with Kristie Knights, who brings her collection “Unsung Heroes: Deconstructing Suicide Through Stories of Triumph” to City of Asylum @ Alphabet City. The collection features 34 authors who share their real stories of battling depression and suicidal thoughts as part of an effort to push back against the stigma surrounding mental illness. The event is free with reservation. 7 p.m. 40 W. North Ave. Free. 412-435-1110 or firstname.lastname@example.org The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is joined by Thorgy Thor at Heinz Hall for the U.S. premiere of her all-new show. The “Queen of Classical Music”, also known from “RuPaul’s Drag Race”, uses fashion, wit and music to create an unforgettable experience. Adult supervision is advised due to some mature themes in the performance. 7:30 p.m. 600 Penn Ave. $35-$150. 412-392-4900 or culturaldistrict.org
The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra puts on its “Americana Concert” at the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum in Oakland to celebrate those in the armed services. 7 p.m. 4141 Fifth Ave. Free.412392-4900 or culturaldistrict.org/ production Those who are 21+ are invited to the Heinz History Center after-hours to explore their “The Vietnam War: 1945-1975” with game theory. Attendees will take on the role of military leaders and employ their own strategies while learning about the real historical events of the time period. Two drinks and appetizers are included with the ticket price. 6 p.m. 1212 Smallman St. $20. heinzhistorycenter.org/events Four Pedro Almodóvar films will screen at Row House Cinema through July 4. The provocative and sensual director often explored gender identity and other themes. Check out “All About My Mother,” “Talk to Her,” “The Skin I Live In” or “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” sometime this week. 12:30 p.m. 4115 Butler St. $8 matinee, $10 general admission. rowhousecinema.com
City of Asylum @ Alphabet City hosts a screening of “The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun (La Petite Vendeuse de Soleil)” as part of the Sembène Film Festival. The film, by Senegalese director Djibril Diop Mambéty, follows a paraplegic girl named Sili who wants to be a street vendor of the national newspaper of Senegal. Mambéty dedicates the film to the street children of Dakar and uses nonprofessional actors and real street children to tell the story. The screening is free with reservation, and English subtitles will be provided. 3 p.m. 40 W. North Ave. Free. 412-435-1110 or email@example.com A Kaiju Big Battel comes to the Byham Theatre. This live fighting spectacle features a roster of interesting
monsters, and after the show a party with DJ Inception will be held in the lobby. 8 p.m. 101 6th St. $25. 412456-6666 or trustarts.org/production
The Pittsburgh Center for Arts and Media holds their eleventh “yArt” Sale on their campus, a yard sale for local artists. Around seventy artists will be present selling affordable art as well as equipment, fabrics, and other supplies to other upcoming artists and collectors. Admission is free. 10 a.m. 6300 Fifth Ave. Free. center.pfpca.org/the-shop/yart-sale Genealogist Dr. Michael Lacopo comes to the Heinz History Center to hold a German Genealogy Workshop. Attendees of all levels of expertise are welcome and will also participate in a curator-led tour of the History Center’s German American Collection. 9 a.m. 1212 Smallman St. $40. heinzhistorycenter. org/events
Six and seven-year-olds can attend Survival of the Futurist, a summer camp with Assemble. Kids will meet scientists and engineers as well as learn about the environment and sustainability. The camp runs from July 1 to July 3. Scholarships are available and Garfield residents attend free with a waitlist. 9 a.m. 4824 Penn Ave. $75-$150. 412-6616111 or http://assemblepgh.org/summer-camps-2019
WaterWorks Cinemas is holding a Luxury Premiere for “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” First come, first serve. Kid and senior pricing available. 12 a.m. 930 Freeport Rd. $11. moviescoop.com/waterworks
Howl at the Moon holds a Red, White & Brew Party with live music, dancing and a Pirates ticket giveaway. Special prices on drinks will be available most of the night. Attendees should wear red, white and blue for free admission. 5 p.m. 125 7th St.
Jump Cut Theater’s 4th of July party presents a 16mm film program from Flea Market Films at the Glitterbox Theater for a celebration of America. Food will be served off the grill as attendees watch bits and pieces of the nation’s history and culture roll by on the projectors. Food and entertainment are included in the admission price, and free beer will be available to those 21+. 5 p.m. 460 Melwood Ave. $10. 412-563-0368 or jumpcuttheater.org The Fort Pitt Museum at Point State Park will be joined by the Yinzer Singers for a performance of patriotic songs, 18th century reenactments and the raising of a 13-star American flag. Visitors can participate in the flag ceremony along with museum staff and local scouts, and can also learn more about the role Western Pennsylvania played in the American Revolution. 10:45 a.m. 601 Commonwealth Pl. Free. heinzhistorycenter.org/events Enjoy fireworks at the Carnegie Science Center. Prices vary depending on viewing location. 6 p.m. One Allegheny Ave. $49-$79. 412-237-3400 or carnegiesciencecenter.org/visit
Row House Cinema screens Paris is Burning, the ‘80s documentary about New York City drag balls and the dance styles that were popular with gay, trans, Black and Latinx communities. 12 p.m. 4115 Butler St. $8 matinee, $10 general admission. rowhousecinema.com
for the Sol Studio Dance Camp for students in grades four to six at the Trust Arts Education Center. Children will learn choreography and techniques in contemporary, jazz and street dance. The camp begins July 8 with a final performance on July 12. Sibling discounts are available. 9 a.m. 807 Liberty Ave. $150. 412-471-6079 or trustarts.org For kids in grades six to nine, the Trust Arts Education Center has a DJ Project Camp. Over the week, children will work with professional tools and learn technique from teaching artist David Shoemaker (DJ Shoe). The camp begins July 8 with a final performance on July 12. Sibling discounts are available. 9 a.m. 807 Liberty Ave. $150. 412-4716079 or trustarts.org Rocky Bleier and a number of friends from his career as a running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers come to the Heinz History Center for a special program to celebrate his service in the Vietnam War as well as the new edition of his book, “Fighting Back.” The book tells Bleier’s story of being sent home injured only to work his way back to a starting position with the Steelers to help win four Super Bowl Championships. Copies of “Fighting Back” will be available for sale and ticket prices include admission to the Center’s “The Vietnam War: 1945-1975” exhibit. 7 p.m.1212 Smallman St. $15. heinzhistorycenter.org/events
Conductor Andrés Franco leads the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in concert at the South Park Amphitheatre. Rain or shine, the concert is free and open to the public. 8:15 p.m. 100 Farmshow Dr. South Park Township. Free. 412-392-4900
LaTrea Rembert is the artist educator PITTSBURGH CURRENT | JUNE 25, 2019 | 41
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Savage Love BY DAN SAVAGE MAIL@SAVAGELOVE.NET
I’m a single gay guy in my late 30s. I’m quite introverted and a bit shy, yet I have a big sexual drive and a rich libido. I’ve always found the gay scene overwhelming and my several attempts at online dating were not very successful. I feel my quiet ways tend to put people off and I hardly ever get the chance to show my more playful or crazy sides, as it takes me a bit to feel comfortable to show those. Whenever I was able to, my partners were usually pleasantly surprised and we could enjoy plenty of fun, but I can count these occasions on the fingers of one hand. I feel most guys just stop at my gentle disposition and assume I must be a bit boring if not a prude altogether. Turns out I actually have quite a few kinks— bondage being one of them—but so far I have hardly been able to explore them with a partner. Often those drawn to me haven’t really been of the sexually adventurous kind. By my looks, I don’t really fit into any of the “tribes” that a lot of gay men identify with. Part of me doesn’t care, but at the same time, I find myself on the outside looking in when searching for a nice guy for a date or more. Would you have any kind of advice to crack this shell of mine open? Always Looked Over, Never Embraced Next time you find yourself on the outside looking in, ALONE, take a moment to look around. Because that small scrum of guys who fit neatly into whatever gay tribe happens to be dominating the bar/pool/whatever—the guys on the inside looking at themselves or looking at their phones or looking at themselves on their phones—are usually surrounded by a much larger group of guys who don’t fit neatly into that particular tribe or any other obvious tribe. And if the guys looking longingly at the easy-andobvious tribe would look around, they’d see a whole lot of guys like them—guys who might be feeling
a little awkward or out of place, guys who are attractive in perhaps less conventional or immediately apparent ways, guys with hidden depths, etc. In other words, ALONE, guys like you. And speaking of guys like you, did you know you have a motherfucking superpower that makes you a member of all gay tribes and your own unique tribe? “Bondage is the great unifier among kinksters,” said Joshua Boyd, a gay bondage “enthusiast,” as they say, in his mid-30s who lives and ties in the Seattle area. “Bondage guys are from all walks of life, and they range from twinks to muscle guys to bears, cubs, jocks, and average Joes.” So just as you’ll find gay guys in every race, ethnic group, economic class, faith community, etc., bondage guys can be found in every gay tribe and bondage guys make up their own unique tribe. “ALONE should put any search for a long-term relationship on hold and look for more casual kinky fun,” said Boyd. “Recon (recon.com) has always been a good place for me to start conversations with fun guys—I even met my husband there. The bottom line is there are others who share his interests, and they are waiting to connect with him.” But you’re shy! You’re introverted! Connecting is hard! Boyd describes himself the same way—shy, introverted, difficulty connecting— and not only is he married, ALONE, but he also doesn’t lack for casual play partners and he’s got play pics all over the internet to prove it. Tyger Yoshi also describes himself as shy and introverted—and I recently watched shy, introverted Yoshi do a bondage demo at Trade, a gay leather bar in Denver, where he suspended a guy from the ceiling. “When I first started exploring my interest in bondage, I was lucky enough to be in a city where opportunities were plentiful, even
for a shy, introverted person like me,” said Yoshi, who’s also in his mid-30s. “There were people who wanted to mentor me, but I struggled taking that first step of accepting help.” The kind of help Yoshi is referring to—the kind of help he eventually accepted—can most easily be found at munches, i.e., casual meet-ups where kinky people, both queer and straight, socialize and connect with other like-minded kinksters. (Munches ≠ play parties.) Spend five seconds on Google, ALONE, and you’ll also find kinky educational organizations that offer classes for people who want to hone their bondage skills while learning about consent, safety, and other best practices. And whether you’re a bondage top (you want to tie) or a bondage bottom (you want to be tied) or a switch (tie and be tied), you’ll make friends in bondage classes. And if you wind up clicking with someone, that person isn’t going to assume you’re a prude (they met you at a bondage class) and that person will definitely be sexually adventurous (you met them at a bondage class). And unlike gay bars or clubs, a person’s skills are just as important as their looks at gay bondage parties and events. “After you start making connections and building your circle, find local fetish/kink events that are happening around you— you may need to reach out to the pansexual community—and see if one of your new friends from the munch or the class or Recon is willing to go with you to check it out,” said Yoshi. “And as you start exploring more of your kink side, consider the possibility of separating kink and sex at first. Let people know that you are interested in bondage but haven’t tried much and you want to practice. Having an exploratory or practice session is much different than having a bondage sex session, and people may be more willing to
facilitate that exploration. And from my experience, if you’re able to get up the courage to go out to a kink play party (with a friend for support), the likelihood of finding someone who’s willing to assist in new or first time experiences increase.” So, ALONE, that thing you’ve been holding back until you get to know someone? Your interest in bondage? Lead with that. Get involved in the kink scene, work on your skill set, be friendly and open— be the nice guy—and you’ll meet lots of men you have something in common with. Trust me, your tribe is out there. Is having sex with multiple partners something prevalent in the gay community? If so, why? It seems that having sex is a pretty big deal with gay men. Why? You Won’t Answer Gay men are men, YWA, and let’s not kid ourselves: Yes, the average gay guy has more sex partners than the average straight guy. But straight men would do everything gay men do if straight men could, but straight men can’t because women won’t. It’s not that straight guys are any less interested in sex than gay guys are or that sex is any less of a “big deal” for straight men. And you know what? Women are just as horny and just as interested in sex as men—gay, straight, or bi—and that includes sex with multiple partners. But women have to weigh every choice they make and every truth they tell against the very real threat of sexual violence at the hands of straight men and the lesser threat of being slutshamed by straight men and other women. (Shout-out to the asexual gay, straight, and bi men and women out there who aren’t interested in sex with anyone—I don’t mean to erase you, but I’m talking averages here, the centers of various bell curves, not deviations.)
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in d n a l o Mark T
R E D A E R MIND “mind blowing” -Chicago Tribune
JUNE 26-AUGUST 4
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