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uesday’s municipal elections could provide the latest evidence of a new normal emerging out of Allegheny County politics: older Democratic incumbents in a town long dominated by their party can no longer cruise to reelection. A mostly young, progressive-minded group has quickly developed an organizational structure that’s led to serious challenges against officeholders like Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala, Jr. Before this year, the 62-year-old had not faced an opponent in an election since 1999. Zappala was appointed to the position the year before. He now finds himself up against a serious competitor for the second time in 2019. In the general election it’s Lisa Middleman, a longtime public defender who is running as an independent. In May, Zappala survived a primary challenge from Turahn Jenkins, a criminal defense attorney. A month later, Middleman announced her run in the Nov. 5 general municipal election as an independent. Middleman’s platform is centered on criminal justice reforms — a set of policies that have gained traction from both progressives and libertarian-minded conservatives. Among the changes she calls for are removing mandatory minimum sentencing and attacking racial biases throughout the justice system. Zappala’s campaign has highlighted his office’s use of diversionary courts like drug court to keep people with dealing with substance abuse or mental health illnesses out of jail. However, Middleman, and Jenkins before her, say the programs aren’t true diversion programs because the individual has to be put into the system in order to take advantage of the programs. Middleman, 57, is just one of a spate of insurgents in the Pittsburgh region who is leveraging a new generation of voters, organizers and political committees to take on what some of them call the “old guard” of local Democrats. The crop of challengers is no coincidence. Successful insurgents, like Bethany Hallam, who defeated 20-year incumbent John DeFazio in May’s pri-

Above: Independent DA candidate Lisa Middleman (Current Photo by Jake Mysliwczyk) Right: Allegheny Couunty District Attorney Stephen Zappala (Photo: Allegheny County)

mary for his county council seat, have leveraged a demand from some voters for fresh blood and a more progressive platform, with campaign support from UNITE! PAC, a political action committee formed in January by Democratic state Rep. Summer Lee of North Braddock. Lee and fellow progressive state Rep. Sara Innamoratto of Pittsburgh came out of nowhere last year to beat longtime incumbents in their own party. They did it outside the normal political channels, with no support or guidance from the Allegheny County Democratic Committee. “We recognized that there are so many people who don’t know who these oldschool politicians even are,” Lee says. “They might know their names, they


might know the family name exists, but they don’t know these people. They don’t even know what they do.” UNITE! Contributed $11,000 to Hallam’s May primary campaign, and now the PAC has lent support to Middleman. Last week, UNITE! Wrote a check to Middleman’s campaign for $25,000, Lee said. Middleman’s campaign committee reported $196,000 in fundraising last week, mostly from individuals. Zappala’s committee reported $212,000 in contributions since June, the biggest checks coming from trades unions. “Steve’s been involved with us with this council for a long, long time, he’s done nothing to hurt members of this council,” said Darrin Kelly, president of

Allegheny/Fayette Central Labor Council’s executive board. The council has endorsed Zappala in the race. The council’s 135 local unions mostly represent workers in the trades and public sector. Kelly said the council’s long relationship is not a knock on Middleman. But he said the unions he represents have run into disagreements with progressive candidates on environmental issues, specifically the region’s natural gas industry. The emergence of UNITE! and its early success is a study in contrasts to places like Chicago and New Orleans, where political dynasties and an entrenched Democratic organization have survived into the 21st century. “I think the Allegheny County


Immersive dance piece journeys through Trinity Cathedral

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Middleman is not without her endorsements. Besides Unite!, she has been endorsed by SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, One Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh NORML. She has also been endorsed by a number of Democratic officeholders who are breaking with the party including Lee, Innamorato, Hallam, state Rep. Ed Gainey, Pittsburgh CIty Councilors Erika Strassburger and Deb Gross, Allegheny County Councilor Anita Prizio, Braddock Mayor Chardae Jones, Former Allegheny County Coroner Cyril Wecht and many others. Zappala has cross-registered as a Republican. Voters can choose the incumbent under the ballot line of either major party. When asked to respond to the criticism that he had been in office too long, Zappala said he would cede the office to a qualified newcomer if one came along, intimating Middleman did not fit that bill. “If I saw somebody who was talented enough to do this, then I’d say, ‘Fine,’ and get out of the way,” Zappala said. “I haven’t seen them.” If Zappala hangs on to win a sixth term, the days of running without an opponent may be over for him and other incumbent Democrats. UNITE! PAC is not only bundling money for challenger candidates, it’s also trying to help local communities in Allegheny County build the needed political infrastructure to get residents involved in local issues and recruit new leaders for future primaries, according to Lee. “We want to help these communities find and empower their own folks,” Lee said.


Democrats are fairly laissez faire, ‘Run your best race and win,’” said George Doughtery, a professor of public policy at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of International and Public Affairs. Election spoils, like patronage jobs, are not numerous enough in Pittsburgh to do the kind of favor-trading needed to sustain a true political machine, he said. Despite three years of notable upsets, Lee said the committee hasn’t really acknowledged a new political reality. “I think they have not taken notice of what’s happened in these last three cycles,” Lee said. “If they have not taken notice of that, then they are foolish and taking on their own obsolescence." Turnout from union members could be the key to Zappala’s reelection, something Kelly said the council is working hard to get done. For his part, Zappala said after a campaign stop in Verona last week that he doesn’t consider the election competitive and the Democratic committee has been overwhelmingly behind him. Some area Democrats, who Zappala described as “extremely liberal” have endorsed Middleman. Zappala is not a liberal, he said. “I’m not sure how I would describe myself,” he said. “I follow the law.” Middleman has not branded herself as a liberal or progressive either, though her platform makes familiar progressive calls for an end to mass incarceration and the cash bail system. “Criminal justice reform transcends partisanship,” said Middleman’s campaign manager Darwin Leuba. “It’s not a Democrat versus Republican, it’s a qualified competent attorney versus someone who has a 20-year reord of not getting it right.”


NOV 6-9



Photo: Andrew Weeks





n Nov. 5, Pennsylvanians will vote on a ballot referendum known as Marsy’s Law, which would amend Article I of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The ballot measure would provide crime victims with 15 specific constitutional rights including, reasonable and timely notice of public proceedings involving the criminal conduct; the right to be present at public proceedings involving the criminal conduct; the right to be heard at proceedings where a right of the victim is implicated, including release, sentencing, and parole proceedings. The law passed unanimously in the State Senate, and by a 190-8 margin in the State House, although it has faced opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in a lawsuit filed on behalf of the League of Women Voters and an individual plaintiff. The suit argues that the referendum will change too many aspects of the state constitution. It amends three different articles, eight different sections, and one schedule all with a simple “yes” or “no” vote. According to the lawsuit: “Despite the many changes that the proposed amendment will make to the Constitution, the voters have only one option available to them: vote “yes” or “no,” to all these changes together...This is commonly referred to as logrolling. ‘Logrolling’ takes away the voters’ decision about what our Constitution should say and gives it to the Legislature.” Mary Catherine Roper, the deputy legal director at the ACLU of Pennsylvania, explained that Pennsylvanians should be voting on each individual change that Marsy’s Law proposes. The voters are entitled to pick and choose what they want to adopt,” she said, but Marsy’s Law doesn’t allow choice, “You have to take it all or nothing.” ACLU is still waiting for a ruling from Judge Ellen Ceisler. Roper explained that normally a constitutional amendment goes into effect


Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announcing his support for the Marsy's Law Constitutional amendment at an April 2018 press conference.

the day after the election. If Marsy’s Law instantly goes into effect, the changes may be irreversible. The ACLU is asking for a delay until the courts decide whether Marsy’s Law should make massive changes to the state constitution. “We asked for a preliminary ruling, that just said, hold off counting the votes until the litigation is done... Don’t make changes that aren’t reversible while the courts are still considering it...Don't let it go into effect until the litigation is done.” Who will Marsy’s Law effect? Some argue that the ballot measure may do more harm than good. Advocates and activists are not only raising concerns about individuals accused of a crime, but also their alleged victims, and the potential changes to the Pennsylvania State


Constitution Megan Block is a consulting attorney on the Women’s Law Project #MeTooPA, an initiative that provides free, confidential, victim-centered legal resources to students, parents and low-wage workers facing sexual harassment. She’s also concerned about how Marsy’s Law will change the State Constitution and said “it’s much easier to deal with nuance in state law.” Block pointed to pro-victim bills signed into law by Governor Wolf in July of this year as a good example of how state legilature can empower victims of sexual assault. House Bill 504, for example, prevents prosecutors from bringing up the victim’s sexual history or prior allegations of sexual abuse while prosecuting certain crimes. “The message resonates with so

many of us, especially in light of Me Too.” she said, “It’s hard for people to stop and think, “Wait a minute, is this the best way to address this problem?” Whenever we’re amending our constitution we need to do a gut check. Are there other ways we can address the same problem?” Block said that pitting victims' rights against criminal rights is a false choice and that, while the law may be well-intentioned, Pennsylvanias must consider how the law will affect everyone’s rights. “Even if it’s well-intentioned, it's going to have serious effects on populations that we’re not even thinking of right now,” Block said. Gabrielle Monroe, who survived sex-trafficking as a youth and now volunteers to help sex workers find housing, mental health aid and legal counsel, asked the same questions.

Who will be affected by Marsy’s Law? “My initial concern, is the wording is very vague and problematic. Which victims are they talking about? We have sex workers being held for 6-8 months on high bail. Their victim is a hotel owner--or a victimless crime,” she said. George Sant, an attorney who conducted research on behalf of the National Crime Victim Law Institute published, “Victimless Crime Take on a New Meaning: Did California's Victims' Rights Amendment Eliminate the Right to Be Recognized as a Victim” in Notre Dame’s Journal of Legislation in 2013. In California, Marsy's Law specifically states that "[t]he term 'victim' does not include a person in custody for an offense, the accused, or a person whom the court finds would not act in the best interests of a minor victim." According to Sant, “Based on a superficial reading of this language, one might conclude that all individuals "in custody" are excluded from "victim" status, and thus that "in custody" victims of sex trafficking and child prostitution (to take two examples) are excluded from the protections of Marsy's Law.” Monroe worries that Marsy’s Law will further punish marginized folks, including sex workers, and give the government more power than it should. “It just Gives the government even more permission to abuse our system.What victims will be afforded these rights?” How has Marsy’s Law affected other states? Marsy's Law for Ohio was passed in November 2017. Eric Laursen, a

We’re your sexual partner.


defense attorney in Cincinnati says the law has only complicated court proceedings and cases. “Marsy’s Law hurts victims as well and violates the rights of those accused of the crime. Judges don’t know how to apply it. Some will ignore parts of it and are daring people to challenge it or appeal in in one way shape or another,” he said. In Ohio, the alleged victims can challenge discover requests. They can deny the prosecution requests for facebook pages or medical records and Lauresen says medical records are vital for cases that include battery, assault or sexual assault. Laurensen also talked about re-traumatizing the victim in rape cases. Under Marsy’s Law the victim is contacted, notified, or asked to be present in court more often than before. “Let’s say the prosecution want to raise the bond. You have to bring in your victim in order to do that,” he said. Vida Johnson is a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, and a former supervising attorney in the Trial Division at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. Johnson raised concerns about alleged victims having say in court proceedings even before there is a conviction. “We supposedly have a system that’s founded on the fact that anyone accused of a crime is presumed innocent,” she said, “to then have an alleged victim have some say in any of the proceedings, I think is really deeply troubling and undermining of the presumption of innocence and undermining of the defendant's ability to get a fair trial, or have any fair process at all.”

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ompared to some other states, Pennsylvanians rarely get a chance to decide whether or not a new tax will be enacted. Remember 2007’s much-maligned Drink Tax? All that took was a vote by Allegheny County Council and a quick stroke of then-Chief Executive Dan Onorato’s pen. But, in 2011, city voters by a two-toone margin approved a .25 mill levy that has provided about $3 million annually to the Carnegie of Pittsburgh Library for operation and maintenance costs. Last fall, however, a countywide tax to provide about $18 million for children’s programs (known as the Children’s Fund) was turned down by voters. Now, coming up on Nov. 5, city voters will get their say on whether to enact a .5mill property tax increase to raise about $10 million annually to pay for maintenance and capital improvements at the city’s 165 parks -- needs that require roughly $400 million to take care of. The measure is being led by the nonprofit Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy to address what PPC Executive Director Jayne Miller calls a dire need. The PPC was born in 1996 because of the parks’ poor conditions, Miller said on a recent episode of the Pittsburgh Current Podcast. She says the conservancy is the nonprofit partner of the city, whose job it is to raise private dollars to “augment” the parks’ budget. “Since we were created, we’ve raised more than $124 million dollars, about an average of $8 million a year to make improvements in the parks,” Miller says. “And, I think most people can recognize the improvements that we’ve made. “But in the scheme of things, it’s really been just a drop in the bucket relative to the significant backlog of needs and annual maintenance needs that the park system has.” Miller says the PPC set out to find out to take a “comprehensive look” at the park system to see exactly what the needs were and what the public’s priorities were, where did they want to see the money spent. “From there, we started taking a look at where the money was going to come from,” she says. “Because the needs are so great, the park system needs about $33 million additionally per year. We can’t raise that privately and these are public assets.”

So what does the tax look like in simple math? If you own a home that is assessed at $100,000, you would pay an extra $50 annually. The assessed value of a home is most often considerably lower than a home’s current market value and the amount paid will be prorated based on assessed value (a $50,000 home would be $25 a year, and so on). This year, the city allocated $56 million to care for the city’s parks. So even with an additional $10 million in tax revenue, which the conservancy hopes to match with $10 million in private donations, which still leaves a $13 million shortfall. Of the city’s 165 parks, five, including Schenley, Highland and Frick are known as regional parks and do receive funding from the countywide Regional Asset District. The other 160 are left to fight over whatever the city can throw their way. For example, thanks to RAD dollars, the city has 69 fulltime employees working in the five regional parks. The remaining neighborhood and community parks have 33 maintenance workers for 160 parks. “That shows how large the funding disparity is between the regional parks and the smaller parks,” Miller says. That has also led to parks in poorer, underserved neighborhoods falling into extreme disrepair. Miller


says those parks will be first in line for much-needed capital improvements. The PPC has put information about how the tax dollars will be spent online at The parks were evaluated based on need and a list was generated showing investment priority (see graphic above). The list above shows the first 20 parks that will see investment. All are in underserved neighborhoods. While most everyone agrees that there is a need for more money going to the parks system, not everyone agrees that an additional tax is the way to do it. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto supports the tax. However, Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb does not. A recent story from Pittsburgh Public Source summed up Lamb’s opposition this way: “Lamb said he worries that using a referendum to fund progressive causes could be abused and take power away from city leaders who are supposed to manage such projects.” However there are some states that require a tax referendum nearly any time an increase is required. In neighboring Ohio, for example, every school district, county and municipality that wants to raise taxes has to take it to the voters. Moira Kaleida, a Pittsburgh Public

School Board Member and chief of staff for Pittsburgh City Councilor Anthony Coghill, says she has concerns about “putting public tax dollars into private hands.” Kaleida says she is concerned about how much control taxpayers will have over the money in terms of how it is spent. “The PPC will tell you that Council has final say, but that simply isn't true. Once an agreement is put into place, Council will have no ability to move around the funding,” she says. “The fund, if held by PPC, would potentially (not be subject to open record requests), lack transparency, and lack oversight by a democratically elected body.” Miller says that “all funds received from the parks tax will go directly to the City and will be under the control of the City.” The Parks Plan, she says, “is the plan for how the funds will be spent in the parks. How the City determines who (i.e. the City, the Conservancy) does the work laid out in the Parks Plan is up to City Council. “The City currently has agreements with the Parks Conservancy ... to supplement work done in the parks. This measure doesn't change this arrangement; it only changes the volume of work that will be done in our parks and its secures dedicated parks funding.” Miller also says the “Parks

NEWS Conservancy would have the same level of public accountability, requirements and transparency as any public entity for use and spending of public dollars.” Kaleida says the city is “all kind of behind the times on many issues.” Of course, she says, parks need more money and attention but, “I don't like to get into a compare and either/or situation, but I cannot help to point to the lack of more than 17,000 affordable housing units in our city. Until we address issues of people being unhomed, unfed, and generally uncared for, I'm not sure I can throw support behind something else.” Kaleida says she did support the 2011 library tax but that libraries “didn’t already receive public funding. Kaleida and Pamela Harbin, another PPS board member said that they were also concerned that recent campaign finance reports showed that more than $700,000 was put into the campaign by the conservancy to push the referendum. Pump Pittsburgh, which uses the city’s parks for its adult recreational sports leagues, donated $45,000. All told, $760,000 was put toward the effort. The pair say they wonder, since the city gives money to the conservancy, if any of those funds were used as contributions to the campaign. “The Parks Conservancy spent $760,000 on this campaign and taxpayers will never know where this money came from. I hope it wasn't me (as a taxpayer),” Harbin said “This lack of transparency should lead voters to ask themselves why they would expect any transparency in how their tax dollars will be spent going forward.” In response, Miller says that the conservancy has gone to great lengths to include the community in its processes and has put its findings and its plan on its website. Miller says she doesn’t understand the point in pitting one community need against another. “Why should city residents have to choose one or the other?” she said regarding the comparison to affordable housing. “Why can’t Pittsburghers have both? Great cities have great parks. Parks transform cities. They are free, and the most democratic spaces in a city. They fuel the economy, improve our health, clean and cool the air, clean and manage stormwater, renew the spirit, and create community. These are not simply ideals. The Parks Conservancy and the City have spent so much time and energy on this initiative because we truly believe in the good that it can bring to everyone who lives or cares about this city and region.”





ecently, on a video forever archived and now easily found at C-Span, Donald J. Trump discussed his decision to hold the next G-7 summit at the Trump National Doral Miami and the criticisms that that decision triggered. During his late-October meandering rationalization, he complained, “You people with this phony Emoluments Clause.” The statement itself raises a host of other questions. What, exactly, is this “Emoluments Clause”? Why is it important? And, finally, is the clause, in fact, “phony?” The first thing we have to establish is that the clause is far from phony. It's in the Constitution. Right there, in Article I, Section 9, Paragraph 8: No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State. The important words in this context are these: [N]o Person holding any Office...shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument...of any kind whatever, from any... foreign State. Now, we dig. But first, as Trump is the head of the GOP (the main conservative political party in the USA), we'll refrain from using any left-leaning source material to explain the issue. And just as twitter retweets are not endorsements, our use of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, as a source is in no way a broader general endorsement of the foundation. At this point, the GOP is (ostensibly) a conservative political party holding (supposedly) conservative political positions (hey, how's the deficit doing these days, guys?), we are simply using their own philosophical/political underpinnings to explore their dear leader's “phony” charge. On The Heritage Foundation's website, after pointing out that Article VI of the Articles of Confederation is the source of the emoluments clause (indeed, they're word-for-word matches), we find that: The clause sought to shield the republi-

can character of the United States against corrupting foreign influences. And: The delegates at the Constitutional Convention specifically designed the clause as an antidote to potentially corrupting foreign practices of a kind that the Framers had observed during the period of the Confederation. The Constitutional Convention was looking to vaccinate the republic against, as one example, Louis XVI, who gifted visiting American diplomats with things like diamond-encrusted snuff boxes in order to gain some influence, or how, a century or so earlier in England, Charles II and most of his officers were actually pensioned by another King of France (this time, Louis XIV). Here is the issue: How can we trust our elected officials to do what they think is in the best interest of the country (even if we don't agree with it) when they're being financially compensated by a foreign power who may have different, competing interests? No, the individual holding the office must be free from, as stated in The Federalist 73, any “inducement to renounce or desert the independence intended for him by the Constitution.” When Trump tweeted sometime later that his resort would not be used for the upcoming G-7, it was not because he accepted the validity of any “emoluments clause” criticism. Rather he blamed his political adversaries and of course, the media. He tweeted: “Doral in Miami would have been the best place to hold the G-7, and free, but too much heat from the Do Nothing

Radical Left Democrats & their Partner, the Fake News Media! I’m surprised that they allow me to give up my $400,000 Plus Presidential Salary! We’ll find someplace else!” Before we go any further, Trump is wrong about his salary as Congress has no authority in changing anything about how or whether he gets paid. The same constitution that demands he not receive any emoluments also demands no changes in his salary. Article II Section 1 Clause7: The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be increased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them. See? It's his decision to give away his salary. He's not giving it up in the sense of agreeing not to be paid. He gets paid and he gives away the same amount. For example, how much money has made its way into the Trump Organization coffers from his many vacations? NPR reported that $60,000 was paid just for the Secret Service expenses on just four trips to Mar-a-Lago in 2017. So far he's visited Mar-a-Lago about a hundred times. So if the 60K is a constant, that means the Trump Foundation has received about $1.5 million over the last three years just for Secret Service expenses from just one Trump resort. So Trump giving away his $400,000 a year can't be that big of a deal to him. But let's get back to the emoluments. During his now infamous telephone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, Zelensky said this to Trump: “I would like to tell you that I actually have a lot of Ukrainian friends that live in the United States. Actually, the last time I traveled to the United States I stayed in New York near Central Park and I stayed at the Trump Tower.” You have to ask yourself, how many other world leaders have tried to bond with Trump same way? How much money have they poured into Trump International? How much were they trying to influence him? How “phony” is the emoluments clause now?








ate October is so full of familiar autumnal comforts. The leaves are changing, the weather has cooled down, and football season is in full swing. It’s not Halloween yet, but in many stores, there are already Christmas decorations everywhere. It’s an odd-year election, and if you listen closely enough you can hear the pitter-patter of folks knocking doors for candidates for the municipal and state races on the ballot. Smells of fall fill the air; cider, bonfires, and if you’re at my house, pumpkin candles. I unabashedly love fall. But wait, I’m getting a waft of something else. What is that? A proposed abortion ban in PA by the House Republicans? And that’s how I know election day is approaching because, like clockwork, this happens each year. Across the country, six-week abortion bans, misleadingly named “Heartbeat Bills” are all the rage. In the last couple years, these have passed in Ohio, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Iowa. As early as 2013 similar bills were passed in North Dakota and Arkansas. The wave of abortion bans coming up like weeds across the country are an intentional and frankly effective tactic the anti-choice movement has used to try to limit abortion access. A bill is passed in one state, then used as a blueprint for other states, and so on. The new bill in PA, like all of the others, was written without the consultation of doctors and patients and is not even remotely based in science. I could get into the weeds on how at six weeks, there isn’t actually a heart to beat, but that has been written about extensively by medical experts, and that’s really not the point. At six weeks of pregnancy, a person’s period could be only a couple of weeks late, and they’d have already passed the window of legal termination. Effectively, these “heartbeat laws” render all abortion illegal. Thankfully, none of these bills ever became law, because every single one has either been vetoed or

struck down by the courts. This is no surprise since a six-week ban clearly sets restrictions months before a pregnancy is viable, so it goes against Roe V. Wade. So if these bills are set to fail and can’t pass constitutional muster, why are they so hot hot hot right now? Because that’s the damn point. Anti-choice folks are throwing all of these blatantly unconstitutional laws at the courts because with tons of conservative Trump-appointed judges all over the federal courts, folks are hoping one of these laws will go to SCOTUS where Roe V. Wade might finally be overturned. This isn’t a cynical or paranoid take, folks. The architects of these bills aren’t leaving this to subtext. When asked about this, Ohio State Rep. Christina Hagan, sponsor of their six-week ban said “I’m not concerned if this ends up in the court, this is exactly why we crafted it. Our intention is to go directly to the heart of Roe V Wade.” The bill didn’t make it to the Supreme Court. In fact, it didn’t even become law. Governor John Kasich, a Republican, vetoed the bill. Shortly after, the Ohio legislature passed a 20-week abortion ban, and Kasich signed it. This is part of a long-game that anti-choice folks are playing to restrict access. Vetoing a six-week ban only to pass one at 20 weeks was an attempt to show that Kasich was being measured, striking a compromise. Sure folks will halt these extreme six-week bans, but hey, what about 20 weeks? This is a calculated effort to shift the Overton window for folks to be more amenable to restricting abortion at different points. The issue is, whether at six weeks or 20 weeks, neither meet the threshold of viability set by Roe’s 24 weeks. Make no mistake; 20-week bans are extreme. Most fetal anomalies don’t appear on ultrasound until 18 weeks, putting folks with high-risk pregnancies in danger. In many iterations of these bills, the exception to the law to preserve the health of the mother is so narrow, a person could lose their entire reproductive system and it still wouldn’t meet the threshold. That bill passed the Pennsylvania

State House and Senate in December 2017. When that bill was sent to Governor Wolf’s desk he swiftly vetoed it, just like he promises to do with this six-week bill. Wolf was the only Democratic governor to run last year in a state where Trump won in 2016, and thank goodness we still have him. Newsweek released an article stating that Pennsylvania may be the next state to ban all abortion, and Governor Wolf quickly responded: “Correction: Pennsylvania will NOT be the next state to ban abortion because I will VETO this bill. #StopTheBans.” It’s fabulous that we can count on Governor Wolf, but shameful that this is how legislators are spending our tax dollars. The dire state of pregnant woman and babies in Pennsylvania shows the hypocrisy; according to Women’s Law Project, “Pennsylvania is one of the worst states for pregnancy discrimination, in part because the Legislature has repeatedly blocked the Pennsylvania Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.,” and “a bill to reduce infant mortality by

clarifying workplace accommodations for nursing mothers.” For now, the six-week ban is sitting in the PA House Health Committee. Of the 43 cosponsors on the legislation, all but three are men. A cosponsor of note is Allegheny County’s own Rep. Harry Readshaw. He has a bad record on choice, but he voted against the 20 week ban in 2017. Now he’s the lone Democrat sponsor, which is interesting considering Jessica Benham just announced her primary challenge to Readshaw, who’s held the seat since 1994. I don’t know what to call Readshaw’s odd strategy; usually with a progressive primary challenger a Democrat would run to the left, but perhaps he’ll make the switch to Republican. I guess we’ll find out in a few months? It would be great if political attempts to strip folks of their bodily autonomy weren’t such a dependable hallmark before upcoming elections. What I’d really like to see in 2020 is the fall of the patriarchy.



Gia Fagnelli (Photo: Tatiana Farfan-Narcisse)




ia Fagnelli is a performance artist who defies categorization. Part drag performer, part stripper, part alien, part dancer, part visual artist, Fagnelli is unafraid to push the boundaries of what art looks like. On October 17, Fagnelli won “Most Innovative” at the Erotic City Awards in Portland, Oregon. They had never been in a competition before, but because the Erotic City Awards is women-run and produced by sex workers for sex workers, Fagnelli threw their hat in the ring and was selected as one of 10 performers. For their performance, Fagnelli was painted entirely green with glowing neon orange hair. “I had so much fun doing my weird alien stripper thing,” says Fagnelli with a huge smile. “I’m now an official titleholder, and I’m going

to milk it. It’s a great certification because I was judged by my peers, and I got to bring my weird gender-bendiness, my queerness, my Pittsburgh to it.” Fagnelli grew up in Pittsburgh, went to school in Orlando and lived in Oakland, California before moving back to Pittsburgh. When they returned to the city, they started hanging out at Blue Moon in Lawrenceville. “I started going to the Blue Moon to find my community and feel like I was in Pittsburgh again, and I was like “These Wednesdays are so cute!” says Fagnelli, speaking about Blue Moon’s open stage on Wednesday nights. “I just started throwing my hat in the ring, popping up to do something fun, it was like art therapy for me to pop up on open stage. I won a couple times and I was like,


‘Oh, you like me!’ It fed my Leo moon. “I’m seen, there’s three minutes where there’s a contractual agreement where everybody’s looking at me and acknowledging I exist and it doesn’t make me a bitch? Give me more!” Around this time, Fagnelli began performing as a stripper as well. Fagnelli didn’t have a drag parent, a veteran of the drag scene to show them how to do makeup and develop a character and guide them on their drag journey. Instead, they learned how to do makeup at the club they were dancing in, using the club’s communal makeup. “I was getting all this release and feedback and energy, and I was overlapping the two in both places. I’m in the strip club lip-syncing on the pole, and I’m doing my stripper moves at

open stage in a full face,” they say. For Fagnelli, the world of strip clubs and drag stages are both forms of drag, and both spaces have plenty of room to play and explore. “I consider both [stripping and drag performances] drag, to be honest. I have my stripper drag versus my Blue Moon drag or queer world drag,” says Fagnelli. “I was always breaking the law by not wearing nails, not doing padding, sometimes I’ll have my tits out and I’ll be packing, and that’s sort of breaking the law. “I would do it at the strip club, and people love when you throw some masculine dance moves in, or get a little butch with one of the men who is hitting on you, sometimes they get wonderfully flustered in the way they love it.” Fagnelli says that gender-bending and playing with gender norms is something that can be exciting to people who don’t identify as queer or exist in a queer community. “People want more than what they’re willing to admit,” says Fagnelli. “If you slap a big ‘this is queer art’ label on it, these dudes are like ‘wait, what?’ But if you just do the thing, they love it.” Queerness and sex work have always gone hand in hand--a lot of important figures in the early queer liberation movement were sex workers. When LGBTQ activism shifts towards assimilation rather than liberation, the needs of queer sex workers are often one of the first things to go on the back burner. “A little secret is that anybody who says they care about queer people of color and ignore sex workers is lying,” says Fagnelli. “Anyone who says they care so much about trans queer people and ignore sex workers are either lying or misinformed profoundly, and most of the time they’re lying. Come on, you’ve watched Pose, you know that that is a huge part of how we survive as a community.” Fagnelli uses their job as a stripper to get out and perform all around the country. “Being a stripper is so liberating--if I have a g-string and a pair of heels, I can go anywhere and get myself a meal and a bus ticket to the next place,” says Fagnelli. This has allowed them to plan longer trips to different cities in which they are both stripping and doing drag and other performance art. Those worlds can intersect in more

ART progressive clubs in other cities. “It’s been such an interesting creative journey, and I’m interested in pushing the boundaries of what I’m able to do within the strip club space and push that audience,” says Fagnelli. Whenever Fagnelli isn’t jet setting across the country for gigs, they spend time creating and collaborating here at home. “I really love collaborations because it’s always someone I have a friendship or connection with,” says Fagnelli. “It’s this amalgam of what I see in the world and what they see in the world and how that overlaps.” One frequent collaborator of Fagnelli’s is Karma Sangye Lama, a makeup artist and photographer. “He wakes me up to possibilities,” says Fagnelli. “It’s thrilling being excited by each other’s ideas.” Fagnelli also spends a lot of time workshopping on their own. When the sun goes does, Fagnelli sets up a projector in their apartment and turns on the camera to capture whatever comes to their mind. That experimentation can yield happy accidents and interesting art. It’s all a process of engaging with the universe and its energy. “I have trust in that back and forth-I will show up, I will throw some stuff down, and we’ll see where it lands and see what the universe throws back.” The next chance to see Gia Fagnelli perform is at Steel City Kitty’s ninth anniversary part on the Gateway Clipper, where they’ll be performing a duet with a long-time friend who has since moved to Austin. “I’ll be doing a really amazing duet with Jordan Harris, who is incredible,” says Fagnelli. “We’re ready to fuck shit up, confuse everybody and turn everybody on.” The beauty of Fagnelli’s art is that it’s guaranteed to keep you on your toes, make you feel feelings and explore something new and challenging. It’s also incredibly fun, and it’s not quite like anything else you’ve probably encountered before. For Fagnelli, that’s a good thing. “I know who I am, and I know that it’s a gift to allow myself to invest and go all in on being different,” says Fagnelli. “Keeping it safe is the most dangerous thing you can do in an industry like this.”

Kat De Lac (Photo: Tatiana Farfan-Narcisse)




ave you ever seen an art show on a boat before? Local production company and entertainment treasure trove, Steel City Kitty, is celebrating its ninth year of variety shows on the Gateway Clipper. The party will feature burlesque and boylesque performances, drag, dancers, contortion and sideshow treats, in the intimate atmosphere of a boat. When guests arrive, Steel City Kitty’s matron and performer Kat De Lac will greet each and every guest with a thank you and a drink as they enter the boat. “It’s so important for people to say thank you to every person that’s come to their events,” says Kat De Lac. “Every time I’ve been to a show

where the host and cast comes out and mingles, that’s my kind of show. “We want everyone to have fun to party, to get along, we book the party girls, the party boys, the party people. You get to see them, you get to be a part of it, and you get to watch cool shit.” Before Kat de Lac was throwing big parties on boats, she was booking variety shows at the Lava Lounge, where she worked at the time. What began with sold-out shows at the Lava Lounge grew into performances at the Rex Theater and the Mattress Factory. The goal is to not only showcase local talent but to bring unique, talented performers from a variety of realms, from all over the country to the Steel City. For the boat party,

Roxi D’Lite from Detroit will be performing. D’Lite is a bold performer who won the prestigious and coveted title of Miss Exotic World in 2010. The Burlypicks 2017 world champion Indy Fire, from Denver, will also be performing. As far as Steel City Kitty goes, Kat De Lac says the only place to go is up: bigger, badder, weirder, wilder. “I don’t want to do anything that’s half-assed, especially this far in,” says Kat De Lac. “I’ve worked so hard to keep getting bigger and better. I could sit in one place for a while and just coast comfortably, and as a business person I’m probably doing it wrong, but as a party girl I want it to be bigger and awesome.” While there have been gay boat parties before, there’s not been a circus, variety, burlesque etc. show on a boat in town. “When the Gateway Clipper was first in the the city, there was a river boat that sat across the river from the Clipper that had gambling and burlesque, so this little part of town has a history,” says Kat De Lac. “Let’s revive that ghost.” Kat De Lac will be performing, as well as boylesque performer Smokin’ McQueen, the other pillar of Steel City Kitty. “Smokin’ McQueen--that boy is the reason I do everything, the light of my life. He changed my world, he’s my brother and my family, he’s really smart.” The work that Steel City Kitty does is not unnoticed by performers in Pittsburgh. Gia Fagnelli, who will be performing a duet with Jordan Harris of Austin at the event, points to Steel City Kitty’s ability to get people through the performance art door. “Steel City Kitty reaches a lot of really cool people who are part of our scene and world, but it also reaches a lot of people who would not see anything like this if they didn’t come to these shows, and we’re really spicing it up for them,” says Fagnelli. “I want art, I want people to come and make art. If they’re stripping, cool! If it’s drag, cool!” says Kat De Lac. “I’m a performance artist, I’m a person making art, and I want to see people making art.”



Chelsea Handler




n her work as an activist, comedian Chelsea Handler has openly covered topics like LGBTQ rights, racism and white privilege. So, yes, she absolutely believes comedians should be vocal about modern issues and provide social commentary about them. “We're speaking to so many more people. I pay my taxes. I have opinions. Why would being successful preclude me from being vociferous about any of those things? Somebody basically telling you because you're successful in one area, you're not allowed to comment in another, that doesn't make any sense,” she

says in a phone call to the Current from Australia. Handler last visited Pittsburgh in April 2018 for “An Evening With Chelsea Handler,” a benefit for the Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh at the Benedum Center. She returns to the Steel City at the Byham Theater with Life Will Be the Death of Me, her latest stand-up show, on Nov. 1. The stand-up show has the same name as her latest memoir. Life Will Be The Death of Me released in April 2019, is Handler’s sixth book, and explores her “Year of Self-Sufficiency” after the 2016 election. Done with the privileged bubble she’s lived


in, Handler decides to make some lifestyle changes to discover what matters most. The book chronicles ugly-crying in front of her therapist after he offers her an orange, finding her mojo as an activist, digging deep into the pain of her childhood and finding a new way to use her voice. Although named after her latest book, Life Will Be the Death of Me features new material related to themes in the book. “The book is really just a framer for the night,” she says. “It's kind of my beginning and my end to the night. It's all therapy-related, like self-awareness, me trying to be a bet-

ter person and constantly screwing up with it,” she says. Handler says turning the book into a stand-up show wasn’t planned — she didn’t think she had anything important to say in that medium. However, after writing the book and going on book tour, it eventually made sense to turn it into a one-woman show. “This is what I do: tell ridiculous stories about, you know, how screwed up I am or how screwed up I think I am, only to find out that we're all the same amount of screwed up. You know, we're all going through the same stuff. And it's just really personal,” she says. After working with a therapist — which she covers in the book — Handler says her voice is now more deliberate and thoughtful, after years of “barrel[ing] through life, going a million miles an hour.” “This is the sharpest I've ever been, yet it's telling a narrative instead of just, you know, making fun of people,” she says. This is also the first time Handler hasn’t had a television project to work on, which, according to the comedian, has been a learning experience. “Focusing on one thing at a time rather than 18 things at a time makes you do that one thing so much more impactfully,” she says. Between numerous television projects and books, Handler fans have known the comedian as biting and self-deprecating. Now, she’s excited to show an empathetic, aware side with her stand-up show, she says. “It's nice for people to see a side of me where I was really trying to get better at being a human being and not be such a bitch all the time,” she says. “Which is a funny — not to use the word ‘journey’ because The Bachelor ruined that word for us 20 years ago — but it is a funny journey.”


“Life Will Be the Death of Me.” 8 p.m., Nov. 1. $61.25-$81.25. 101 6th St., Downtown. 412-456-6666 or www.




Scenes from the Oct. 27 service marking the year that has passed since the Tree of Life attack. (photos by Jake Mysliwczyk



his past Sunday morning began where we left off a year ago, with a Torah reading. Three Squirrel Hill congregations attacked by an antisemitic gunman fueled by hatred on Oct. 27, 2018 – Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha, Dor Hadash and New Light – will gather for a private service. There, far away from the TV cameras and prying eyes of the media, they will study Parsha Vayeira, the Torah section they were reading when violently interrupted by the shooting last year. The Parsha, from the Book of Genesis, is the Torah’s second-longest at 147 verses. “The Parsha describes two very parallel messages,” says Rabbi Yisroel Altein, who has served as spiritual leader at Chabad of Pittsburgh for 16 years. “We have the story of Sodom, which the Torah

describes as an evil city, but we also have the promise of the future of the Jewish people in Isaac being born in a miraculous way.” “It has both sides of the story of Oct. 27 – both the evil and the strength in the survival of the Jewish people.”

*** It is an understatement to say Jewish Pittsburgh has had a difficult year. Immediately following the worst antisemitic attack in U.S. history, the city’s community, centered around the tight-knit hub of leafy Squirrel Hill, was tasked with burying 11 victims and nurturing back to health six more. As they mourned both publicly and privately in the months that followed, they also were forced


to adapt to a new normal – including but in no way limited to increased security at their houses of worship, service organizations and schools; heightened awareness to bigotry and hate, and a renewed vigilance in reporting those elements to authorities; and public reckonings of their own faith. “It’s always going to be on everyone’s mind,” says Pittsburgh City Councilman Corey O’Connor, who was raised dual-faith by a Jewish mother and Christian father. “For us, it’s about moving the neighborhood forward, doing the things we’ve always done.” Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha, the congregation that received a dubious distinction when national media coined the shooting after it, moved to Rodef Shalom on Fifth Avenue and, under the leadership of Rabbi

Jeffrey Myers, tightened its bonds. “These victims were people you sat with several pews away and talked to about the mundane points of your life. Now, you’re at seven funerals in five days,” says Michele Woltshock, 43, of Forest Hills, a Tree of Life congregant for six years. “I feel very fortunate we were not there. I feel very fortunate my daughter is alive. I sort of feel this obligation to be there. I have an obligation to God to be thankful.” Membership at New Light Congregation, based in a temple on Forbes Avenue before moving into the Tree of Life building two years ago, has increased since the shooting. It currently holds services down Shady Avenue, at Beth Shalom. “We made a deal when we sold the [Forbes Avenue] building that the walls around us were less important

than staying together as a family – that gives us a lot of strength,” says Stephen Cohen, New Light’s co-president. “Every day is Oct. 27. I have moved a little bit beyond that but, for a long time, every day was Oct. 27. It’s very hard to move on from a traumatic event but I think one of the ways to move on is to create a home, which is what we’re doing at Beth Shalom.” Marnie Fienberg lost her mother-in-law, Joyce, in the shooting. In addition to forming 2 For Seder, a nonprofit that encourages interfaith celebrations of the Jewish holiday Passover or Pesach, she has developed friendships with those whose loved ones were killed in other mass shootings, like the one at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. “We’re part of this club nobody wants to be a part of,” says Fienberg, 50, a former consultant to the federal government who has lived in northern Virginia for more than 20 years.

“There’s been so much love and support, it’s almost overwhelming. There is so much more love in the world than the hate that spurred this horrible event.” Marnie’s husband, Howard, prayed and recited the Mourner’s Kaddish at temple for his mother every day in the first year following her death. When the couple traveled to Florida to visit other family, Howard researched temples in the area where he could pray. It became a source of routine and of comfort. Something one rabbi told Marnie, however, in the midst of the mourning really stuck with her. “He said, ‘It isn’t about how the 11 died. It’s about how they lived,’” she says. “There were amazing people. And I want people to remember that.”

*** October 27, 2019 ended at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall, just

as it did last year, with 2018’s vigil replaced by 2019’s first-year commemoration. “In a strange way,” said Rabbi Josef Silverman, “from a tremendous darkness, we’ve seen a tremendous amount of light." But that was just the culmination of a day – and, in many ways, a year – filled with counseling for survivors and community members, as well as acts of public and volunteer service, says Maggie Feinstein, who was named director of 10/27 Healing Partnership earlier this year. The partnership, known colloquially as the resiliency center, is based at the JCC on Forbes Avenue in Squirrel Hill. “There’s a communal resource that day, a place where people know they can go,” Feinstein says. “We also have space where people can cry or hug or talk and they can feel sure there’s a safe space to do that.” Stefanie Small is an Orthodox Jew who attends services at Shaare Torah

in Squirrel Hill. She joined Jewish Family and Community Services (JFCS) 18 years ago and has worked as its clinical director for the past three. She stressed the nonprofit JFCS is founded on Jewish concepts but it is not exclusive to those who follow them religiously. “Although Jewish is in our name, we don’t discriminate based on religion, color, creed, anything – you come to us, we serve you,” Small says. “Even though it’s a Jewish agency and even though it’s a Jewish mission, the majority of the people we helped are not Jewish.” Small and others will be working hand-in-hand with the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh to support the Soldiers & Sailors event and other commemorative activities on Sunday. Mallory Kasdan will mark the day with a high-school entrance exam for her daughter near their Brooklyn home.


Rabbi Myers has stressed that his congregation will defy antisemitism and rebuild its 66-year-old facility, which was in need of thousands of dollars in deferred repairs even before the attack gutted it. The new Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha building will be a testament to the congregations’ strengths. “We are a resilient community,” says Sam Schachner, president of Tree of Life, in a prepared statement. “When something bad happens, we have three choices. We can either let it define us, let it destroy us, or we can let it strengthen us. We will not let this attack destroy us. And we will not let this attack define us as a congregation.” Those lessons are sinking in, says congregant Woltshock. “If this has taught me anything, it’s that there’s enough division,” she said. “We need safe spaces where people can be different but still have some unity. I feel very at home in this congregation because of that reason.” Marnie and Joyce Fienberg. (Photo courtesy of Marnie Fienberg)

“I was born in Pittsburgh to parents who were born in Pittsburgh, and they were born to grandparents that were born in Pittsburgh,” joked Kasdan, 47, who became a Bat Mitzvah at Tree of Life on Oct. 19, 1985. She last visited the temple before the shooting to eulogize her mother in 2013. “I will take a moment [today] of course to mourn and to think of how we can be safe and vigilant, and figure out how to root out antisemitism and quell the terrible gun violence we see in our schools, synagogues, malls, public spaces,” she says. “The last year has been hard. A week after the shooting last year, I came to Pittsburgh. I attended Shabbat services at Rodef Sholom … and that, too, was a very moving experience, sitting alongside my dad and his friend, praying for peace with neighbors and friends, some of whom had never stepped foot in a synagogue before.”

as transparent with them as possible about the tragic event. “There was no way to hide it,” says Sampson, 45, of Dor Hadash, a lawyer who works Downtown and lives in Squirrel Hill. “We didn’t go into a discussion of the gruesome details but we answered their questions, ‘Where was somebody shot in the building?’ to ‘Where was somebody shot in their body?’ We tried to be

*** Michael Sampson is the father of two Community Day School students. He and his wife made the decision soon after the shooting to be 22 | OCTOBER 29, 2019 | PITTSBURGH CURRENT

forthright and direct.” “We stressed we were not going to be scared of sharing our Judaism.” Then, there were the politics, which, inevitably, clouded the landscape. Dor Hadash congregant Harry Hochheiser co-wrote a letter and petition pressuring President Donald Trump to cancel his visit to our mourning city. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto also asked Trump to hold his visit until the dead were buried; he heeded neither call. Trump visited the city for a speech on Oct. 23, 2019. He didn’t mention the synagogue shooting in his speech, but he was shouted down by several protesters who exclaimed, “Trump endangers Jews,” before being removed from the Convention Center. “I think it’s very clear the rhetoric and discussion that comes out of this White House – he’s been doing this for years --- fed into this,” says Hochheiser, 52, who teaches biomedical informatics at the University of Pittsburgh and lives in Squirrel Hill. “I don’t think he can walk away from that in any way. He set up the environment where people do these things.”

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Madeline Miller black by Nina Subin


t moments of great confusion or great uncertainty, we seem to want to go back to the classics," author Madeline Miller told the Current via telephone from her home outside Philadelphia when asked about her tale of ancient gods and monsters, of witchcraft and sailors. In our modern lives filled with the noise of tweetstorms and influencers, and harsh, heart-breaking realities, how can we connect to Homer's Odyssey or a book inspired by it? Like the Odyssey, Miller's novel,Circe, (Little, Brown, 2018) speaks to enduring fears and anxieties, and to our shared humanity, something we need now more than ever. "It is comforting on some level to feel that we're not the first people to be lost and make mistakes," she said. If you know the story of the Odyssey, you know a little bit about Circe, "

a witch who lives on the island of Aiaia where Odysseus and his crew wash up. She doesn't play a huge part in the epic, but she is quite memorable. She turns Odysseus' men into pigs -- that's the part people always remember. As both a novelist and a classics scholar, Miller is uniquely suited to splash about in the same waters with Homer, but her navigation of Circe's life opens the story up in an entirely fresh way, one that considers the differences between power and craft, and charts a hero's journey towards fundamental decency without ego, recognition or ceremony. "Many of us grew up with these myths, loving them but also feeling -- this is very true for me -- feeling a very profound sense of frustration. Where are the female voices? Why is it only male voices? Other than Sappho. Even the female stories that we have are all told and composed and written by men. There is a desire to expand the lens and imagine all these other perspectives, these silenced perspectives, of women, of slaves, of outsiders," Miller said. Circe's story starts much earlier than her encounter with Odysseus, while she, a minor god herself, is still roaming the halls of the gods before she is eventually banished to her island. She does, in fact, turn Odysseus' men into pigs. She has very good reasons, though. Circe reckons with Scylla, a six-headed sea monster, the torment of every sailor who passes by from Homer's Odyssey. And she goes up against the Trygon, fearsome, primordial deep sea monster of Miller's own imagination. If you hold Circe to your heart, you can hear echoes of Homer's timeless story of a soldier longing for home and family. Miller's story is a likewise ageless tale, one of longing for meaning and connection within the context of exile. "We're in a moment in the world where we're seeing so many refugees, so many people with

complicated feelings about their homes," she notes. As we follow Circe on her refugee journey, she doesn't fight wars or sail the seas. Rather, she communes with nature; she walks her island gathering herbs and barks and flowers to hone her craft (witchcraft is a demanding art form.) She lives with a lion the way most of us live with a rescue dog or cat. She learns, in short, who she is and how she wants to live. These are questions that have been wrestled with by thinkers across all time, from Rabbi Hillel to Vicktor Frankl, from Hypatia to Hannah Arendt. How do we understand displacement? What gives our lives meaning? What does it mean to be human? "Human futures are always uncertain -- it's about taking a leap of faith into that unknown. That was very moving to me," Miller says. "One of the things that I loved about Circe, one of the things that made her a real pleasure to write is that, even though

she makes many, many mistakes in the course of her life, takes wrong turns, and hits dead ends, she never gives up. I think that is part of that hope. She is always trying to do better." Miller's page-turning novel manages to explore unfathomably deep waters. For Miller, and for Circe, the fact of death, the reality that human lives are finite, is what generates hope, creativity and empathy. It is a love letter to mortality itself. "I have always believed that empathy is humanity's greatest saving grace. It always has felt instinctively true that empathy is in some way connected to our shared experience -- we're all on this earth together and we're all going to suffer, and we're all going to die at some point -- so we have to help each other."


will speak on Monday, November 11th at 7:30 at the Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland.

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*artisans have been paid in full. 5820 Forbes Avenue Mon–Wed–Fri–Sat 10–6; Tue–Thu 10–8 Special Bag Sale Hours: Open Sunday, Nov. 10th, from 12–4 p.m. 412-421-2160 Valid on 11/9/2019 and 11/10/2019 only. 25% off your entire purchase is valid online from 12:00 a.m. ET to 11:59 p.m. PT and at participating stores. Check your local store for hours. Store specific restrictions may apply. Discount applied at checkout. 20% off Bunyaad hand knotted rugs in select store locations and online at Not valid with other discounts or purchase of gift cards.


Pittsburgh Current, 10/29/2019

ART work will generate enough interest to turn it into an evening-length piece later on. Says Platt: ultimately “this project is about healing, strength and the significance of mental health within the black community.” Jameelah Platt & Lost Culture Dance Crew present Hypertension, 8 p.m., Friday, November 1; KST's Alloy Studios, 5530 Penn Ave., East Liberty. Pay What Makes You Happy! ticket pricing. or (412) 363-3000.

Sun Song_by Jameelah Platt



n the age of the Black Lives Matter movement, there seems to be no end in sight to the stresses of Black life in America. In her latest work, Pittsburgh multi-disciplinary artist Jameelah Platt teams up with local dancers, the Lost Culture Dance Crew, to address some of the pressures Black men face within their communities and how such pressures affect their mental, emotional and physical wellbeing in Hypertension, November 1 at KST's Alloy Studios. The 30-minute, multimedia workin-progress plays on the medical term of hypertension as a metaphor for the stresses of black life, Platt says. It is the subject of the work’s narrative she created and to which the Lost Culture Crew’s K-Geno

created choreography for. Platt, who also provides photo and video montages related to the narrative, describes Hypertension as a dance-theater piece in four sections including one in which an angel and a demon engage in a tug of war over the fate of a hospital patient. The work is set to a soundtrack assembled by Platt that includes a mix of alternative, jazz and hip-hop music (contains adult content) infused with audio from interviews she did with the performers and others on the subject. Expect the dancing by Lost Culture Dance Crew’s trio of dancers to be a mix of hip-hop dance styles says crew co-founder Yangser, whose stage pseudonym comes from his close relationship with his sister who


goes by Yingser. The relatively new dance crew, says Yangser, was formed to bring back what he terms as the lost culture of hip hop before a trend toward commercialization. “It seems now that if you want to be a dancer or be considered a dancer you have to go on TV shows like So You Think You Can Dance or America’s Got Talent,” says Yangser. “Back in the day it wasn’t like that. If you were a dancer you didn’t need to be on a TV show or a choreographer, you could be freestyler or really anything.” The production is part of the Kelly Strayhorn’s Freshworks Residency Program which provides artists with space, resources, and the support to explore new ideas. Platt says that the

NEW CHOREOGRAPHIC VOICES Texture Contemporary Ballet’s annual WIP Choreography Project co-founded in 2008 by Kelsey Bartman, Robert Poe, Mary Lohr, and Andrea Vierra returns for another season on Saturday, November 2 at the Carnegie Stage. The showcase allows young choreographers with varied experiences the opportunity to hone their craft in an open and encouraging environment. It will once again offer up a variety of works-in-progress from some 14 choreographers including Texture company members Madeline Kendall, Hannah Buggy, Erin Patterson, Nicole Rizzitano, Rachel Harman, Aaron Bellofatto along with Texture associate artistic director Kelsey Bartman and her two sisters Kaela and Kyrsta. In addition to the dancing, attendees can enjoy wine, beer, and snacks while mingling with the artists before and after the show. Texture Contemporary Ballet presents WIP Choreography Project, 7 p.m. & 9 p.m., Saturday, November 2; Carnegie Stage, 25 W. Main St., Carnegie, PA. Tickets $20-25. textureballet. org or ​ SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE Get ready to shake what your parents gave you in support of Attack Theatre and their 25th Anniversary season at The Get Down, Friday, November 1 at Spirit Hall, 242 51st Street, Pittsburgh. The “pay what moves you” dance party from 8 p.m. – 2 a.m. will feature a rotating cast of local DJs including Arie Cole, DJ Gordy G, and DJ Aesthetics along with exclusive dance performances by Attack Theatre’s dancers and the sound reactive, performed, sculptural, light and architecture installation The Final Vault by artist Ian Brill.



Sasha Velour brings her one-queen show of music and magic to Pittsburgh after successful tours from New York to London to Australia and New Zealand. “Smoke and Mirrors” features 13 lip-synch performances alongside a series of magical illusions, all brought together to speak about gender, fame, and living life to the fullest. 7:30 p.m. 101 6th St. $41.25-$156.25. 412-456-6666 or City of Asylum @ Alphabet City presents their first Latinx & Proud! event celebrating the voices of Latinx writers across many genres. Featured readers are Denice Frohman, M. Soledad Caballero, Tanya Shirazi and Zeca Gonzalez. 7 p.m. 40 W. North Ave. Free. 412-435-1110 or


Pittsburgh’s top jazz bassists come to City of Asylum @ Alphabet City to celebrate the music of Ray Brown, a Pittsburgh native himself who pioneered the bass spotlight solo. This event continues the Off Minor Jazz Series curated by drummer Thomas Wendt to honor legendary jazz composers and musicians. 7 p.m. 40 W. North Ave. Free. 412-435-1110 or The Waterfront at Homestead holds a Boo Bash Under the Bridge for kids of all ages to enjoy. From 5 p.m.-7 p.m., kids will receive a free treat bag while they enjoy music, activities and a costume contest. 5 p.m. 149 West Bridge St. Homestead. Free.


The Oaks Theater holds an Open Jam this Halloween, featuring their house band 8mm Lead. Come to play or to listen and enjoy the full bar and food available. Sign-ups

begin at 7 p.m. It’s free to play, and a full backline is provided. 8 p.m. 310 Allegheny River Blvd. Oakmont. Free. 412-828-6322 The Mattress Factory will hold a Halloween edition of their Art And… series, featuring an installation by Patte Loper and a piano concert by Andrew Ranaudo. A Q&A will follow with cocktails and light snacks. Costumes are welcomed and encouraged. 6 p.m. 500 Sampsonia Way. $10. 412-231-3169 or info@mattress. org


Wreck Loose

Attack Theatre hosts Arie Cole, DJ Gordy G and DJ Aesthetics at Spiritfor a get down. The night will also include exclusive dance performance and The Final Vault by artist Ian Brill. 8 p.m. 242 51st St. Name your price. 412-281-3305 or contact@

the cosmos.” We’re not exactly sure what the hell that means, but try and stop us from showing up to their Nov. 2 release party at Thunderbird Music Hall. The Buckledowns will also appear. 7 p.m. 4053 Butler St., Lawrenceville. $12.

after which the event becomes 21+. 6 p.m. 117 Sandusky St. $12 general admission, $8 for members, students and seniors, $5 for access and EBT card holders. 412-237-8300 or

The Pittsburgh Shorts Film Festival kicks off at Southside Works Cinema. The festival will feature contemporary short films from all over the globe, nearly half of which were directed by women. For the first year, the festival also includes its first script competition in partnership with Carnegie Screenwriters. Films will be screened through Nov. 7, with a special All Ages Block on Saturday, Nov. 2. Group pricing and Festival Passes are available in advance. 7 p.m. 425 Cinema Dr. $15 general admission, $10 for students under 26 with ID, $5 for kids under 10.

Dave Calendine performs the Disney Songbook on the theatre organ, presented by the Pittsburgh Area Theatre Organ Society. Audiences will recognize songs they know and love and be entertained by live accompaniment to some of Disney’s silent shorts. 7:30 p.m. 1000 Kelton Ave. $15 in advance, $20 at the door, Free for students with ID. 412-3224078 or

The Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures series at Carnegie Lecture Hall continues with Grace Lin, award-winning author and illustrator, host of two podcasts and member of the Advisory Board for the non-profit We Need Diverse Books. A book signing will follow the lecture. 2:30 p.m. 4400 Forbes Ave. $10. 412-622-8866 or


The press release announcing Wreck Loose Kills Again, the second full-length record from local band Wreck Loose, promises “ten brand new songs about food, death, sadness, energy drinks, home, weight loss, drugs, ONE of your hands and

The Andy Warhol Museum teams up with The Pittsburgh Center for Autistic Self-Advocacy and Autism Connection of Pennsylvania to put on a Sensory Friendly Silent Disco. A live DJ will take requests fed through wireless headphones that can be adjusted for volume level or taken off to opt out of listening, and an enclosed sensory-friendly area will be located on the first floor. The Factory underground studio will be open for silkscreen printing and other art projects. Teenagers and their families can enjoy from 6 p.m.-8 p.m.,



Sweetwater Center for the Arts presents a workshop with John Buxton, focusing on composition and the arrangement of objects and figures to construct a visual narrative. The workshop is conceptual in nature and welcomes artists of all mediums. 9 a.m. 200 Broad St. Sewickly. $115. 412-741-4405 or areed@


The 2019 From Slavery to Freedom


EVENTS Film Series continues at the Frick Environmental Center with a screening of “Paul Laurence Dunbar: Beyond the Mask”. Dunbar, the son of former slaves, was the first African American to reach fame for his writing, which the film explores along with his personal life. 5:30 p.m. 2005 Beechwood Blvd. Free. Heinz Hall hosts Wilco, the alternative rock band based out of Chicago, for their Ode to Joy Tour. The band is noted for their great live performances and for curating and headlining their Sound Solid Festival. 7:30 p.m. 600 Penn Ave. $43.75-$53.75. 412-392-4900 or


The Oaks Theater holds a screening of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” to commemorate the film’s 44th anniversary. Food and drink specials will be at the bar, and the first twenty arrivals will be provided

with coconut shells to be their very own Patsys. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. 7:30 p.m. 310 Allegheny River Blvd. Oakmont. $8 general admission. 888718-4253 or info@theoakstheater. com


The Neighborhood plays at Stage AE. The indie rock band, famous for their single “Sweater Weather,” has released three albums and six EPs. Slow Hollows and Claud open for the band. 7 p.m. 400 N Shore Dr. $32 in advance, $35 at door, $75 premium seating. pittsburgh/ae Puddles Pity Party performs at Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall. Self-described as the ‘Sad Clown with a Golden Voice’, Puddles appeared on Season 12 of America’s Got Talent and has partnered with performers like Postmodern Jukebox for interpretations of classics that are great to listen to at any age. 7 p.m.


510 East 10th Ave. Munhall. $30$120. 877-987-6487 or


To commemorate the 81st Anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh presents Etty, a one-woman play directed by Austin Pendleton and performed by Susan Stein. Etty depicts the life of Etty Hillesum, a Dutch Jewish woman living in Amsterdam in 1941. The play uses Hillesum’s own words as recorded in her diary. A discussion will follow the performance, which is free with pre-registration. 7:30 p.m. 4400 Forbes Ave. Free. kristallnacht Totally 80s performs at The Oaks Theater. The tribute band features music, authentic 80s dress and givea-ways at each show. Attendants are encouraged to dress in their own best 80s attire. Doors open at 6 p.m. so audience members can enjoy the food and drinks. 7:30 p.m. 310

Allegheny River Blvd. Oakmont. $12 auditorium seats, $15 table seats. 888-718-4253 or


The Brew House Association holds a Holiday Bazaar, featuring handmade selections from local artists. Artists can apply to join the list of vendors for no cost up to Nov. 3. The event is free and open to the public. 12 p.m. 711 S. 21st St. 412-212-6650 or


Celebrate Veteran’s Day at the Heinz History Center with a singing of the National Anthem and the unfolding and refolding of 36-ft American Flag in the History Center’s Great Hall. The event is included with museum admission, and senior, student, child and active duty or retired military discounts are available. 12 p.m. 1212 Smallman St. $18 general admission.







November 9-17

A mystical journey into the jungle... and beyond Benedum Center • Tickets $14+ • Kids & teens half-price English supertitles projected above the stage Inspired by the magical realism of Gabriel García Márquez These performances have received special funding from The Pittsburgh Foundation.

Season Sponsor Tuesday Night Sponsor: Ambridge Regional Distribution & Manufacturing Center



Tribe Eternal: Clara Kent, Bibal Abbey NVSV and Pharoh.(Photo Cedits, from left, Huny Young, Sofar Sounds DC, Brian High and HDJ Photography)




hen Clara Kent wrote her verse for “Local Celebrity,” the first single from Pittsburgh hip-hop collective Tribe Eternal’s new record, Mysterious Shit, she remembers her collaborators Bilal Abbey and NVSV giving her a look. “Like, ‘Oh, we goin’ THERE?’” she laughs. “I was just over local rappers. I was like, ‘I’m TIRED of local rappers!” Anyone listening to the track could tell as much: “Wanna be local celebrity/ selling your soul for a fucking tweet/looking for girls on your IG/ scrollin through her pictures like a

fuckin sleaze,” Kent raps. “Do you live to create or to validate?” Abbey double downs on the next verse: “Local celebrity tweakin’/ fishing for fame for the weekend … fakers you is, you was never involved.” These are frustrations artists deal with no matter where they are, and NVSV points out that you’ll find “wannabe local celebs” in any city. But “Local Celebrity,” as well as other points on the record — like “Plastic,” a hype trash-talk track which calls out mediocre, inauthentic musicians — deal with things happening in the Pittsburgh hip-hop scene. “‘Local Celebrity’ for me was …


things that I see in my environment,” Kent explains in a phone conversation with NVSV and fellow Tribe Eternal members Abbey and Pharaoh Lum. “People are just out of their mind on different things, different vices, different addictions. They throw their humanity out the window for their ego to be present. “I’m seeing stuff that people are just going along with, and I can’t stay silent about it,” she says. “I’m just gonna talk my shit.” NVSV adds, deadpan: “I want Mysterious Shit to hurt feelings.”


It was back in 2014 that Abbey and Lum saw Kent perform her ambient, confessional R&B for the first time. “As soon we ran into Clara we knew she was — in our words — she was outta here,” Lum recalls. “It was a different type of talent, a different type of feel.” The two rappers already had their own project – The H&T, which is now under the Tribe Eternal Music Group umbrella — and Kent had recently left another group, and was finding her way as a solo artist. But, Lum says, they wanted to start something brand new with Kent. “We wanted to break her in on the ground floor, [not like], oh yeah,

MUSIC you’re joining our band.” NVSV, who had worked with the other three artists individually, was a natural collaborative partner. For Lum, “it was just a mutual respect with, like, the quality of music that [NVSV] put out, how he carried himself as an artist,” he says. “We’ve collabed with a lot of people, and it’s rare that we have someone who we feel stands in the same air with us.” Kent adds that, as a collaboration, Mysterious Shit came together naturally. “It wasn’t forced,” she says. “Everything that happened previously led us to making a project.” The easy warmth between the artists is clear from the first moments of the album. “It was definitely a team effort,” NVSV says. “In this age of music where everybody just emails beats and verses … we really sat together to make sure this is what we wanted sonically.” It also came together relatively quickly: they had to make the time to make the project happen because NVSV was planning a move to New York City, where he now lives. “It was something we wanted to do together so we wouldn’t have to email those parts in,” he says. The Mysterious Shit album art imagines the four artists as comic book characters, joining their individual abilities to create a powerful super group. And the project has allowed each to highlight and hone their respective skills. For NVSV, who usually works on his own, Mysterious Shit — which will be available on all streaming services at midnight on Halloween — was a rare chance to work with artists who were on the same page. “[It] gave me a sense of comradery that you won’t find in any of my other projects,” he says. Abbey got to lean into his interest in mixing and sound engineering. “This album really gave me the opportunity to mix a bunch of different voices that were doing different things on different songs,” he says. There’s a lot happening on Mysterious Shit: It’s a moody, dynamic record, veering at times into vaporwave, trip-hop, and avant-pop, then taking hard turns into Southern hip hop and neo-traditional soul. Everyone raps, everyone sings. “I’m an artist,” Abbey says, “but I’m also figuring out how to make everyone’s vision seen and heard.” Lum took it as an opportunity to

sharpen his rhyming and writing skills. “I love rap,” he says, “I love collaboration but I’m also very competitive.” Working in the studio with artists he admires, he had to be on his game. “I feel like we brought the best out of each other in the process.” For Kent, Mysterious Shit is a big step out of her comfort zone. “Most of the time when people hear me, they hear me singing … this is the first time people are really going to hear me rap. So I was like, ‘They don’t understand, I’m NERVOUS.” But you’d never know it. Kent brings heat and swagger to her verses, coolly advocating healthy living and a focused mind on “Level Up,” then scorching haters, creeps, and liars on “Clara’s Mad” and “Fool.” “Bilal, Lum, and NVSV have been rapping for years,” she says. “And I’ve been rapping for years too, but not in an open space like this. This is my Diana Ross moment, of like coming [out of ] the curtains with the big hair and the sequined dress, you know what I mean?”













*** For any hurt feelings it might inspire, there’s nothing sour about Mysterious Shit. “I ain’t trippin’, I’m listening.” Abbey raps on “Level Up.” “Cause the best thing a wise man did in his whole life was pay attention.” There’s plenty of wisdom and beauty to be found for those who care to hear it. “A lot of people tip-toe around things,” Kent says. “It’s time for us to be upfront and bold and just say how we feel. Because in jazz, in blues, in soul, even in real deep R&B cuts, they were just talking about their story no matter how personal it was. I kind of miss that in hip hop locally.” We have a lot of great artists, she says, but the bar needs to be higher. “The thing that makes hip-hop culture so different from everything else is what is in this record,” she adds. “I really appreciate that all these guys really brought it, and encouraged me to do the same.”


2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 10. Full Pint Wild Side Pub. 5310 Butler St., Lawrenceville. $5-10. TribeEternal

“Playing this music this way is such a blast that it probably should be illegal.” — Keller Williams

THURSDAY, MARCH 19, 2020 BYHAM THEATER • 7:30 PM BOX OFFICE AT THEATER SQUARE 412-456-6666 • GROUPS 10+ TICKETS 412-471-6930 T R U S TA R T S . O R G • B OX O F F I C E AT T H E AT E R S Q UA R E 41 2 - 4 5 6 - 6 6 6 6 • G R O U P S 1 0 + T I C K E T S 41 2 - 471 - 6 9 3 0



Clinton Clegg, right, and The Commonheart (Photo: John Simmonds)




ittsburgh’s The Commonheart doesn’t sound like it belongs in 2019. There are the surefire signs, of course – the reverby chikka-chikka of Stax-style soul guitar, yes, as well as bobbing bass scales that hint at Chicago’s electric blues and the nostalgic trill of Hammond organs. Then, there’s the man at the center of the nine-person band, Clinton Clegg, a bearded soothsayer who belts out soulful refrains with raspy howls that call to mind Joe Cocker at his finest. This is a musician you do not listen to sitting down. Clegg is an interesting cat, self-effacing and modest to a T while often seeming larger than life. When he stalks a stage, you notice. But, speaking on the phone last week while getting an oil change at Wal-Mart in Pittsburgh’s Eastern suburbs – he was leaving for a gig in New York at 7 a.m. the next morn-

ing – Clegg is quick to joke about the very things that make him such a Pittsburgh commodity in the first place. “I developed this rasp. It’s something that’s built over the years,” says Clegg, 38, of Brighton Heights, who is proudly not a singer of the overly polished variety. “There’s probably some voice instructors out there really rolling their eyes when they hear me sing.” The Commonheart, which has toured as far as Montreal, Houston and San Francisco, formed about five years ago. They’re getting lots of attention – I mean, after all, this is the band that played the NFL Draft Day in 2018 – but most of the band members have kept their day jobs. Clegg, who studied what he jokes was “some boring, boring stuff” at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP), works in IT in the Oakland area. The band’s saxophonist teaches


at Pittsburgh CAPA. The group now is touring the U.S. to promote its sophomore LP, titled Pressure, a 10-song romp of raw soul and classic R&B that Jullian Records released this summer. The Commonheart lands at Stage AE Nov. 9 to play its first Pittsburgh gig in many months. “This is a huge homecoming for us,” Clegg says. “Crowds in every city we go to have a little bit of a different identity. Denver and Colorado have some of the best music crowds I’ve seen, young people really hungry to come out and be part of the scene. And places like Austin, they have a built-in scene.” What about playing a big venue in Pittsburgh like Stage AE, whose capacity is roughly double Mr. Small’s Funhouse in Millvale, where The Commonheart headlined a year ago? “It’s really cool to play smaller rooms. There are special moments.

But you bump elbows,” Clegg says. “[Playing a bigger venue] has a different energy level. We look at it differently. We do the sets differently. And we’re excited about it.” Those attending the Stage AE gig can expect lots of crossover between the acts; Clegg estimates that the stage could see as many as 14 or 15 musicians playing at one time. And he stresses there’s a special chemistry to playing live on home turf. “The band formed for just playing around here in Pittsburgh, getting to know the scene,” he says. “This is home, man.”


with GENE THE WEREWOLF, BUFFALO ROSE. 7 p.m. Sat., Nov. 9. $22-25.


Roscoe Mitchell




s Roscoe Mitchell explains some of his current music, which aims to blur the line between composition and improvisation, he cites one of his rules to illustrate his methods: “Don’t follow. If you know your part and I don’t know mine, I’m sitting around waiting to see what you’re going to do,” he says by phone from Portugal. “By the time I do that, I’m behind. And that… would be like being behind on a written piece of music.” The saxophonist has broken new musical ground several times over throughout his career. He was an early member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, a group of Chicago composers and performers who devised a forum for modern works that didn’t fit with the city’s diverse jazz scene. After more than half a century, the AACM continues to nurture new talent. What began as the Roscoe Mitchell

Amina Claudine Meyers at Bellefield Hall. This marks Mitchell’s first visit to Pittsburgh since the Art Ensemble’s 1990 performance. At the age of 79, recently retired from a teaching post at Mills College, Roscoe Mitchell isn’t about to let go of the probing nature that has fueled his musical career. In fact, he emphatically states, “I’ve never been more excited about learning in my life than I am right now. There’s no lack of things to learn right now.” Sound, the 1966 album by the Roscoe Mitchell Sextet, was the first release from an AACM member and it showed a leader that was already in command of a unique alto saxophone technique. The session included future Art Ensemble members Lester Bowie (trumpet) and Malachi Favors (bass). Mitchell says the inspiration for the album was born in part by participating in weekly practice sessions with pianist Muhal Richard Abrams’ Experimental Band. “We were always encouraged by Muhal to write for the band: Bring your pieces in. Get heard. Don’t like them? Take them home. Fix them up. Bring them back next week,” he says. Playing sessions with other people around Chicago also sparked his imagination. “I would start to hear all these different things and I suppressed them for a long time,” Mitchell says. “When I decided not

to do that anymore, they started to pour out of me. All the musicians that I was playing with all welcomed that and encouraged me.” In the Art Ensemble’s heyday, it was typical to see Mitchell spend time on myriad horns, from the tiny sopranino sax to the massive bass sax. In Pittsburgh, he might have just the former horn and his soprano, along with a small percussion set-up. “My dream is to go smaller and smaller, so I can have a big coat with a lot of pockets so I can pull out small instruments,” he says. “Trying to travel around with instruments is challenging.” Mitchell will host a free seminar on Saturday, November 2 at 10 a.m. at the Frick Fine Arts Building, Oakland.


7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov., 2 Carnegie Music Hall, 4400 Forbes Avenue, Oakland. $30-$35. 412-6247529 or

Art Ensemble became the Art Ensemble of Chicago, a world-revered band. Their musical philosophy of “Great Black Music: Ancient to the Future” explained how they could go from traditional jazz to free jazz to percussion workouts, all within the space of a set. Although three of the five members of the Art Ensemble have passed away, Mitchell and drummer Famoudou Don Moye are keeping the name alive with a 17-member incarnation of the group, who released the two-disc We Are On the Edge earlier this year. Mitchell comes to town this week for the 49th Annual Pitt Jazz Seminar and Concert, which is hosted by Nicole Mitchell (no relation), president emeritus of AACM and the new head of the university’s Jazz Studies program. In addition to the long-standing tradition of a Saturday night concert, the event has a Friday night concert with pianist/organist PITTSBURGH CURRENT | OCTOBER 29, 2019 | 33

MUSIC Least favorite concert? I struggled with this one, and this is probably going to contradict my previous response, but I think Radiohead at Blossom Music Center would be my least favorite. The band was great but didn't really stray from the album versions at all, which was fine, and they played a great show from what I could tell. We had seats under the pavilion, but when we met up with some friends in the lawn area, we were surprised that everything sounded better out there. Maybe I just had high hopes/expectations, maybe we just didn't have good seats, who knows. We still had a blast, though. Favorite thoughts, experiences about Pittsburgh? One of the experiences that will always stand out for me was living in Brookline and having regular band practices in the dining room of the house where we all lived. We'd take breaks and go outside to find neighbors sitting on their porches listening to us. We'd even hear a yelp/cheer on occasion. These were just regular families in a residential neighborhood, but their implicit and sometimes more vocal support of a group of loud guys in their 20s was something special. Big thanks to those neighbors for their support and for not calling the cops.



rother’s Crickets is the new project from former Pittsburgh resident Brad Austin. Formerly of experimental folk-rock band The Slant, whose members have gone on to make music as André Costello and the Cool Minors, Polar Scoüt, and Yarn Wallows, Brad has since relocated to Annapolis, MD and has just released his debut solo effort, a lo-fi avant-pop collection entitled Love You Over and Over, under this new moniker. I want to thank Brad for taking the time to participate in this edition of First/ Last. The first album you ever bought? I'm not quite sure, but I remember my good friend Zach Dow (Yarn Wallows, The Slant) giving me a copy of Radiohead's live album I Might Be Wrong for Christmas in, I think,

2002. That was a real eye-opener for me and was probably the first CD someone gave me that I didn't know I wanted. I gave him an alarm clock. His gift was better. Your last album bought? Carrie & Lowell by Sufjan Stevens. Favorite album of all time? This is a tough one. It's probably The Beatles' Abbey Road or Takk... by Sigur Rós. These are always in heavy rotation in my house. Least favorite/most disappointing album? After mulling over some options, I think Lover by Taylor Swift is the winner here. 1989 is a guilty pleasure of mine and I'll defend it any time, though.


First concert attended? Silverchair after their album Diorama. Our friend's dad drove us six hours to New York City from rural PA and back again on a school night. (Thanks again, Lonnie.) Last concert? Sigur Rós at Merriweather Post Pavilion. They performed as a three-piece and it really changed my perspective on what is possible with that many musicians on stage. Favorite concert ever? Sufjan Stevens at the Beacon Theatre in New York for the Age of Adz Tour. It was like everyone (both audience and band) was bursting at the seams with pure joy by the end of it, and it was just an incredible atmosphere to be a part of.

Hugh’s Take Thanks, Brad. It is funny that I never saw The Slant perform before you broke up but I am such a fan of every member of the band’s solo output ever since. You were a supergroup before you even knew it! Hugh Twyman (AKA HughShows) has been documenting the Pittsburgh music scene since 2004. His website ( features a comprehensive Pittsburgh Concert Calendar, episodes of HughShowsTV, a newly launched public Pittsburgh music database, exclusive audio streams from local bands, thousands of his concert photos and his trademark First/Last interview series. Support Brother’s Crickets: Support HughShows:






er long, dark hair has a hint of wave in it. Streaks of purple and pink frame her face. Her bangs are half purple, half raven black. Her dimples and milky-white clear skin give her face a cherub-like innocence that contrast with mysterious aqua eyes that seem to morph between green and blue (and back to green again). A steaming hot green tea rests in her hands as the mist envelopes her. This is Amethyst. Many people need just one qualifier to define themselves: athlete, dancer, doctor. Amethyst cannot be defined by just one word. She is equal parts belly dancer, vegan, teacher, community organizer, mystic and mother. Amethyst, 40, of Mt. Lebanon, is the owner of both Amethyst Arts and the Pittsburgh Vegan Expo. An entrepreneur and community

organizer, Amethyst, née Amy Marie Cottrill, started organizing cultural events when she was a sophomore in high school. She started a high school organization called Eco Club and hosted events where high school staff could sample vegan food. Then as a senior, she organized small multi-cultural festivals in the South Hills. She longed to bring vegan culture to her Carrick neighborhood. These events were small, but hosted local artists and food vendors. Years later, her small multi-cultural festivals have morphed into something much larger. Over the years, the name of the event has changed, but the concept remains the same— to bring artists, performers and local vegan food together in Pittsburgh. An event eight years ago, Vegan Bazaar, hosted around 100 visitors. There were 1,000 attendees at her former event, the Pittsburgh Vegan

Festival on the North Side, and then the North Hills. Now under the name Pittsburgh Vegan Expo, she expects a few thousand at the Monroeville Convention Center on Saturday, November 9. A resounding theme throughout her festivals is belly dance, of which Amethyst is a certified performer and teacher. She was first introduced to the art of belly dance in 1997. In a high school acting class she performed a monologue in which she had to belly dance. Opting for no formal preparation, her first attempt missed the mark, much to the chagrin of her teacher. Following her failed attempt, she saw a belly dancer perform at a friend’s wedding. Intrigued, she enrolled in classes immediately. Amethyst began taking classes around Carrick and then throughout Pittsburgh. She quickly started traveling with master instructors, such as Ansuya Rathor from the celebrated troupe Belly Dance Superstars. Her studies took her to San Francisco, Miami and Washington D.C. She studied traditional Egyptian and Turkish styles while also learning more contemporary dances. Eventually, under Rathor’s instruction, Amethyst became certified in belly dance. Often, she explains, those who practice belly dance choose a Middle Eastern name to perform under – something that suits how you feel when you dance. While Amethyst is not a Middle Eastern name, she chose the variety of quartz because its purple color represents the divine. “Amethyst has properties to turn negative energy into positive energy,” she says, “and that’s what belly dance has done for me. Belly dance isn’t a spiritual thing for everyone, but for me, it is.” She says spirituality is not essential in the art of belly dance. “You can have any religion, or none, and belly dance. Belly dance is for everybody. I happen to be pagan. My version of paganism has lot of (Buddhism) in it.” Amethyst ties her spirituality into belly dance through what she calls sacred dance. Sacred dance, she explains, is “belly dance mixed with spirituality for magical purposes and to transform things in your life – changing patterns into more positive ones, moving meditation and breathing techniques to reach a goal.

If you do something healthy with your body and mind, it will help you reach other goals.” Belly dance even without religion makes you stronger, she says. Historically, belly dance has helped in childbirth and works out your entire body, especially the core, she says. Many women come to her classes feeling uncomfortable at first. “But soon, they realize that everyone in the class once felt the same way and end up leaving with boosted confidence.” “I’ve had students who, in the past, had negative experiences that have made them uncomfortable with their bodies. I’ve seen them work through it, not for other people, but for themselves. Some women go on to perform in front of people, and some just want to dance with other women.” However, she adds that men also belly dance. Not often, but occasionally, men attend her classes. She also offers female-only classes. Belly dance isn’t always such a serious and sacred matter. While Amethyst is versed in traditional styles of the dance, she has a playful energy about her that is expressed through her own unique style of belly dance – what she calls “electro belly.” The ElectroBelly Troupe performs to electronic music and their events usually consist of deejays, break-dancers, live instruments and multimedia art. “My style depends on the type of gig,” she says. “Traditional events call for traditional style. My own style mixes tribal-fusion with Americanized dance styles.” Amethyst strongly integrates belly dance with veganism. “Veganism, belly dance and spirituality all connect to me. They are all healthy. Belly dance works out your body and is emotionally healthy by connecting to other women and your body. It’s a mind, body, spirit connection. If you’re doing something that connects all those things, veganism fits in. Veganism physically makes me better.” Knowing that she is not causing harm to any living creatures also makes her emotionally healthy, she says. She is a veteran vegan – despite her parents’ initial hope that it would just be a phase. She became a vegetarian at age five after a traumatic life experience. After eating fast-food hamburgers, she became very sick and was hospitalized for



three months. Her kidneys stopped working, and her body went into complete renal failure. She believes the contaminated meat from the fast-food hamburger is what gave her E. coli. During her hospitalization, she overheard a doctor telling someone she was going to die. “I heard that, and I was five. I knew what it was like to think I was going to die and want to live.” After dialysis and transplants, she survived. Then, just months later, her family nearly avoided a car accident. Her dad sped around a bend and the car spun. He hit the brakes and stopped just inches away from a cow. “I looked into the cow’s eyes and felt a connection. The cow knew what it was like to almost die, just like I did.” While her parents went to alert the farmer that cows were roaming free on the road, Amethyst saw a sign that read, “meat for sale.” She was horrified. It was the first time she learned that meat came from animals. Her parents were not initially receptive to her vegetarianism. From years 5 to 10, she would have to sit at the dinner table and fight off her parents’ attempts at trying to get her to eat meat at the suggestion of their family doctor. Then, around the age of 10, her family tried a new doctor who happened to be from India – a

country where 42 percent of its citizens are vegetarian, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization for the United Nations. The doctor was more than familiar with vegetarianism and educated her parents on alternative ways to get protein. In Amethyst's early teens, her vegetarianism morphed into veganism. It took her a week to give up dairy, and she immediately noticed positive changes. Her acne went away, along with stomach and female reproductive issues. She says these things made it easy to stay vegan. “I was the only vegan I knew. Everyone thought I was strange and tried to feed me lettuce all the time. In high school, all my friends were 30-something vegetarians.” Amethyst takes solace in knowing that her young daughter, also a vegan, won’t experience the kind of isolation that she went through. Annikah is 8 years old. She has dark hair and likes to add streaks of pink, purple and blue, just like her mother. She is Amethyst’s shadow, never far from her mother. Amethyst refers to Annikah as her “mini-belly dancer.” They belly dance every day together. “She’s been belly dancing since she could walk,” Amethyst says. To combat the isolation she experienced as a child, Amethyst started a private Facebook group with other vegan parents. The group's members often get together with their children. Also, the Pittsburgh Vegan Expo hosts children-friendly activities. For example, because Halloween can be a difficult time for vegan children, the Pittsburgh Vegan Expo will host trick-or-treating, where kids can collect vegan-friendly snacks from vendors. A typical day in the life of Amethyst consists of balancing motherly duties, working on her businesses and taking Annikah to see cultural activities. “My day has a good balance between work and my kid,” Amethyst says. She is a true optimist and says she wouldn’t change a thing about the city of Pittsburgh. Truly delighted, she says, “So many good changes happened here. Before, I would have asked for more vegan food, and now, there is. In the past, I would have asked for more cultural performances, and now, they’re everywhere! All the changes I wanted are happening.”


Tubaiste, a student at Amethyst Arts, says that belly dance has improved her confidence, helped her at her job and even improved her posture (which was noted by her chiropractor, she says). Amaya, another student, says that Amethyst “brings a very open feeling to the classes. It’s not intimidating, and it’s just fun.” Those interested in taking belly dance classes under Amethyst can choose from a variety of walk-in classes, regular classes and workshops. Details can be found at If vegan food sounds more appealing than taking dance classes, the next Pittsburgh Vegan Expo is November 9. The festival hosts food of different ethnicities, local desserts, raw juice, cruelty-free products, and artists at the Monroeville Convention Center. There are free yoga and belly dance demos throughout the day along with belly dance performances and live music. “It’s a nice way to promote veganism and local artists of every genre,” Amethyst says. Over the years, Amethyst’s life

goals have changed. She originally thought she would like to open her own wellness center. While she isn’t completely setting that aside, she would like to focus on her current projects. “One of my goals is to keep working with more and more people, like Zen Den Pittsburgh (a wellness center on Mount Washington that focuses on relaxation, bodywork and energy medicine) — expand into bigger projects with more artists, make the Pittsburgh Vegan Expo bigger, keep doing what I am doing.”



Saturday, Nov. 9. Monroeville Convention Center, 209 Mall Plaza Blvd., Monroeville. $5.

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ct 13, 9 a.m.: Pittsburgh Craft Beer Society has invited me to their second annual charity golf scramble at Moon Golf Club to benefit the Hollow Oak Land Trust and Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania. I’ve never golfed before, nor have my teammates Ed Bailey and Dr. Hawkins.

Luckily, a scramble only counts the best shot from the team and we have been given a ringer, Steve Fernald of Bold Pittsburgh. He has his own gloves, clubs, balls, tees, and knows where the holes are located on the golf course. I brought a rusty, dusty bag of clubs I found in the shed, but abandon them as soon as I realize you should have more than four putters. Luckily, the club has clubs to rent. I’m told the purpose of this outing is not so much about getting the ball in the hole as it is getting the Fury Brewing Berliner Weiss into your belly. It was brewed especially for this event, has been conditioned on strawberries and lemons, and is called “Not Our Days,” a play on the cult classic “Naturdays” via Natural Light. While I have you here, has anyone ever had Natural beer? I’ve had plenty of Natty Light and Natty Ice, but has anyone ever had Natural? Feels like a notch is missing on the drunken dial. If you have any information regarding its whereabouts, the people (me) at Pittsburgh Current are eager to hear your story! Oct 13, 4 p.m.: I’m looking like a young Tiger Woods, they say! Very young. Toddler Tiger. I’m able to connect with

the ball a little over once the entire game, and my furthest drive happens in the passenger seat of a golf cart. We’re given handfuls of beer to start, drink stations are set up all along the course, and there are roaming crews of beer bringers for anyone who may accidentally sober up between holes. You may be surprised to hear this, but much like everything else in life, golf gets harder the drunker you become. Despite my lack of skills, our team manages to come in first place! Maybe last place? Again, I’m not entirely sure how this game is structured. My Lyft arrives before I can figure it out. Oct 15, 6 p.m.: Beer School is a long running monthly program hosted by Gene Ribnicki, held at the Cabaret Theater and funded by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. Vecenie’s, one of Pittsburgh’s largest and oldest craft beer distributors, brings in brewers, owners, reps, and other industry folk to talk about beer. Each table of four is given food and about eight beers to sample while the interview takes place. Tonight we get to know the owner of Spring House Brewing in Lancaster, Dr. Nikki Keasey, and how her love of murdering yeast helps develop the strains we taste in our beers. Not the worst way to spend a Tuesday night, if you can get tickets, which are typically sold out. Oct 19, 6 p.m.: Three Rivers Underground Brewers (TRUB) holds an annual beer festival to combat cystic fibrosis called Brewing Up A Cure. Dozens of award winning home brewers compete for bragging rights while people get shitfaced and try to remember which one they

liked best. Hint: It’s either the first or the last one. The styles and flavors here are broad and well done. The difference between commercial and homebrew is the lack of a customer base demanding your menu be 98% hazy and 2% stout. There is so much more room for experimentation here than other festivals. I love all of the beers equally and could never decide on a favorite, but my plus one, Bay Dracey, said his was the Drunken Cobbler via Quattro Angeli Brewing, a golden sour brewed with peaches, apricots, brown sugar, vanilla, lactose, and baking spices. He said it tasted like his mother’s womb felt, and that’s when the convo got awkward and I decided to move onto the next entry. Oct 27, 1 p.m.: I’m meeting with an old friend to catch up and throw down in Sharpsburg. The first stop is Dancing Gnome. It’s stout season, so Dead Sleep is the move, an 8% chocolate with a beautiful mouth feel and fluffy head. The vibe in here is extremely clean and fairly cultlike. I leave before they offer me any Fla-Vor-Aid. Oct 27, 4 p.m.: Hitchhiker brewing just tapped Mashmallow, an 8.5% breakfast cereal stout made in collaboration with Leona’s Ice Cream. It tastes like the milk at the end of a bowl of Cocoa Pebbles. Worth mentioning is the purple, blueberry infused coffee sour, Next To Normal. It’s fruity, sour, coffee-ey, and nothing close to normal. Then again, what is normal in a world where Natural beer doesn’t exist?


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My little dick has always held me back. I didn’t date in high school because I couldn’t stand the thought of girls discussing my tiny manhood. That said, I’ve adapted fairly well and become skilled with my tongue and hands. The biggest problem is that my dick is just small enough that the head pokes straight forward and can be seen through my pants. I never tuck in a shirt because of it. Because I am always in oversize shirts that hang past my waist, I never look professional. I’ve tried stuffing with socks and it didn’t work. Do you know of anything that can mask a pathetic johnson? I’d love to move up in the world. Physically Embarrassing Nub Isn’t Sufficient Have you considered packing? Trans men, drag kings, butch dykes, and even straight cis women experimenting with gender expression will sometimes pack—that is, wear “packing dildos” that create the appearance of a masculine bulge. Packers are modeled on soft cocks, not hard cocks, and they come in a range of sizes and colors. And so long as you don’t engage in false advertising, PENIS—so long as you make it clear to new partners that the bulge in your pants is not a prologue—there’s no reason why you couldn’t pack, just as there’s no reason why you and other guys with small dicks can’t strap on a regular dildo when your partner wants a deep dicking. I’m a mid-20s straight woman, and there’s a pattern in my life that I’m trying to break: Since high school, I’ve repeatedly ended up being friends with wonderful men who I shared an obvious sexual tension with at the start of our “friendships.” (Our mutual friends often noted the sexual tension.) Not a single one has ever turned into more than a one-off drunken kiss. Maybe it’s who I’m picking, but I’m starting to think that I’m the problem. An ex of mine (who I met on Bumble) told me that I give off “don’t touch me” vibes. Looking back, I can see that all my relationships

started in settings where romantic interest was implied—apps, blind dates, etc. I’ve been spending a lot of time with a classmate of mine. We get along well, and he’s hot and single. How do I (for lack of a better term) seduce him? Dreading The Friend Zone Don’t seduce, ask. Don’t put the moves on someone, use your words—or think of your words as your move, DTFZ. Since you give off “don’t touch me” vibes (that’s some valuable feedback from an ex!), and since we’ve asked men to do a better job of perceiving and respecting a woman’s “don’t touch me” vibes, you will have to make your interest clear and unambiguous: “Hey, classmate, we’ve been spending a lot of time together, and I was wondering if you might be interested in going on a date sometime.”

a police officer, and other older men who were, in her own words, “flatout wrong for me” (two of them were married). I am interested in your take on why she is dating me now. I’m a couple of years younger than she is— she is 30, and I am 28. She says she sees a future with me and I’m unlike anyone she’s ever met. Can what someone likes change in this way? The Younger Man

to older men. Just because someone dated a string of one type of person (older, younger, taller, shorter, maler, femaler), it doesn’t follow that someone isn’t interested in other types, too. Someone realizing they’re attracted to more types of people or acting on long-standing attractions to other types of people doesn’t mean they’ve changed, TYM, it means they’ve grown.

You may be the exception—the rare younger man your girlfriend finds attractive—or it could be that she was never attracted exclusively

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I have had a very hot, sexy bodybuilder friend with benefits for many, many years. He’s Dominant and into really intense bondage and SM, and it’s fantastic. The harder he goes on me, the more aroused he gets. Sometimes he comes three times in one session, always with me in superintense and painful bondage positions. It turns him on so much—and it turns me on, too. The thing is, he hates my dick. We have so much fun during our sessions, but he won’t touch my dick and won’t let me touch it, either. Bodybuilder Is Neglecting Dick Ignoring your dick and not letting you come and then seeing you crawl back for more abuse is most likely part of the power trip that turns your hot, sexy friend on, BIND, and he’s unlikely to start lavishing attention on your dick on my orders. And since it sounds like he gives you plenty of hot JO material for after your bondage sessions, it’s not like there isn’t something in it for you, right? My girlfriend and I have been going strong for almost 10 months. She told me that in the past she dated only older men—her teachers, her boss,


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