some thoughts from BikePGH about the Open Streets event this week

I was able to get some of the philosophy behind the Open Streets event – which Jess and I love – from BikePgh’s communication manager, Ngani Ndimbie. I appreciate their taking the time to communicate with me in the lead-up to the event.

If you don’t know, Open Streets will close 1/2 mile of streets in downtown’s cultural district on the 2oth. This will allow foot traffic, bicyclists and other events to take over. If I understand correctly, there will also be a roller derby!

open streets event downtown pittsburgh

Bike Pittsburgh’s Vision
Residents, commuters, and visitors joyfully experience our unique topography and neighborhoods while navigating the city by bike and on foot. Well-designed bikeways and walkways will make riding a bike or walking easy, convenient and fun. Whenever possible the bikeways will be protected from streets and walkways to give people a strong sense of security and freedom. Pittsburgh’s transformation from a former industrial center into a vibrant, sustainable city is recognized internationally. Our embrace of an active and healthy lifestyle as reflected in Pittsburgh’s commitment to providing safe, world-class facilities for biking and walking, is and will remain a key component of this transformation.

How did you come up with the idea for the open streets event? Did anyone object to it?
The idea for hosting an Open Streets in Pittsburgh started about 3 years ago after a visit from Gil Penalosa. Gil’s passion for how cities can be active healthy places for people and the stories of similar events in Colombia inspired a small committee to form. The process was very challenging with so many factors, where, when, how to find funding. OpenStreetsPGH started taking shape when the committee approached local stakeholders about growing our small committee into a more robust partnership with The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, No Walls, The Office of the Mayor, BikePGH, Three Rivers Inline Club, Lawrenceville United, and Let’s Move Pittsburgh. An important part of the process was working with many community groups and businesses to include them in open streets and not simply go at the process from a top down approach.

Hope to see you there!

a brief interview with one of the founders of Pittsburgh’s Maggie’s Farm Rum

Maggie’s Farm Rum is a small rum distiller based on Smallman Street in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. Jess and I found it thanks to a Yelp blogger event we attended there. We’ve become big fans of Maggie’s and try to stop there for a cocktail as much as possible. My favorite libation is the ginger spiced rum. It’s run by some cool guys and is just a great place to stop and unwind.

To continue my series of “a brief interview with…” I reached out to Tim and he was kind enough to answer some questions for my blog.

Tell me about how Maggie’s came into reality.
I had been homebrewing for about 8 years and always thought about making that jump professionally, but it didn’t make much sense for me at the time. There were too many risks. A little over three years ago I ran across some state legislation in the pipeline that was going to open up things for distilling in Pennsylvania, permitting direct sales by distillers and drastically lowered license fees. Right around the same time, I got an email from the Seibel Institute, a brewing academy in Chicago whose mailing list I was on. It was an announcement for their new craft distillation and distillery management program. Everything just came together at that point. I enrolled a few days later and was on my way to Chicago that summer. Then, things got difficult. I had the know-how and access to the equipment, but none of the funds to procure it. I spent about eight months working with banks to secure a loan, but it was mostly a waste of time. They just don’t lend money to start-up businesses anymore. But it forced me to take a hard look at my plan and cut the fat. I decided I was going to pay for it myself and I ended up withdrawing most of my retirement fund to do it. I was going all in.

Fast-forward about a year later and things were taking much longer and costing more than I expected. My savings were running low, so I started looking for part-time work. I answered an ad on Craigslist that Moss Clark had placed looking for a carpenter to help him complete restoration of a house he was flipping up in the Slopes. We quickly became friends. We spent a ton of time discussing my options for the distillery while we were working. He ended up deciding to shore up the remaining investment needed and began work on the build-out of the distillery as soon as we finished the house. We were making rum within a few months after that.

 How did you find your location?
A LOT of searching thanks to Goldilocks syndrome. At least a year’s worth. Everything was either too large of a warehouse space and not cost-effective or too small and not zoned properly or lacking the proper utilities. The funny thing is I looked at the current location a year earlier, but blew it off for whatever reason. I was going through some old photos and ran across it again. I decided to take another look. Everything about it would be right with some work. It had the industrial feel because that’s exactly what it was. It was easy to give that speakeasy-ish feel. And the real estate was cheap in that area, but it’s still on a great corridor between Lawrenceville and the heart of the Strip.

How do you guys decide what new product to produce?
Mostly, I just think to fill a niche. What sort of spirits are Pennsylvanians underserved with? Even the premium state stores don’t carry any American-made craft rums. White brandies are also something that I enjoy, but have little to no availability in our Commonwealth.

Has Pittsburgh been pretty receptive? Jess and I love everything you guys do.
Very. More than I expected, actually. Given our production capacity potential, I planned doing half retail and half wholesale outside of the state. We’re currently only able to supply the walk-in and drink sales at the distillery with a small percentage going to about 25 or 30 restaurants around the area.

What are the plans for Maggie’s future?
More products, ideally. But the logistics are difficult. New products require new government approvals of labels and often the formulas and that takes months. There’s also the concern of being able to supply enough of the rum without worry of stopping its production for something else. But something has to give soon. We’re basically running at full capacity right now and are just barely keeping up with demand. We’ll likely have to expand production later this fall. I’d really like to put out some fruit brandy and also a beer schnapps. I’ve had some great success distilling some weizenbock from Penn Brewery and I’m working with some other local breweries to distill different beer styles.

And the big question is…who is Maggie?
It’s just a metaphor for that job working for that company that everyone hates. It’s based off a Bob Dylan song Maggie’s Farm. It’s a position I was in a few years ago. That song came on the radio after having a particularly bad day at work. I decided then and there I wasn’t working on Maggie’s Farm anymore.

don’t stop rowing, yajagoff! (my friends and I in the Pittsburgh Regatta)

A good friend of mine – John Chamberlain of local legendary blog YaJagoff – wrote this post about our entry in the Pittsburgh Regatta “Anything That Floats” race. It was a blast and I can’t wait to do it again next year!

This is a link to his blog with a picture of us in the river. Please visit!

Here is a teaser of what you’ll find… I’m the baldie in the back of the boat with the big smile.

yajagoff pittsburgh


a brief interview with Pittsburgh Cultural Trust curator, Murray Horne

Mr. Horne is the curator for two of Pittsburgh’s non-profit Cultural Trust run galleries that are in the heart of the Cultural District: SPACE on Liberty Avenue and Wood Street. You’ve seen some posts about them recently as they are in my proverbial backyard. I love that each has its own unique style. The Trust brings more unknown artists to SPACE while focusing more on cutting edge modern works for Wood Street.

I’ve been lucky enough to see some amazing events at each gallery recently – the Electrified exhibit at Wood Street and the Psychic Panic/Music SPACE event with local band Silencio at SPACE Gallery – and I wanted to get more behind the scenes.

View from Wood street offices Pittsburgh This is the view from the Wood Street station offices

Tell me about your history with the Trust and the galleries. I came to the trust in 1996 when then president, Carol Brown asked me to become the curator of Wood Street Galleries and to give it an identity. I was very interested in new media artwork at the time, so I spent the next three or four years transforming the gallery from a traditional media venue to new media works.

We stuck with that course but it was difficult to find new media works in the beginning. Not much existed. Now the opposite is true as there is an abundance of new media and the dynamic has completely changed. It’s possible for us to go to a student of Carnegie Mellon and find someone competent in software capable of programming their own artwork all while being aesthetically proficient in various disciplines. The dynamic of the computer in artwork has changed rapidly over the last 15 years. So much so that those creating this new media work don’t think anything of it. That means that, as a culture, we are at a crossroads between so-called fine arts and new media. The two parallel tracks have crossed over the last few years.

How far have you gone to find artwork? We’ve had work from Japan, South Korea, will be showing work from India next year and regularly show work from Europe. It’s pretty much global and that is the way I like it.

At SPACE, the gallery philosophy is slightly different. It was created for local artists to show predominantly local work. We do sometimes do group shows that may include artists from outside the city as well. The next show, Cataloguing Pattern, has artists from both Pittsburgh and outside the city. It’s important to show artists from the city in the context of work from outside the city so they can get an idea of their work and ideas from within their own peer group. When we show a group of artists and include some from other cities, you get to know your position and where you stand within your peer group in relation to that. It’s an important thing for up and coming artists.

If you can get one person in to the gallery that hasn’t seen work like this before, that person normally tells at least two other people to go see the work.

What would you tell someone that recently moved here and thinks nothing good happens in the city? They are incorrect. Pittsburgh has one of the liveliest art scenes in the whole country. There are cities larger than us that are more prominent, but in terms of the quality of the artwork and the ability to involve local artists I think we’re doing exceptionally well given our size. There is a new emphasis on local artists, which I think is a good thing. The non-profit art galleries – the Warhol, Carnegie, Mattress Factory, etc etc -  in the city dominate the art scene here and I think that is a very good thing. There is no emphasis on the commodification or saleability of the artwork which inevitably comes from a for-profit art gallery. We will continue to develop something unique in the city as a result of artists that don’t have to compromise ideas for the saleability of the work.

You have the ability to make a huge splash with your work in a town like Pittsburgh. Absolutely. I think it’s important for artists to know they can always have a show regardless of what they’re producing. Quality isn’t determined by the saleability of the artwork. We’ll basically show anything as long as we can determine that the quality is sufficient to do so.

How did you locate artists for the upcoming exhibit at Wood Street? Bill Vorn and Louis-Phillippe Demers? I’ve known Bill Vorn for a number of years and this is actually his second showing here. He was here about four and half years ago with a show called Hysterical Machines. It was hysterical and people loved it – the robots. I recently saw an older piece from Bill Vorn and his collaborator – Louis-Phillip Demers – in Montreal. I really wanted to show it because I think it’s a really important piece so I invited them back.

What’s your ultimate goal for the Gallery Crawl? I think that we need to continue what we’re doing but we need to develop a few more exceptions to the rule. Shows that may not be typically found at the Warhol might be exceptional at a Gallery Crawl and have an intriguing “wow factor” to them. I can’t tell you what we’re going to be doing but – not this crawl – but the one after will have several changes.

On a different note – I heard that the Trust may be trying to buy the August Wilson Center. No, not at all. I think that was a wild rumor and don’t believe a word of it.

We’re excited for the Cosmopolitan party that will be part of the crawl. It brings a lot of youth into downtown and we love that.

How cool is it to have your office in the Wood Street station? The building was built in 1927 as the Commercial Bank of Pittsburgh. The bank went under when the stock exchange crashed in 1929. The building used to be the Azen Building where people used to buy furs.

Thank you to everyone involved with this interview. I appreciate the opportunity to do interviews like this and look to do many more.

Make sure to attend the Gallery Crawl this week on Friday. Some amazing work will be debuting in town.

a brief interview with the founder of pittsburgh’s deutschtown music festival

Summer in Pittsburgh is amazing. So much local awesomeness happens.

On Saturday July 12th – the day after the Gallery Crawl – the North Side of Pittsburgh will be host to a very unique event called the Deutschtown Music Festival.

According to the festival’s own website:

Over 90 Bands! 3 Outdoor Stages and 13 venues! Food trucks and artist’s market. And it’s FREE!

How cool is that?

The local music scene has a special place in my heart. I managed local bands for a while when I was in my late 20s and early 30s. I saw the music scene thrive during the 90s and early 2000s, die somewhat and then come back. Between bands like Meeting of Important People and Silencio, Pittsburgh has started making a name for itself in local music again.

Cody Walters and I have a lot in common. We remember bands like the Buzz Poets and Brownie Mary and simply love to support the local scene. I wanted to learn more about what drove him to start the festival so I reached out for a brief interview:

Do you have any history in local music? If so, who are your influences?
I do not have any real background in music other than a normal appreciation of live music.

How did you come up with the idea of the festival? The idea for the festival stemmed from the Deutschtown bar crawl, which I organized starting in 2010. It was just supposed to be a small group of friends going around to see bars in our neighborhood we had never been to. Just by word of mouth that first year had 75 people, the last two years have been around 250-300 people, again word of mouth and Facebook. It was a real success. People kept asking me to do another one in the spring or summer. I felt like I didn’t want to do the same thing. And with all the live music in the neighborhood already (Parkhouse, James Street Gastropub, and the Elks) a music festival was a natural fit.

Has the North Side been pretty receptive? Totally. I am very involved here and the neighbors have faith that I know what I am doing…well at least some of the time. But yeah, the overall reaction to last year’s festival was extremely positive.

How many requests do you get to perform? Well we currently have 101 bands or performers for the festival. We have been able to accommodate almost all of our requests, however we did have some last minute requests that we are just unable to fill. Basically we ran out of space.

Do you have any ultimate plans for the festival? Record label showcasing? Have any labels contacted you? As far as future plans….I’ll let you know after July 12th. But honestly, yeah I would like to continue to grow and expand, but what that looks like who knows. I’m sure we find somethings to change/adjust for years to come. Wild Kindness Records has asked to be on the list to curate a stage next year. But nothing other than that really.

I’ve personally seen the local music scene thrive – in the late 90s and early 2000s – and then die a little bit. It seems like it’s thriving again. What is your opinion? I would agree completely. I was in college during the time you are referring to. The Buzz Poets, Clarks, Rusted Root, Gathering Field, Yves Jean Band and so many more really rose to create a great local scene, that said, I think local music in Pittsburgh is even bigger now, and more diverse. Its also amazing to see how much collaboration there is among the bands and musicians. It seems every musician(well at least every drummer) is in 3 bands at least. No one seems to have an ego either and are happy in each others success. Its this sense of community among artist that I want to attract to the North Side.

What kind of cooperation are you getting from the city as a whole? It seems like this is a great time to be doing something like this in Pittsburgh with all the local businesses trying to help each other. The city has been as cooperative as we have needed them to be at this point, and as we grow and need more support I anticipate they will be just as helpful. Darlene Harris has been able to get us some funding in the past. And Mayor Peduto actually mentioned us in an interview with the Trib back in April. And he has become an Elks member and can be found here in Deutschtown on occational Wednesdays at the Elks for Banjo Club and then the Parkouse for Blue Grass Jam.

I’d like to thank Cody for taking the time to answer some questions as I know he’s really busy. Thank you to all the businesses – including local powerhouses Wigle Whiskey, The Andy Warhol Museum and WYEP- that are working with the festival to promote local music. Many more are helping and can be found on their website.

wordpress photography challenge from pittsburgh: contrasts

I am a huge history fan. I’ve posted about the grave sites at Trinity Cathedral (even wrote two parts worth of a ghost story) in downtown Pittsburgh before but have never posted this picture. I love the contrasts in the markers. At one point, the small tract of land these stones are on housed 4,000 sites.

gravesite downtown pittsburgh