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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Posted By on Sat, Apr 30, 2011 at 8:36 PM

I spoke by phone earlier today with Jeff Swensen. The Pittsburgh-based photographer was in Fayetteville, N.C., for the funeral of his close friend Hondros, the internationally acclaimed conflict photographer. 

Hondros, 41, was a familiar face in Pittsburgh in recent years, largely due to Swensen. The two had been friends since their first day in graduate school at Ohio University, back in the 1990s. They'd been roommates, and Swensen says they were in continual contact over the years, as much as Hondros' globe-spanning travels allowed.

In some 15 years of war photography, Hondros, a Getty Images staffer, shot everywhere from Kosovo and Angola to Afghanistan, Iraq and the West Bank. In Pittsburgh, he lectured to college students, showed slides of his work at venues including Pittsbugh Filmmakers, and exhibited at Space Gallery. 

Most memorably for me, in April 2009, I was part of a crowd of about 80 who gathered in Swensen's South Side studio to witness a half-hour performance in which a stunning series of Hondros' images from his six years in post-invasion Iraq were shown to the accompaniment of Bach's Partita in D Minor, played live on solo violin by Pittsburgh Symphony concert master Mark Huggins. 

"In his pictures, you sense [Hondros] not just reacting, but also thinking." I wrote that in a blog post about the event dated April 20, 2009 – eerily, two years to the day before Hondros died after a mortar strike in Misrata, Libya, where he was on assignment. Killed in the same attack was Tim Hetherington, director of the film Restrepo.

Hondros' two best-known images exhibited multiple facets of his talent, and his humanity. One, depicting a young Liberian militiaman, shirtless, leaping in exultation after a direct rocket-launcher hit, demonstrated Hondros' own coolness in the face of fire and his facility for capturing the moment. The other is a wrenching photo of a young Iraqi girl wailing after the shooting of her entire family by American soldiers at a checkpoint, revealing Hondros' ability to capture emotional trauma despite the emotions he himself was surely feeling at the time.

The deaths of Hondros and Hetherington were national, even international news. A memorial service for Hondros at a church in Brooklyn on April 27 drew hundreds. Among them was his fiance, Christina Piaia; the two were scheduled to marry in August.

"He lives on in so many of us," says Jeff Swensen. "He was more than just his pictures."

"There wasn't a boring moment in Chris Hondros' life. He filled every minute with stuff to do," Swensen adds.

Swensen says the funeral, in Hondros' hometown of Fayetteville, was attended by friends from as far away as Istanbul, Turkey.

In Pittsburgh, a candlelight memorial for Hondros will be held at 7:30 p.m. Mon., May 2, on the West End Overlook. All are welcome.

Meanwhile, Christina Piaia has announced the creation of The Chris Hondros Fund, to provide scholarships for aspiring photojournalists and raise awareness of issues surrounding conflict photographer. Here is the address: The Chris Hondros Fund c/o Christina Piaia, Getty Images 75 Varick St., 5th Floor New York, NY 10013.


Posted By and on Sat, Apr 30, 2011 at 5:40 PM

The holidays are extra painful for Jacqueline Graham, one of more than 200 people protesting the National Rifle Association convention being held in Pittsburgh this weekend.

Graham's daughter, Shalane, was killed two days after Thanksgiving in 2009. And her little sister, Michelle, was killed on Easter Sunday in 1985. Both died of gunshot wounds from the bullets of guns purchased illegally on the streets. Though the shooters have been convicted in those deaths, Graham wants to put a stop to those who get guns illegally on the street and use them to commit crimes.

"The African American community is loosing a whole generation," Graham, of the Hill District, says. At a protest Saturday afternoon, she held the hand of Khlaya, her 4-year-old granddaughter -- Shalane's daughter, whom she is now raising. "You've seen the numbers. It's not just young men dying anymore. Young women are dying.

"The bullets don't discriminate."

Graham was part of a Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network rally that began in the Hill District. Before marching to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown, where members of the NRA had gathered, protesters stood at Freedom Square to hear speakers discuss the need to stop gun violence and tighten gun restrictions.


"It's not about the Second Amendment," Pittsburgh Police Chief Nate Harper told demonstrators. "It's about common sense ... We're the best country in the world, but we don't act like it when it comes to guns."

"Stop the illegal guns, and get our background checks fixed," demanded Lori Haas, whose daughter survived two shots to the head during the 2007 Virginia Tech University shooting that killed 32 students and faculty. "The gun violence has got to end."

As protesters began their march to the convention center, the bell atop St. Benedict the Moore Church, across from Freedom Corner, started ringing -- the first of 600 tolls meant to signify the 600 people killed by guns in Pennsylvania in an average year.

Demonstrators, many of whom held signs displaying the names of those who have died by gun violence, marched down Centre Avenue, past the NRA flags at the Consol Energy Center and through Downtown. A large white truck held up the rear, with a sign addressed to the NRA: "An Invitation to the NRA's Wayne LaPierre: Let's Talk."

Organized by the Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network and CeaseFirePA, the police-escorted march went fairly smoothly until it approached the convention center. There to greet them was a NRA supporter, wearing a holstered gun, holding a sign that read "gun control = racism."

As protesters began reading the names of victims of gun violence, NRA attendees began to fill the sidewalks -- some looking on, some heckling. "Go home, ya bums!" one man yelled toward the demonstrators. "Guns don't kill people, people do," said another.

One group of NRA members, had their own coordinated response. "On three, a group finger!" one man yelled from the sidewalk in front of the convention center. "One, two, three!"

In unison, five men raised their middle finger toward the protesters.

Not all NRA members were so confrontational.

"Everyone's got their own views," said Shawn Swafford, a 19-year-old Army serviceman from Texas. "I don't see an issue with" the protest."

Nearby, the Damianos, a self-described "NRA family" from Buena Vista, New Jersey, watched from across the street.

"[The protesters] are all talking about protecting children. I love my son and I want him to learn to protect himself and learn how to use guns properly," said Shelly Damiano as her son, Jim Boy, stood by her side. "The NRA is all about education. We are all about education."

"My parents taught me how to use guns safely, not the NRA," Jim Boy added.

Damiano believes that tragic incidents like the shooting in Tuscon, Ariz., or Virginia Tech, are inevitable, with or without more regulations or background checks. "You'll always be able to get guns. They just don't get them legally. But organized crime will always be there as long as there is a demand."

Convention attendees like Rick Our, from Olean, N.Y., believes anger at the NRA is misdirected.

"There's so much neglect out there of the youth. There needs to be a focus on education in all aspects," Our said. "Guns are out there. But the trouble is with the drugs and stuff like that in our society."

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Friday, April 29, 2011

Posted By on Fri, Apr 29, 2011 at 4:14 PM

I've admired performance artist Pellegrino's work for years, but until last night I'd never thought to consider him a mutant hybrid. But it's true: Pellegrino is what you get when you cross-fertilize the son of a Mon Valley coal town with avant-garde theater.

Pellegrino, after all, cites as key formative experiences both the instructions from his Italian-immigrant dad to pound bent nails straight in the family basement ... and a late-1960s junior-high class trip to see a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream performed on a rotating stage.

Perhaps Pellegrino's best-known live work is "Calling Mr. Conrad," a collaboration with Frank Ferraro at the 2005 Three Rivers Arts Festival. The "outdoor radiophonic opera," a tribute to local broadcast-radio pioneer Frank Conrad, involved Pellegrino singing from the top of a giant replica radio dish in Downtown's Stanwix Triangle, accompanied by a platoon of saxophonists and a modern-dance troupe.

Pellegrino, a plasterer by trade, has also done a whole series of drywall-themed performance-art pieces, some of which have involved the deus ex machina of a refrigerator from outer space. It can all be as puzzling and oblique as it is fascinating.

By contrast, Accordion Stories is Pellegrino at his most accessible. It's just him on stage at little Grey Box Theatre, for 90 minutes of storytelling and music.

As Pellegrino admits, most anyone who grew up in the Mon Valley in the wake of the Depression would have similar stories about wacky family members. What distinguishes Accordion Stories is the music. It's a theme from his earliest memories of his father -- also an accordionist -- lullabying the young Pellegrino and his brother with the squeezebox.

Pellegrino still has his dad's old accordion -- the one the old man bought as a young man by lugging coal-furnace ash for 50 cents a day. Such stories would make a pleasant enough evening, but Pellegrino really shines when sharing songs.

At the first of three performances, he summoned countless Mon Valley wedding receptions by recruiting a couple up to polka. Later, he played "Lady of Spain," "Twilight Time" and a jazzed-up "Sweet Georgia Brown." He performed his ticked-off-workingman original "Andrew Carnegie Was a Jag-off" and a terrific version of the wonderfully dolorous Depression-era hit "Brother Can You Spare a Dime."

The shows, by the way, benefit the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

Pellegino's encore involved a recollection of how he came to work with acclaimed Braddock filmmaker Tony Buba, some 30 years ago. That story, too, illustrated Pellegrino's working-class roots. If you doubted that it did, you could have just asked

Buba himself. He was the guy at last night's show with the video camera, documenting it for his good pal Pellegrino.

Accordion Stories continues at 8 p.m. tonight and tomorrow at Grey Box Theatre, 3595 Butler St., Lawrenceville. Tickets are $12-15 plus a food item. 412-576-0898 or 


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Posted By on Wed, Apr 27, 2011 at 4:02 PM

The CMU Activities Board certainly wrangled in a doozy of a lineup for Easter Sunday. While most people might've been working on Grandma's Easter dinner, a slew of bass aficionados and sonic revelers met up at Rangos Ballroom for Philly-based dubstep producer/DJ Starkey and LA-based beatmaking wunderkind Nosaj Thing.

Starkey's eclectic dubstep set highlighted his far-reaching composition skills as it moved from crunked-out bass, to epic string saturated samples, and back into a headbanging tapestry of wonky basslines and trippy female vocals. At times his sound was all old-school South London with mega-dark instrumental dubs -- could've come straight out of London's FWD. Then he would drop some trip-hop track into the layers of two-step garage and crooked bass and the room filled with a sound that edged into post-dubstep, still grimey as ever but tottering on the edge of genre lines.

If you know where to look, there's no shortage of anti-pop bass music in the current dubstep climate, one producer after another reinventing the wheel and spinning off of a maturing generation of ravers. Starkey's version of bass-y electro wasn't the most mold-shattering but it definitely had a street attitude like no other.

Like Starkey, Nosaj Thing is heavily influenced by hip-hop and trip-hop, but the artists' sounds and attitudes couldn't have been more different. Nosaj Thing's set was rich with washes of blunted beats and delayed reverb that vacillated with dexterity between smooth and languid lagging to drum-and-bass quickness and back again.

The most impressive thing about Nosaj Thing's set was the way that he used his celestial beat-making skills to move the mood and movement of the collective crowd so quickly and so smoothly; he only let us sit in a groove for a few seconds before he seamlessly took us to some other sonic realm. He worked some of the gems off of his expertly produced first album, Drift, into the set; I picked out tracks like "Fog," "Caves," and "Us," and with the way that he blended the tracks and beats like an impressionist, there were most likely pieces of others. We also got to hear some of his most aurally addicting remixes: Radiohead's "Reckoner," Portishead's "Wandering Star," and The XX's "Islands." Nosaj Thing proved he is some sort of beat making, remixing chemist. The elements are all static but he can just mix up explosive potions with them.

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Posted By on Mon, Apr 25, 2011 at 9:01 PM

YO! It's so hot out, right? Hey, I have an MP3 for you.

This one comes from Mariage Blanc, the group of indie rockers reponsible for last year's album, Mariage Blanc. I hate to be a chooser, but I think the track I'm offering up for you today is my favorite of the lot. I think when I wrote about the album last fall, I somehow managed to compare this song to "Alone Again, Naturally," the old Gilbert O'Sullivan joint. I bet the band really dug that.

Anyway: Download this sweet song here and enjoy your Monday evening!

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Posted By on Fri, Apr 22, 2011 at 5:57 PM

Okay, so, I told you about what was going on last night, which is over. I told you about what's going on tonight, which is about to happen. I started telling you about tomorrow -- the second Nik & the Central Plains release show at Thunderbird, the Cameron McGill show at Brillobox.

Now to bring it all home.

The Carribean, on Hometapes, stops at Howlers tomorrow night; local faves Mariage Blanc play too, as do formerly-local faves More Humans, who rule.

And at the Warhol, we've got the legendary Low. Their first album is one of my favorite things to listen to in winter, and also their new video stars John Stamos. What else is there to say?

Sunday night, there's basically just one thing going on: Alpha Pup electronic artist Nosaj Thing appears at Carnegie Mellon. It's at 8 p.m. in the Rangos Ballroom; students get in free, it's $5 for the rest of us. Starkey, from Philly, opens up. (The Rangos Ballroom is the big room on the second floor of the University Center, which is the big main building on your left when you're facing the cut from Forbes Ave. Ask somebody.)

Happy weekend! Find an Easter egg or whatever!


Posted By on Fri, Apr 22, 2011 at 5:51 PM

Entering the final weeks of the campaign for Pittsburgh City Council District 7, challenger Tony Ceoffe Jr., is going to have a lot more time to hit the streets and get his message out to potential voters.

Last week, Ceoffe -- who is squaring off against District 7 incumbent Pat Dowd -- resigned his position with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry after his request to continue working while running for public office was denied. Ceoffe says any state employee running for public office has to have "authorization" from the state. 

He then appealed the decision, but that, too, was denied. He doesn't think the move was personal, in fact he heard of it happening to other state employees involved in campaigns. 

"Once I lost the appeal I was given the option to either resign my position or withdraw from the race," Ceoffe says. "I'm very passionate about this and honestly, I feel like I'm the person best suited for this job and can best help the district with the quality of life issues facing them."

Dan Egan, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Office of Administration, says Ceoffe, as are all state employees running for public office, filed a request for supplemental employment to run his campaign. 

State employees aren't automatically barred from running for office while employed, but they must get authorization. Egan says employees are typically allowed to run for part time political office like school board or township supervisor while working.

But usually, Egan says campaigns for full time positions, like Pittsburgh City Council, require an almost full-time candidacy.

"You can't run a serious campaign in your spare time after work," Egan said Thursday. "It's not practical to think that campaigns for full time positions won't spill into a person's day job."

Because of that, he says, employees running for office like Ceoffe must give up one or the other. Egan says the policy even withstood an employee's legal challenge in 2008.

This past Monday marked his first day as a full-time candidate. Prior to leaving his job Ceoffe -- who is married with a 14-month-old daughter -- was campaigning nightly for three to four hours and roughly another 10 hours or so on the weekend. He says being a full-time campaigner will allow him to spend more time in the community attending more events and speaking with more residents.

Ceoffe says his decision to resign his position is indicative of how he would act as a city councilor. He says public officials deciding to seek another office should always resign their current position to do so. In fact, he says, the current council had a chance to support legislation in recent months from City Councilor Ricky Burgess that would have made that a requirement.

He's also quick to point out that Dowd challenged Mayor Luke Ravenstahl during his first term in office. Although Dowd did tell the Post-Gazette that he had no intention of running for  mayor in 2013.

"I have pledged to the people and neighbors of this district that as your councilman I will not run for another seat," Ceoffe says. "If I ever decide to run for another office, I would resign my council seat."

"This seat is way to important to entrust to someone who's not in it for the long term. I think resigning my state job shows how serious and committed I am to becoming the council representative for this district. 


Posted By on Fri, Apr 22, 2011 at 12:48 PM


So I told you that I'd tell you about shows happening Saturday (and one on Sunday). I will. This is the first of those: Cameron McGill & What Army. The Midwestern band is fronted by Cameron McGill, who also plays keys in Margot & the Nuclear So and So's. The jams are quiet, chill and poppy; we have a download from their latest, Is a Beast. The track is called "Houdini" -- download it here!

Cameron McGill & What Army play Brillobox tomorrow (Saturday). Show starts at 10; Adam Arcuragi and local guy Caleb Pogyor open.

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Posted By on Thu, Apr 21, 2011 at 4:22 PM

Criminal charges were dismissed today against a Carnegie man accused of leaving the scene of an accident with an off-duty Pittsburgh police officer.

Blaine Johnston walked out of the courtroom in the municipal courts building downtown, raised his arms in the air and exclaimed: "I'm free!".

Johnston had been charged with leaving the scene of an accident around 4 a.m. on Nov. 18. According to police, officer Garrett Brown -- who did not show up in court Thursday morning -- reported that Johnston rear-ended the back of his pickup truck while he was sitting at a red light at the corner of Baum and Melwood avenues. 

Brown said that he pulled up beside Johnston's donut delivery truck to exchange information, but Johnston sped away, Sgt. William Kunz wrote in the report. Days later, Johnston received a summons for leaving the scene of an accident, a third-degree misdemeanor.

As City Paper first reported in March, Johnston and his passenger, Matt Mazzie of Brookline, claim another version of events took place. According to Mazzie's and Johnston's versions, Brown, in a series of confrontations, threw coins at their window, punched their van, threatened to fight Johnston and rammed the van with his truck. 

Mazzie and Johnston filed a complaint of misconduct against Brown with the Citizens Police Review Board where the case is pending. A investigation is also pending against Brown with the Office of Municipal Investigations, according to a report from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 

This was the fourth preliminary hearing for the case, and for the third time, Brown did not show to testify at a preliminary hearing. Judge Robert Ravenstahl apologized to Johnston for his "aggravation" and dismissed the charges, but warned they could be re-filed. 

Mike Manko, spokesman for District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala said he couldn't comment on the possibility of charges being re-filed.

After the hearing, Johnston said he was relieved. "I feel great. This has been too much to bear since November," he said. 

"We feel this was the right outcome. He didn't do anything wrong," said Johnston's attorney Gerald O'Brien Jr. "Charges should have never been filed in the first place."

Johnston and O'Brien said they would weigh their options on whether to pursue a civil action against Brown. This March, the city finalized a $150,000 settlement in a civil-rights case arising from another late-night traffic encounter between an off-duty Brown and Texas man Leonard Hamler in January 2008. O'Brien represented Hamler in that case.

"I haven't discussed a [civil suit] with my client," O'Brien said." I can't say it will be or won't be filed." 

Johnston said that while he's glad his criminal charges are dismissed, he'd like to do something about Brown's alleged behavior. "I'm relieved it's over for me but I wouldn't want for someone else to go through this." 


Posted By on Thu, Apr 21, 2011 at 2:50 PM

Nik & the Central Plains - REBECCA CHIAPPELLI
Nik & the Central Plains

The weekend starts on Thursday, right? I mean – some of you might even have off tomorrow, but even for the rest of us ... nobody does work on Fridays, do they? So let's talk about what we're up to tonight, then just kinda slide through the rest of the weekend.

Tonight, as noted earlier in the week, The Decemberists come to the Benedum; Justin Townes Earle opens.

Tomorrow (Friday), there's that Moonrises show I mentioned in Critics' Picks, then there's the Return of Ska at the Altar bar, which Margaret expounded upon in her column this week. There's a show at Most-Wanted Fine Art featuring Lost Trail, Ag Ag Lady and These Seeds; local metal heroes Mantic Ritual headline Mr. Small's.

Plus, if you're into throwing on some dancing shoes, Belvedere's (4016 Butler St., Lawrenceville) is hosting its first "Dirty Swing" event – the idea being to return swing dancing to its down-and-dirty roots. Smoke, drink, be scandalous with one another, listen to old tunes spun by DJ Hatesyou – get the idea? Lessons at 10 p.m., open dance at 11.

Friday AND Saturday, Thunderbird Café hosts dual release shows for Nik & the Central Plains. Friday night, it's Chet Vincent & the Big Bend and The Harlan Twins opening; Saturday, it's Meeting of Important People and Boca Chica.

There are actually SO MANY THINGS going on Saturday night, I'm going to put together a separate post for the rest of those. For now, work on planning your Maundy Thursday/Good Friday events and let the rest kinda fall into place later. Cool?

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