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Monday, April 30, 2012

Three Rivers Arts Festival Preview

Posted By on Mon, Apr 30, 2012 at 4:45 PM

This year's fest runs June 1-10. A few highlights, as offered at a press conference festival organizers held this morning at Point State Park:

The 2012 festival will feature "more visual artists than we ever had before," said festival director Marguerite Jarrett Marks. That reflects the more than 300 vendors in the artists market. Add in the live performers, and the total number of artists tops 500. For the first time, Marks said, visual artists will set up shop in Point State Park on all 10 days of the festival, not just on weekends. Artists will also be exhibiting not only in Gateway Center, but along Penn Avenue outside Gateway.

The festival includes the world premiere of art-rock band/performance troupe

Squonk Opera's latest. On June 8, after that night's mainstage performance by the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Squonk will pull up on a flatbed truck, barnstormer style, and perform Go Roadshow on Stanwix Street. Expect wild sounds and wacky props. The show will repeat on June 9 and 10.

The nonprofit Gateway to the Arts, best known for bringing the arts to schoolkids throughout Western Pennsylvania, will do the same at the festival. The fest's Creativity Zone, on the fountain side of the park's overpass, will host more than 65 performers and visual artists, plus hands-on activities, on all four of the fest's weekend days.

After its successful return to the festival last summer, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchesta will again perform, on Sun., June 3. (Last year's PSO appearance drew 10,000, organizers say.)

Also set for an encore is JazzLive International — three stages of jazz, plus, like last year, a Downtown Jazz Crawl on the first night of the festival.

Bluegrass will make its first appearance at the festival, in a special June 9 showcase headlined by top names The Del McCoury Band and Peter Rowan.

The festival's efforts to be greener will also continue. Organizers already divert more than 80 percent of potential trash through an aggressive recyling and composting program. It will also be the second year that visitors are encouraged to bring their own water bottles (and avoid plastic-bottle waste) by availaling themselves of the festival's free water stations.

The festival is all free, of course, thanks to sponors like Dollar Bank and People's Natural Gas.

For more info, check the fest web site (though it looks complete information is unavailable just yet).

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MP3 Monday: Xander Demos

Posted By on Mon, Apr 30, 2012 at 4:26 PM

Hey hey!

Xander Demos Band
  • Xander Demos Band

Time for this week's MP3 Monday. This one comes from epic metal guitarist Xander Demos, who even has an epic name. He and his band open for Adrenaline Mob on Saturday, May 12, at Altar Bar. This week he's sharing the song "White Knuckle Driving"; stream and/or download it below!

Sorry, download expired!

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Friday, April 27, 2012

Pandemonium at Roseland

Posted By on Fri, Apr 27, 2012 at 4:57 PM

Walking down Broadway, having passed the intersection at West 53rd, I came to the end of a growing line of people, many of whom were dressed in neon colors and Most Dope or Macadelic branded wear. I was in search of the Roseland Ballroom, where Pittsburgh rapper Mac Miller was set to perform, and I knew I was close.

When in New York City or just about any other travel destination, I never ask for directions or help finding a particular location – for fear of looking like the tourist that I am. So, knowing that I was nearing the venue, I decided to follow the long, wide line of people. The line guided me to the front door of the Roseland Ballroom, where a lit-up Benedum Center-style overheard sign stated "MAC MILLER – SOLD OUT."

It was my first time seeing the charismatic rapper in a city other than his hometown. Emotions were heavy outside, where friends shared laughs as they entered the ballroom and others shed tears as they were escorted out for reasons I’m unsure of. What’s certain is that Mac Miller has had a huge impact on these teenage and young adult fans’ lives.

As I made my way into the Roseland, the layout reminded me of Pittsburgh’s Stage AE, where I had seen Miller perform as he concluded his Blue Slide Park Tour in November of last year. About twice the size of AE, Roseland’s floor area would soon be filled and the balcony the same.

Woodland Hills graduates, and Local Beat alums, The Come Up opened the show promptly at 8 p.m. as the restless crowd flooded through the front doors. The duo of MCs Franchise and Vinny Radio has developed a widespread following as opening performers for Miller’s Blue Slide Park and Macadelic tours. In February, Miller told MTV that The Come Up would be the next big hip-hop act out of Pittsburgh. As their early summer album release approaches, they plan to prove these claims true.

Later in the night, it was time for Miller to take the stage. The screams from the audience grew louder as DJ Clockwork opened the set playing Miller’s "English Lane." As he moved on to drop the title song to Miller’s #1 album, Blue Slide Park, Miller and his long-time friend/hype-man TreeJay stepped out on stage to appease the sold out audience of thousands. Miller’s hi-top Nike’s lit-up blue as the crowd rocked along with hit songs "Party On 5th Ave." and "Knock, Knock."

"Tonight goes down as the greatest show of all-time," proclaimed Miller, who seemed happy as ever to be performing for the NYC crowd.

As the lights dimmed, DJ Clockwork maintained the attention of the audience for the brief transition from Mac’s previous work to his newest music from his Macadelic mixtape. The first single from the mixtape and one of the hypest songs from Miller’s now extensive catalogue, "Loud," dropped and the crowd went wild. Glowing mushrooms covered the back half of the stage and lit up in different colors as Miller re-appeared and jumped to the front of the stage.

Miller went from the rambunctious "Loud" to the introspective "Thoughts From a Balcony." It didn’t take long for fans to learn Miller’s newest music, as one of youngest-looking members of the youthful audience synchronously mouthed every word of the song with Miller.

Another memorable moment was when a video showed on the display screen that played background to the stage, showing Miller in his childhood years rapping Sugar Hill’s classic "Rapper’s Delight." The video continued showing different moments in Miller’s early life as he performed his song "Best Day Ever."

Reflecting on the Blue Slide Park Tour, Miller’s performance included many on-stage appearances from his Most Dope crew as they hyped up the audience throughout Miller’s set. The Macadelic Tour and Miller’s performance at Roseland was different. Many of the stand-out moments were intimate, with Miller standing alone on stage, only his DJ behind him.

As the audience sang along and waved their hands, Miller showcased one of the greatest strengths a performing artist can have – the ability to connect with your audience.

The Macadelic Tour continues, making stops at colleges along the northeast coast. Beginning in July, Miller joins Wiz Khalifa on the Under the Influence Tour. The tour stops at the First Niagara Pavilion on August 4.

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Extended Interview: Spanky Wilson

Posted By on Fri, Apr 27, 2012 at 3:59 PM

This week’s Local Beat column is about jazz singer Spanky Wilson, who is performing at the Pittsburgh Vinyl Convention, Saturday, April 28 at Pittsburgh Filmmakers. Since all the cool stuff Wilson had to say couldn’t fit in a column, here’s a longer version of the conversation.

Spanky Wilson
  • Spanky Wilson

You have such a great name. Was it a nickname?
(Laughs) Well, actually, yeah. My father gave it to me when I was about three. I was a bad little kid. I liked the name so much and I really despised my real name, so I just took that, and the only thing my real name is on is my birth certificate.

So, you came back to Pittsburgh a couple years ago, and took a break from performing?

Oh, well, it wasn’t like a break, as I had just recovered from cancer. That’s the reason I came back to Pittsburgh, I had two operations and it was very serious. I have four children but two of them are here, and they have children, and I have great grandchildren. I thought maybe should come home, because you never know about cancer, it does what it wants to do. I’d been away so much traveling, I lived in Paris for 16 years, and I wanted my grandkids and my great grandkids to get to know me better. And if anything happened to me I’d be home.

You’re doing better now?

I just had my last checkup and I’m cancer-free, so thank God for that. I just finished my treatment like two weeks before I came back here.

Can you tell me a bit about how you first got in to performing?

I’ve been singing as long as I can remember. My mother said I was singing before I could talk. My father played guitar and sang. He was always playing guitar, and my earliest memory was singing with my dad. So I knew what I wanted to be when I was three, I think. I sang in grade school. My first job here was singing with Stanley and Tommy Turrentine, then I stopped and had children and then I started back. I left here in 1967 with Jimmy McGriff, and that tour ended in California. That’s where I met the producer of my first album. I lived there until 1985, then I went to Paris to do a jazz festival and I ended up staying 16 years.

I read you were on Johnny Carson, and some other shows.

Oh yeah, I did a lot of those when I first started recording. All the talk shows. That was like 1969-1970.

What have been some of the most memorable points in your career?

I think the most outstanding for me was when I went to Brazil in 1970. It was an international song festival, and I had just recorded a theme song for Lalo Schifrin. He happened to be on the committee that was judging the songs. Dionne Warwick was supposed to do a guest spot, and she couldn’t do it. For some reason Schifrin mentioned me to them, and I went there to take her place. In Pittsburgh I was used to singing in the corner bar. And I’d just been in California maybe a year, so I wasn’t used to big crowds. It was in a stadium that held two hundred thousand people. And I thought I was going to die. The thing about it was, when people didn’t like your performance they threw rolls of toilet paper in the air, and all you would see were these white things coming down. I was just standing there thinking “oh god, please lord, please, please let them like me” because my career would be over, I would be so embarrassed if they threw this toilet paper while I was singing. I was already scared out of my wits; I’m a beginner, basically, in this big showbiz thing. So it turns out that they all gave me a standing ovation, and I just stood there and cried.

That’s my most traumatic experience. And it ended up being wonderful. And I used to bite my fingernails something terrible, because I was always very nervous before I sang. And after that, I stopped biting my fingernails. After that I was no longer afraid to sing in front of people. I was definitely afraid [before], but I wanted to sing so badly that I said, “well this is just going to be a war,” and I didn’t know who was going to win. On Johnny Carson I thought I was going to faint, I was so scared, thinking of all the people who were watching.

You’re performing with Roger Humphries. Have you known each other for a while?

I think we both started around the same time. We were talking and I asked, “Have we ever worked together Roger?” and he said, “I don’t remember” He’s been my knight in shining armor, because a lot of people don’t know about me. Because I left so early, all my fans are very old, older than myself. It’s like a whole new group of people who have basically never heard of me. The people at the Fairmont hotel asked me “where are you from and where have you been?” And I said, I’m from Pittsburgh and I’ve been to a lot of places, but I left early and I never came back!

What was your career like in Paris?

My records never got to London, or Europe. In Paris nobody had ever heard of me. There were a few record collectors who knew of me, but as far as the general public, they had never heard of me. I started from scratch there, and I just started getting one job after another. It was a resurgence of my career.
Jazz is a lot stronger in Europe than in the United States, though it’s shame to have to say that. I met so many record collectors. I didn’t even know record collectors existed when I was here. They’re serious about jazz over there. Coming from Pittsburgh was a big help to me. Everyone was impressed when you say you’re from Pittsburgh, because some great musicians came out of Pittsburgh. People in Paris and Europe are more hip to who came from Pittsburgh, because they’re collectors and they know their history. It’s like, it’s our music, but we don’t give it the attention that it should get. Like, when people live in Paris, they never go to the Eiffel Tower. We have this music and it came from us, but it’s never had the respect that it deserves.

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Port Authority board approves transit cuts ... hopes to reverse itself

Posted By on Fri, Apr 27, 2012 at 12:16 PM

The Port Authority board of directors today approved a plan that would implement deep service cuts, massive layoffs and a fare increase to deal with a $64 million budget deficit.

The plan, set to go into effect Sept. 2, slashes service of 46 routes, reduces the remaining routes, eliminates service after 10 p.m. for all but 13, and shutters the Collier operating division. For the first time in the agency's history, paratransit service through ACCESS would also be severely reduced. Between 500-600 positions will be eliminated.

Fare increases go into effect in July.

Port Authority brass described the cuts -- the deepest in the transit agency's history -- as a dark day for the region.

"Who really thinks that making Pittsburgh's region's roadway conditions and parking worse is a good idea? Why of all things would we want to cut vital connections to jobs?" Steve Bland, CEO of the agency, said to the board. "None of it makes any sense."

Bland, along with other agency leaders and transit advocates and workers, continued the drumbeat that the state needs a dedicated funding stream for transportation. The state's funding mechanism collapsed when the federal government refused to toll Interstate 80, a linchpin to generate more transportation dollars in the state.

"The missing piece of the puzzle," Bland said, "is a lasting, permanent solution to the way we fund public transportation in the Commonwealth."

While the board approved the service reduction, many today painted the state as the hold-up in averting the cuts.

Patrick McMahon, president and business agent of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85, said he's tired of offering concession agreements when the state doesn't address the funding issue. Their current collective bargaining agreement expires at the end of June.

"We can't make a deal with Port Authority on a labor contract without knowing what the state is going to do," he told the board.

"We are not ATMs who can be rung for more cash every time politicians fail to live up to their responsibilities."

McMahon asked the board to vote against the cuts "and put the onus on the state" to either shut the system down or offer a funding stream.

While Gov. Tom Corbett's own Transportation Funding Advisory Commission offered a report earlier this year with revenue-generating suggestions, it's not clear what, if anything, Corbett will do with it. Corbett has been clear, however, that he isn't planning any last minute flexes that former Gov. Ed Rendell frequently did to stave off cuts in the eleventh hour.

In an interview with KDKA's Jon Delano Thursday, Corbett said the state is looking to the county, Port Authority and union to come up with the solution.

"In years past, the state has been able to produce that money and solve that. We don't have that money," he told Delano.

Agency brass, the union and county executive Rich Fitzgerald are scheduled to meet with the Governor's office next week.

Outside of the authority's Downtown headquarters, ATU members and supporters rallied against the cuts, many with signs against the governor. "Tom Corbett Corporate Prostitute" read one, while someone else yelled "Corbett's a piece of shit!" Others chanted "They say cut back we say fight back."

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McMahon told the crowd of about 100 it was time for Corbett to take the lead.

"We need to push the governor," he shouted. "He's the only one who can stop the cuts."

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Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week - Rock Bottom Brewery's Beer As Cocktail Competition

Beer As Cocktails Competition

Posted By on Fri, Apr 27, 2012 at 10:44 AM

Pittsburgh Craft Beer week is happening now - April 28th and will be celebrated with over 200 events in and around the Pittsburgh area. Pittsburgh City Paper attended Rock Bottom Brewery's "Beer As Cocktails" Competition Thursday, April 25th. Rock Bottom Brewery hosted bar-keeps from around the Pittsburgh area who were crafting unique, one of kind “Beer Cocktails” utilizing the three Pittsburgh Craft Beer Collaborative Beers as featured ingredients. Guests were able to sample all three collaborative brews as well as the libations the competing bartenders submit for judging. City Papers own Lindsey & Ashley got to be a part of this event by judging the cocktails!! The winner was Tony Jezzi of Saga (a Japanese Steak House in Monroeville)! Congratulations Tony!

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Young the Giant at Stage AE

Posted By on Thu, Apr 26, 2012 at 3:06 PM

Young the Giant
  • Young the Giant

Indie powerhouses Young the Giant and The Apache Relay visited Stage AE on Friday, delivering vivacious performances of well-constructed set lists.

The Apache Relay
  • The Apache Relay

Hailing from Nashville, TN, The Apache Relay brought with them an eclectic mix of instruments, such as a violin and mandolin. They kicked the evening off with a very relaxed song that featured a gradual build-up. As they approached the climax of the tune, the audience positively reacted to the six-piece band, as though they were surprised to hear such refreshing music from an opener.

"American Nomad" really got the crowd moving with lead singer Michael Ford's velvety smooth vocals and the instrumentation's edgy folk appeal. "State Trooper" had a more mysterious vibe, the heavy bass giving the tune a haunting sound. With each song, the band loosened up more and more, appearing noticeably more relaxed with their surroundings.

When they played "Watering Hole," the band's soulful side crawled out from beneath their indie influences to give the crowd a sensual jam, which sounded like Maxwell's "Pretty Wings" mixed with a Ray LaMontagne vibe. It was during this song that The Apache Relay flexed their muscles as instrumentalists, showing they really know how to make a song progress in an ear-pleasing manner.

The Apache Relay, who performed at The Club at Stage AE a year ago, proved to be an excellent pairing for Young the Giant, due to their song structures and high energy.

Young the Giant
  • Young the Giant

In appropriate 4/20 fashion, Young the Giant entered the stage after red, green and yellow lights illuminated the room and reggae music began to blare from the speakers. Vocalist Sameer Gadhia stepped up to the mic, smiling ear to ear, and murmured, "Hey...happy 4/20. I hope you all had a special day." The crowd went wild as the band began to play, and Gadhia jumped around the stage like a toddler on Christmas morning.

"Guns Out" had a smooth, beach-esque energy, and established Young the Giant's monstrous sound. "Shake My Hand" featured grandiose guitar riffs and a lot of tambourine action from Gadhia. Most of Young the Giant's songs seemed to start off very relaxed and quiet and built up to an explosive climax, which helped to hold the audience's attention throughout the set.

The band's set list had an emphasis on new material, such as "What You Get," a simplistic tune with rough, in-your-face guitar parts. They also performed fan favorites like "Apartment" and "Cough Syrup," both of which garnered boisterous screams from the crowd. They dedicated "Camera" to hockey fans, as audience members had been screaming every time they caught word the Pittsburgh Penguins scored during the evening.

After a few more tunes, Young the Giant left the stage but returned to give an outstanding performance of R. Kelly's "Ignition (Remix)." Gadhia's falsetto sounded impeccable, and his sensual dance moves drove the crowd crazy. The band ended the show with their popular single "My Body," and Gadhia assured the crowd they would return to Stage AE someday very soon.

Young the Giant and The Apache Relay were a perfect match-up. Their distinct forms of indie music accented each other well and consistently gave a liveliness to the venue all night.

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Anthony Raneri at Altar Bar

Posted By on Thu, Apr 26, 2012 at 3:05 PM

Anthony Raneri
  • Anthony Raneri

Altar Bar hosted a night of locally and nationally known talent last night as My Cardboard Spaceship Adventure and Punchline's Steve Soboslai shared the stage with Bayside's Anthony Raneri for an acoustic show. While each performer's style of music varied from the others, their sets complemented each other and flowed together well.

My Cardboard Spaceship Adventure
  • My Cardboard Spaceship Adventure

My Cardboard Spaceship Adventure's set featured great harmonies, tight guitar riffs and the kind of friendly on-stage wit that can win over any crowd. "Farewell" showcased Dan Becker's belting skills and vocal clarity, while "So Loud," included spectacular work on the keys courtesy of Alex Robertson. Mikey Meiers let his vocal talent shine in "Never Coming Back" and also provided entertaining banter between songs that kept the crowd interested. Meiers' shtick incited a wealth of laughter in the audience when he encouraged the audience to buy the T-shirts at their merchandise table for just about anyone they knew, saying, "Dress up your cats! That could be cool." The band displayed an obvious camaraderie as musicians and appreciation for the opportunity to open for two talented singer-songwriters.

Steve Soboslai
  • Steve Soboslai

The witty banter just kept on coming when Steve Soboslai, a master of awkward sarcasm and puns, entered the stage. The lead singer and guitarist of Punchline welcomed the crowd with an uncomfortably long wave of his hand, breaking the ice and showing that his set would be more like a friendly conversation between musician and crowd than a stiff, one-sided performance.

Soboslai's crisp vocals and volume control really stood out in "Goodbye Stranger" and "Your Face." He encouraged requests from the audience, responding to several shouts for "Heart Transplant." Many fans sang the tune word for word, with Soboslai jokingly adding at the end, "If I could just teach you guys all the songs, I could just drink. I wouldn't even have to play anything. That's called outsourcing."

The high point of his set came when cellist Katie Morrow joined for "Coordinates." The added instrument gave the song more dimension and made for a nice change of pace in the set. Soboslai closed with the very powerful "Universe" and left the stage graciously thanking the crowd and announcing, "I will remember this moment for the rest of my very short life."

Anthony Raneri
  • Anthony Raneri

The pop rock vibe of the evening took a punk turn when Anthony Raneri opened his set with the angst-riddled anthem "Blame It on Bad Luck." He quickly announced his excitement for his recently released first solo EP, New Cathedrals. The five tracks just "didn't really work as Bayside songs," according to Raneri, who performed the EP's first track "Sandra Partial." The song, which had "just been sitting on a cassette tape for eight years" before it was recorded, showed off his range and revealed his folk side.

Much like the other performers, Raneri shared his dry sense of humor between songs, saying "Don't listen to me too intently because I'm probably not going to say anything too profound," with a chuckle. He often shared anecdotes related to his day in Pittsburgh and the songs he performed, such as how the bathroom attendant services he was met with throughout the day at the venue convinced him not to take a leak before the show for fear of having to leave another tip.

Raneri performed several Bayside fan favorites such as "Don't Call Me Peanut," which caused the crowd to squeal immediately after its first three notes. He also played "Killing Time," sharing a tale about a fan being inspired to "go AWOL from the army" after asking Raneri about the song's meaning. "I and I" also excited the crowd, as well as "Landing Feet First." When he played "Duality," he mentioned how the music video was filmed in Pittsburgh, stating that having an entire street closed down for it was one of his coolest moments as a band member and adding, "That was pretty fucking badass."

When a fan requested Raneri's signature Matt Skiba cover of "Good Fucking Bye," he instead played Alkaline Trio's "Do you Wanna Know?"

After dozens of screams for "Montauk," Raneri explained that he felt the song sounded horrible live but caved in and said, "I'm gonna give you what you want." The performance ignited shrieks of delight throughout the room.

Raneri played his expected cover of Smoking Popes' "Megan," but succeeded in making it sound just as beautiful as the last three times I heard him perform it. After bidding the crowd adieu, Raneri reluctantly returned to the stage to play Death Cab for Cutie's "I Will Follow You into the Dark." His set contained a cohesive mix of new and old material that contrasted well with the much more pop sound of the other acts.

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The New Yinzer Marks 10th Anniversary

Posted By on Thu, Apr 26, 2012 at 2:30 PM

And naturally, Pittsburgh's oldest online literary magazine celebrates with a reading.

Plus, it's following up with a big party on Saturday.

The publication's reading series, The New Yinzer Presents ... , goes off as usual this month: 8 p.m. at ModernFormations Gallery, BYOB encouraged, bring a potluck item to escape the $5 admission.

The reading features local talents Tessa Barber, Eric Boyd and Rose Huber.

Barber is a librarian who blogs about teen books. Boyd is an editor (Newer York, Pork & Mead magazines), Chatham graduate and second-place winner in the PEN American Center's 2012 Prison Writing contest, and his first story collection, Whiskey Sour (Chatham/Nervous Puppy), is out this month. And Huber is a Pitt science and technology writer whose work has been featured in Pear Noir, Weave and The Light Ekphrastic.

TNY's readings are casual affairs but feature local (and sometimes visiting) writers you won't necessarily see elsewhere. They're a good deal.

Saturday's party is less about the words and more about the music. It's at the New Yinzer's other East End home, Brillobox, and features sets by Ursa Major, Ash Dinosaur, Essential Machine and Moldies & Monsters, plus DJs Jordan K, Electric Slim and Miscellaneous G. The doors for this one are at 9 p.m., and the cover is also $5.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Plenty for progressives -- especially Peduto -- to like in 2012 primary

Posted By on Wed, Apr 25, 2012 at 8:00 AM

OK, now THAT was one weird-ass election. Not that anyone was paying attention: In Allegheny County, turnout was below 20 percent, according to unofficial numbers form the county's elections department.

But here in Pittsburgh, some political pillars were toppled. Raja, a political newcomer who ran a failed bid for Allegheny County Executive last year, beat out an established Republican, Mark Mustio, in a state Senate race. Jason Altmire, forced by redistricting into a battle with fellow Dem Mark Critz, also lost -- despite having been a good football player at one point!

But in Pittsburgh, the most important races were two state rep contests won by a younger generation of political progressives. Challenger Ed Gainey steamrolled Joe Preston, who almost qualified for legislator-for-life status in state House District 24. In House District 22, meanwhile, Erin Molchany trounced Martin Schmotzer, the endorsed Democrat. In doing so, she also bested another political pillar: Pete Wagner, the brother of former state Auditor General Jack Wagner, and the chair of the city's sprawling, vote-rich 19th ward.

And these races weren't squeakers, either. Gainey, who chairs the city Democratic committee, won by a 65-35 margin. Molchany beat Schmotzer 51-38. (A third candidate, Shawn Lunny, was deemed ineligible by the state Supreme Court, but his name remained on the ballot and got most of the other votes.)

Arguably, though, the biggest winners last night were Matt Merriman-Preston -- who managed both the Gainey and Molchany campaigns -- and the politician for whom Merriman-Preston acts as field marshal: city councilor Bill Peduto. Last night's results showed that voters across the city are ready for new faces and a progressive message -- the same message Peduto will no doubt campaign on during his likely run against Mayor Luke Ravenstahl next year. The outcomes also suggested that the old guard's grip on power is increasingly arthritic.

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