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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Posted By on Tue, Mar 31, 2015 at 5:15 PM

In this very special edition of CONCERT ANNOUNCEMENTS, we bring you the lineup for the 2015 Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival, announced today by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. Take a look, and mark your calenders:

Fri., June 5 – Jenny Lewis
Sat., June 6 – Railroad Earth, Elephant Revival
Sun., June 7 – Alvvays
Mon., June 8 – Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra/Pittsburgh Opera
Tue., June 9 – The Felice Brothers w/ Hurray for the Riff Raff
Wed., June 10 – Milo Greene
Thu., June 11 – Rhiannon Giddens
Fri., June 12 – Richard Thompson
Sat., June 13 – Neko Case
Sun., June14 – Benjamin Booker

Other upcoming shows:

On April 24, rapper Action Bronson brings his "The Mr. Wonderful Tour" to Xtaza Nightclub, with DJ Alchemist ($27-30, on sale Friday)

On May 19, the mysterious Ghoul stops by Cattivo with Phobia and Nekrofilth ($15, on sale now)

Nashville's Turbo Fruits plays the Smiling Moose May 7, with Eternal Summers and lovely locals Run Forever ($10-12 on sale now).

Coming to Club CafeHakim Rasheed with Urban Ivory, May 8 ($10, on sale now); Rhett Miller, May 17 ($22-25, on sale now); The Suffers, June 18 ($8-10, on sale now)

And finally, here's some great news for fans of bands that should have broken up 35 years ago: The Rolling Stones play Heinz Field June 20. Tickets, which will surely be reasonably priced, go on sale April 13.

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Posted By on Tue, Mar 31, 2015 at 1:54 PM

The festival concluded Sunday night with a talk by George Takei at the Byham Theater. And co-organizer Paul Organisak, of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, says the four-day program of presentations on scholarly and popular topics went "extremely well."

The line-up of about two dozen events, most at Downtown venues, drew about 750 attendees, according to the Trust. (That figure includes neither a festival performance event at The Andy Warhol Museum nor the Humanities Fest's VIA Festival music event in Lawrenceville.)

Asked whether those numbers met expectations, Organisak replied today via email: "None of us knew what to expect going into this first Festival nor did we have expectations [about turnout]."

The festival's kickoff event last Thursday, featuring author Azar Nafisi, was booked at the Byham but drew only about 150 to the 1,300-seat venue. But as to the festival as a whole, wrote Organisak, "I was pleasantly surprised and gratified by the turn out."

About 120 people, for instance, attended Saturday's talk by famed independent filmmakers John Sayles and Maggie Renzi — well in excess of the 85-seat capacity of most festival events. Organisak said that "every session had a respectable attendance. And, hey, it was a very cold Saturday in March and people still came out!"

Organisak said he was also excited by the participation of National Endowment for the Humanities chairman William Adams, who introduced Nafisi.

The festival's tagline was "Smart Talk About Stuff That Matters." Topics ranged widely, from contemporary to historical.

At another of Saturday's events at the Trust Arts Education Center, for instance, Carnegie Mellon University professor of English Christopher Warren presented “Six Degrees of Francis Bacon," focusing on social networking in early modern England. Warren has analyzed vast quantities of data to establish how people were connected at the time, and introduced a digital humanities project that aims to depict social connections.

A play on the parlor game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” which theorizes that every major actor can be linked to Kevin Bacon within six steps, Warren’s website posits that knowing the network of individuals a person was involved with can give insight into his or her thoughts and positions on contemporary political events. At the same time, knowing whom those people weren’t connected to illustrates the limitations on social networking at that time.

“I had to know as much about … context as possible. Six Degree of Francis Bacon exists because I suspect others have had a similar experience,” Warren said in his lecture. Context, he asserted, is the key to understanding past events and people. “The reconstruction of historical networks can be a bulwark against historical amnesia.”

One attendee at Warren's talk, Carol Goldburg, told CP: “It was very exciting to see the humanities presented to the larger public, not just the academic community. I’m very excited to see the humanities celebrated."

“It was a great turn out," Goldburg added. "I would hope that the festival comes back next year and that we see some younger Pittsburghers attend.”

For Organisak, it's too soon to know what's next for the fledgling Pittsburgh Humanities Festival. "Our next step is to take a breath, do an internal review of how it [went], gather feedback via a survey of attendees and then think about the future," he wrote.

Bill O'Driscoll contributed to this report.

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Posted By on Tue, Mar 31, 2015 at 12:32 PM

click to enlarge Photo courtesy of Matt Dayak
Photo courtesy of Matt Dayak

This week's MP3 Monday comes to you from Cold Weather, singer-songwriter Mark Ramsey's "dark folk" project.   "When Waking" is a quiet, pulsating meditation from the band's debut album of the same name. Take a listen below, and if you like what you hear, the full album's available for download on Cold Weather's Bandcamp page.


To download, right-click here and choose "save link as."

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Friday, March 27, 2015

Posted By on Fri, Mar 27, 2015 at 3:22 PM

Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Joe Sestak made a stop in Allegheny County yesterday during his statewide walking tour that his campaign is calling a "walk in other Pennsylvanians' shoes." He kicked off his campaign earlier this month and has since been bringing his talking points to each county he visits. At Zeke's Coffee in East Liberty, Sestak talked to a small crowd about his ideas on foreign policy.

Later, he stopped by the City Paper for a sit-down interview:

Video by Ashley Murray

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Posted By on Fri, Mar 27, 2015 at 11:26 AM

click to enlarge Azar Nafisi
Azar Nafisi

Nazar Afisi sounded, in effect, an ideal keynote in last night’s kick-off event for the Pittsburgh Humanities Festival. She championed storytelling, and especially fiction, as necessary for our lives in general and for democracy in particular.

The Reading Lolita in Tehran author noted that the first thing dictatorships do is to force culture underground, cutting people off from their history and their common humanity.

A native of Iran, she lived there for nearly the first two decades after the 1979 revolution. She eventually left for the U.S. with her family and is now an American citizen, but she noted that her adopted country is scarcely immune to attacks on the humanities.

Nafisi spoke of America itself as an act of imagination — of fiction realized, if you will. Because of course, as she noted, fiction is not about replicating reality, but rather about subverting it. (Example she gave later: Contrary to the standard trope, Huckleberry Finn and Jim are safe only in the wilderness; to enter civilization, they must don disguises.)

Nafisi’s latest book, The Republic of Imagination, looks at the importance of key works of fiction, including Huckleberry Finn, to American identity. But she cautioned that the empathy and curiosity fiction teach us must lead us not only deeper into ourselves, but out into the world. She quoted Nabokov: “Curiosity is insubordination in its purest form.”

For instance, she discussed how, despite Islam’s great diversity, to many Westerners that culture means only one thing: Islamic extremism. But the conflict we’re seeing in the Islamic world, she argued, is not Islam versus modernity: “It’s about totalitarianism, which has confiscated religion and is using it as an ideology.”

In between a handful of jabs at Ted Cruz, she added that Americans, too, must define themselves: “If you don’t decide what kind of American you want to be, somebody else will decide it for you.”

Nafisi’s talk was the first event in the four-day festival. As organizers hoped, the audience was engaged enough to stick around for a substantial Q&A session.

But while the speaker was good and the crowd was into it, turnout was disappointing: Only about 150 seats at the Byham were filled.

Most of the festival remains, however, with some two dozen talks on a wide range of subjects, mostly at Downtown venues, and some performances, too. (Here’s CP’s preview.)

A festival pass costs $10-20 and is available here.

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Posted By on Fri, Mar 27, 2015 at 9:33 AM

After five months of gut-wrenching uncertainty, Pittsburgh police announced Thursday night that Andre Gray's body was found in the Ohio River in West Virginia. Police say 30-year-old Hubert Wingate "is a person of interest," and was already in the Allegheny County Jail for an unrelated warrant in connection with an assault in Colorado. 

Wingate's status as a person of interest was announced Friday afternoon as a correction to a Thursday-night press release that claimed he had been arrested. 

"Thank God for bringing my son home,” said Gray's mother, Victoria Gray-Tillman, according to a police press release. "Now I can begin my closure process. It’s been a long time coming … It’s a mother’s worse nightmare — their child being out there and it’s the not knowing. So I thank God for all the people, the family and the prayers.”

On Oct. 25, Gray-Tillman found her son's Lawrenceville apartment ransacked after he didn't return her phone calls. Inside, she found blood, bleach and duct tape, and noticed that his car and other items from the apartment were missing. (The car was later found, partially burned, on the North Side.)

Gray's body was found by West Virginia officials near a barge on March 20. They ruled his death a homicide caused by a gunshot wound, but it wasn't until March 25 that Gray was identified and Pittsburgh officials were notified of his death, according to a press release.

Gray, 34, was gay, out to his family and set to start a job at Project Silk — an organization that predominately serves young minorities in the LGBT community. "He was very much like a father figure to lot of people,” Nayck Feliz, a volunteer and former associate director of Silk told City Paper last month. "He wanted to help out even if he wasn’t paid." Gray's disappearance prompted some LGBT activists to help his family, including a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to encourage anyone with information to come forward.

It was not immediately clear what prompted Wingate's arrest or whether Gray knew him. When Wingate was arrested on the Colorado warrant, police found he had a concealed semi-automatic handgun.

Editor's note: This post originally cited a Pittsburgh police press release that stated Hubert Wingate was arrested. Police issued a correction Friday afternoon stating that he is a person of interest. 

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Posted By on Thu, Mar 26, 2015 at 2:56 PM

District 4 school-board candidate Lynda Wrenn says Pittsburgh Public Schools has an equity problem. If that problem continues, she says, it could hurt more than just the students and families in "bad schools," and damage the district's reputation as a whole. 

"My kids are at Allderdice, and Allderdice is considered a 'good school,' but I know all schools in the district don't have the same advantages that Allderdice does," says Wrenn. "I'd like to take those more challenged schools, see what they need, and make them more desirable for families."

District 4 school board candidate Lynda Wrenn
District 4 school board candidate Lynda Wrenn
This goal was one of the motivations behind her decision to run for election in the upcoming May primary. 

"I've been a longtime Pittsburgh Public Schools parent and I feel all kids deserve a quality education, regardless of whether they're in a 'good school' or not," says Wrenn. "I think all the schools should be good for the kids of our city." 

The mother of four holds a master's degree in education from Chatham University, and has served on the district's gifted-education task force and the task force for the Summer Dreamer Academy.

"I do have an educational background which helps when you're trying to make decisions about curriculum or the best way children learn and where to put resources," says Wrenn. "I have the perspective of actually being in the schools and seeing what the challenges are."

She did her student teaching at Springhill Elementary in the North Side and later went on to do work with several district middle schools for a research study on childhood obesity. She also volunteered in kindergarten classrooms.

"As someone who's been involved in the Pittsburgh Public Schools for so long, I've seen a lot of things come and go. I've seen a lot of changes over 15 years. I think that gives me a lot of perspective."

Wrenn says one component of closing the opportunity gap between students is setting the bar higher. During her time on the gifted task force, she worked to give more students who were not in the gifted program the opportunity to take higher-level classes. 

"At Brashear, the number of children taking [advance placement] courses over the past five years has increased four-fold," Wrenn says. "When you challenge kids and they rise to the occasion, it builds their self-confidence and it does help them believe they can achieve."

According to Wrenn, closing the gap, especially as it relates to college attainment, also involves helping students with parents who did not go to college. She says she'd advocate for more resources for guidance counselors and social workers in schools.

"I think a lot of times when I talk to kids, they don't see college as an option," Wrenn says. "Their parents haven't been through the process before and it's hard for kids to navigate."

In order to bring more resources to the district, Wrenn says she would advocate for a fair-funding formula to ensure "schools that need more are getting more."

Wrenn is running for the seat of board veteran William Isler who is not seeking reelection. She received the Allegheny County Democratic Committee endorsement over her opponent Kirk Burkley. Schools in the district include Allderdice, Colfax K-8 and Linden K-5. 

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Posted By on Thu, Mar 26, 2015 at 1:30 PM

click to enlarge David White, executive director of Pittsburgh Bike Share, warns locations on this map may not be exact. - COURTESY OF PITTSBURGH BIKE SHARE
Courtesy of Pittsburgh Bike Share
David White, executive director of Pittsburgh Bike Share, warns locations on this map may not be exact.
Nearly a year after its scheduled launch, Pittsburgh's bike share program is expected to drop 500 new bikes on the street within the next two months.

“Things are marching forward,” says David White, executive director of Pittsburgh Bike Share, the nonprofit that manages the program. “We hope to have users with the ability to take out a bike starting in May.”

The program was initially announced in 2013, when then-Mayor Luke Ravenstahl told the Post-Gazette, "To have that cool, young, vibrant, hip city that young investors want requires projects like this."

The program has been beset by delays, something Bike Pittsburgh Executive Director Scott Bricker chalks up to a bidding process that took longer than expected and the overall complexity of the project.

“To be fair, I really don’t think that a single bike share program has launched exactly when people intended it to," Bricker says. "It’s a very complicated program to get off the ground. It’s essentially starting a whole new public transportation system.”

Bike sharing works essentially as a rental system that doesn't force you to return your bike to the spot you rented it. Pittsburgh will start out with 50 docking stations across the city, and there are already plans to expand the system in its first two years of operation.

The pricing hasn't been finalized yet, says White, but "we have a sincere vision of creating a system that does not require a fee to register." Bike sharing programs have often struggled to attract lower-income users, but White says, “The goal is to make the system competitive with other methods of transportation ... affordable to all users across all demographic groups." 

Payment can be made online, via a smartphone app or at the docking stations themselves; there will also be a membership option for more regular users.

The bikes themselves are manufactured by a German company called nextbike, and will be outfitted with a gear system designed to "help flatten some of the hills for people," Bricker says. 

“It’s just going to get a lot more people riding bikes,” he adds. "I really hope it gets more people engaged in the conversation about our streets, how they’re designed and who they’re for.” 

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Posted By on Thu, Mar 26, 2015 at 10:51 AM

Beth Corning finds something both very adaptable and very compelling about her concept for At Once There Was a House.

click to enlarge Beth Corning in a promotional still for "At Once There Was a House" - PHOTO COURTESY OF FRANK WALSH
Photo courtesy of Frank Walsh
Beth Corning in a promotional still for "At Once There Was a House"
The veteran performer and choreographer has revived and revamped the show multiple times since its first showing, in 2005. The last time was a few years ago, with Pittsburgh’s Dance Alloy Theatre. But the current production, which runs through Sunday, has a new cast and evening-length scope, and is to a large extent a new show.

The clever premise remains: It’s “whatever happened to Dick and Jane,” the treacly juvenile protagonists of the old grade-school readers. Corning and the five guest performers of her Corningworks’ Glue Factory Project (for performers over age 40) frame the show as a high school reunion where the graduates are still preening, still vying for attention, but still unfulfilled.

It’s dance-theater partly in that the show’s multiple vignettes let the cast's four professional dancers do some acting, while the two non-dancers engage in some movement work. One draw is the cast itself. Corning; Attack Theatre’s Michele de la Reza; Squonk Opera artistic director and keyboardist Jackie Dempsey; and actor John Gresh – all familiar faces on local stages – are joined by former Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre principal dancer Tamar Rachelle Tolentino and Yoav Kaddar, whose resume includes Paul Taylor Dance Company and Pilobilus.

The overall effect is both comic and dark, and cast is used to fine effect. Highlights of the 70-minute show include: Kaddar and Tolentino’s emotionally charged duet (set to a passage from Don DeLillo’s The Body Artist); Gresh’s funny interpretation of Larry Siegel’s The Dick & Jane Hamlet; and a piece choreographed to Dempsey’s rendition of a rock classic on accordion. The evening is bookended by pieces set to Tom Waits’ “Table Top Joe.”

Four performances remain of At Once There Was a House, from tonight’s at 8 p.m. through this Sunday’s matinee. Tickets are $25-30, although admission to Friday night’s Corningworks 5th-birthday bash are $50, and Sunday’s show has a pay-what-you-will option at the door.

The New Hazlett is located at 6 Allegheny Square East, on the North Side.

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Posted By on Thu, Mar 26, 2015 at 9:00 AM

Photo by Lauren Daley

The Allegheny County Health Department is accepting input from the public until mid-April regarding an operating permit it will issue to the McConway & Torley LLC steel foundry in Lawrenceville.

"We expect to get a lot of comments from citizens, environmental groups and the company as well," says Jim Thompson, deputy director of the health department. "We will consider all of the comments and then decide how we need to resolve them. When we issue the permit, we will issue a comment response."

The health department's comment response to a previous permit issued to the facility in 2010 can be seen here.

M&T creates steel castings for the railroad industry, which are mainly composed of chromium, manganese, nickel and silicon.

The health department regulates the facility, which is technically considered a "synthetic minor source" of pollution. Thompson says that means the facility has the potential to be a major polluter, but restricts its production to keep pollutant levels lower. The draft permit for M&T's foundry in Lawrenceville states a production limit of 21,500 tons of steel per year.

"The current limit is higher, somewhere around 90,000 tons of steel melted," says Joe Osbourne, legal director at the local air-quality watchdog organization Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP). "At its current permitted production levels, given the way the ACHD is now calculating emissions, the plant would be a major source [of pollution], and would be operating without a major source permit. We want the plant’s maximum emissions to be under the major source threshold as the law requires.

A significant amount of pollutants from M&T are considered "fugitive emissions," Thompson says, meaning that these type of emissions aren't directed to one place — for example, a smoke stack. Instead, Thompson says, they may "waft out of the building."

"In the past what people have commented on are emissions of heavy metals that are coming from the plant — manganese, lead and chromium," Thomspon says. "That's why in one of their installation permits we put in there as a condition to build, they had to monitor those concentrations of heavy metals at the plant." 

The monitor is located next to the facility and the results — listed as the Lawrenceville Toxic Metals Study — are reported on the health department website's air quality page. The most recent update shows levels from December-January. 

According to the monitor data, the heavy metal manganese being measured from the plant exceeds the Environmental Protection Agency's Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) by more than 50 percent. The IRIS tool is basically a measurement of the concentrations of a substance that it would take to effect human health; the EPA measures manganese because of its risk of possible neurological effects.

"The particulate-matter emissions from the plant are significant, but perhaps more worrying are the heavy metal emissions, particularly manganese," says Osbourne. "The bottom line is that when levels are consistently present that are higher than that [IRIS] value, there’s cause for concern. Manganese is a neuro-toxin, so it can cause a variety of neurological problems, reduced IQ, slowed reaction time and so on." 

In 2011, GASP raised concerns about emissions of heavy metals from the plant and appealed a permit granted by the health department. City Paper reported on an agreement reached later that year between M&T and the GASP in which the company agreed to reduce dust and fumes exiting the facility.

GASP held a public meeting earlier this month to educate the public about participating in this latest permit process for the foundry. 

"We have heard about a lot of complaints from people who live near the plant about odors," says Osbourne.  "Given that, along with where it’s located [in a residential area] and what we’re seeing from the monitored data, we just thought that members of the community ought to have information about how to comment." 

McConway & Torley did not respond to phone calls.

The health department will close the public-comment period on April 14 when it will hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. Oral testimony must be scheduled ahead of time.

Updated 3/27/2015.

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