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Take a break from the stress of making lists and untangling lights to experience Pittsburgh’s creative side. From an old-school radio play Downtown, to a high-energy hootenanny on the Northside, there are a wealth of cultural happenings spanning the next 30 days. To make sure you don’t miss a beat, here are the top eight events not to miss in December, the first in our new monthly series. For more details, check out our events section each week.

1. PICT Classic Theatre’s Great Expectations: December 3 – 20, Stephen Foster Memorial

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Photo by Suellen Fitzsimmons

Kick off the holidays with a timeless moral tale that begins on Christmas morning. Follow along young Pip in this classic coming-of-age adventure story, as the kindhearted orphan unexpectedly receives a sizable fortune from a wealthy benefactor. Setting off to bustling London to begin his new life as a gentleman, Pip encounters a cast of quintessential Dickensian characters, some with questionable motives, such as Miss Havisham, Estella, Herbert Pocket and Mr. Jaggers. A masterpiece of Victorian literature, Great Expectations takes theater-goers on a timeless journey of self exploration, love, revenge and social commentary—all brought to life via Dickens’ vivid storytelling, scenery and characters. Adapted by the celebrated Irish dramatist Hugh Leonard and directed by Alan Stanford, PICT’s production of this holiday-time favorite features a large and versatile cast of young, emerging and seasoned actors alike. The conclusion of Pip’s journey has been debated for more than a century, and you’ll just have to wait and see which ending PICT chooses, as Dickens famously re-wrote the final pages of Great Expectations to make it more pleasing to readers. Purchase tickets.

2. Lawrenceville Joy of Cookies Tour: December 4 – 7

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The Joy of Cookies Tour

What are the holidays without homemade sugar cookies, gingerbread men and snickerdoodles? Baking from scratch and shopping local join forces to craft an unbeatable recipe for fun during the 15th annual Joy of Cookies Cookie Tour. Equal parts cookie crawl and buy local movement, the free, family-friendly event showcases Lawrenceville’s thriving Butler Street business district with 35 participating stops (look for the gingerbread cookie signs!). Cookie Tourists will sample each shopkeeper’s favorite holiday treat, pick up recipes and explore the many diverse businesses that line Lawrenceville, from art galleries and gift emporiums, to coffeehouses and salons. Shops will also offer special discounts, prizes and gift cards. Looking for a lift? Hop on the Molly’s Trolley, which will circulate on Dec. 6th. Most participating shops are open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. during the tour. Download an event map.

3. Midnight Radio It’s A Wonderful Life: December 4 – 20, Bricolage Production Company

Quick, can you finish this oft-quoted line: every time a bell rings . . . If you’re seeing visions of George, Mary and Zuzu dancing in your head, then you’re in for a treat at Bricolage Production Company‘s next installment of Midnight Radio. Closing out its sixth season of the popular series, Bricolage brings Frank Capra’s classic 1946 film, It’s A Wonderful Life, to its intimate Downtown stage. No you cannot tune into it on your radio dial, nor it does not start at midnight. A timeless holiday tale that’s become a holiday television tradition, Midnight Radio, It’s a Wonderful Life transforms the cinematic classic into a theatrical live radio broadcast featuring five actors performing the voices of dozens of characters. Brought to life in front of a studio audience, the heartwarming show will feature live radio-style shenanigans, comedic commercials, musical guests, and Foley sound effects. Directed by Alex Tobey and written by Joe Landry, the radio play stars Brett Goodnack, Andrea Weinzierl, Wali Jamal, Jason McCune and Elena Alexandratos. Watch, and listen, as everyone’s favorite everyman George Bailey faces local robber baron and relentless curmudgeon Henry Potter, ultimately learning that “no man is a failure who has friends.” Arrive at 7:30 p.m. to enjoy Bricolage’s “Happy Half-Hour” featuring beer, wine, eggnog and zany activities in the lobby. Purchase tickets.

4. Attack Theatre’s Winter Festival: December 5 and 6, Pittsburgh Opera Building

Get unwrapped this holiday season at Attack Theatre‘s Winter Festival. Staying home for the holidays, the homegrown company presents a double header of holiday dance: the festive family favorite, Holiday Unwrapped, along with the premiere of Holiday Hijinks and Revue for the 21 and over crowd. Back for it’s fifth year, Holiday Unwrapped showcases rambunctious physicality and theatrical wit of dancers Kaitlin Dann, Dane Toney, Liz Chang and Matt Pardo. Experience a playful world where socks morph into ice skates, empty packages become record players and a dinner table has a life of its own. Let the frenetic season take you on a fantastical journey, and remember, it’s better to dance with the box on your head than to worry about what’s inside! Set to the sounds of classical, jazz and klezmer music, the family-friendly production features clever and energetic dance, interactive games, movement adventures, light snacks and a warm inviting atmosphere.  Ready to get your game on? Between shows on Dec. 6th, join in the fun at Game Day featuring interactive play for all ages. Feeling more naughty than nice? Slink on over to the premiere of Holiday Hijinks and Revue—Attack’s creative twist on the classic holiday fête. Capping off the company’s Winter Festival on Dec. 6 at 7 p.m, the merry-making and movement bash boasts festive games, live performances, holiday fare and a Yuengling Family of Beers Tasting. Purchase tickets.

5. WYEP’s Holiday Hootenanny: December 11, Stage AE

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WYEP’s Holiday Hootenanny

If you’ve already scored tickets to WYEP‘s seventh annual Holiday Hootenanny, then you can check one more thing off of your list, but act fast, because this local December favorite is known to sell out. Holiday traditions around the globe would not be the same without music, and YEP’s Hoot is one of the best places to celebrate local sounds, sweets and the spirit of giving. Whether you grew up listening to holiday standards by Johnny Mathis, The Beach Boys or Bing, you’re not going to want to miss this hip musical happening. Equal parts local live revue, benefit concert and cozy holiday sing-along (with hundreds of your closest friends), the event brings together local music luminaries, classic holiday tunes, a giant cookie table and pajamas for a very worthy cause. The event kicks off at 7 p.m. with The Yule Kids Pajama Jam emceed by WYEP’s Morning Mix co-host Joey Spehar. The special kid-friendly set will feature a performance by the talented local music and comedy duo, Josh and Gab, who will perform holiday sing-along favorites new and old, including “Frosty the Snowman,” “Jingle Bells/Dradel Song” and a spirited version of “Father Christmas” by the Kinks. At 8 p.m., the Hoot kicks into high gear, with live music by Joy Ike, Brooke Annibale, Billy Price, Mark Dignam, Chet Vincent, and others, all performing their signature takes on classic and contemporary holiday favorites. 

Don’t forget to bring children’s pajamas and child-appropriate books to donate (all items must be new) to the Western PA Chapter of The Pajama Program’s One Million Good Nights campaign, which serves children in need in group homes, shelters and temporary housing. Can’t make it to Stage AE? Tune in to WYEP at 8 p.m., for a live broadcast of the concert! Purchase tickets.

6. HughShows Secret Santapalooza: December 19, Kollar Club

Why not give the gift of local music this holiday season? HughShows, The Deutschtown Music Festival and Wild Kindness Records are teaming up to present an all-star concert dubbed the Secret Santapalooza. Featuring Pittsburgh bands covering other Pittsburgh bands—and jamming with each other for special sets—the one-of-a-kind musical revue is setting up shop at the South Side-based Kollar Club (aka the Kollar John Slovak Society). Sharing the stage will be Pittsburgh-based bands Grand Piano, The Harlan Twins, Chet Vincent & The Big Bend, Andrè Costello and the Cool Minors, The Red Western, Ghost Guts, Satin Gum and Chrome Moses. The gathering of some of the city’s leading musical luminaries is also a way to support an important local cause. The concert is part of an ongoing series of benefits supporting local rock hero, fiction writer and Sound Cat Records owner Karl Hendricks, who was diagnosed with oral cancer in early 2014.  The lively event also marks the culmination of HughShows Live, a free all-ages monthly concert series that took place throughout 2014 at Downtown-based Eide’s Entertainment. The brainchild of dedicated Pittsburgh music blogger and photographer Hugh Twyman, who is celebrating 10 years “covering the indie music scene one photo at a time,” the series also collected donations for the Homeless Children’s Education Fund. Since 2004, Hugh has documented 1,200-plus bands on his blog, where local musicians share cyberspace with legendary artists as Brian Wilson, Mavis Staples and The Lumineers. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.; the music starts at 8:30 p.m.Purchase tickets.

7. Girl Talk: New Year’s Eve, December 31, Stage AE

2008 All Points West Music And Arts Festival - Day 1 - Show
Girl Talk, photo by Dove Shore

New Year’s Eve, with its heady mix of nostalgia, carpe diem and hopes for the future, seems the perfect night to spend with Pittsburgh native and internationally acclaimed maestro of the mashup Girl Talk (along with a few thousand of his closest friends). Née Gregg Michael Gillis in Pittsburgh in 1981, the hometown star (who attended Chartiers Valley High School) kicks off 2015, and a new era for music, at the North Shore club. Those lucky enough to snag tickets to the sold-out show will be treated to Gillis’ prolific use of mashups, digital sampling and adrenaline pumping performance. Gillis’ hands-on spectacle-like appearances, which seem to take the form of ritualistic celebrations for fans, are known to employ a crew of stage hands who launch confetti, balloons, toilet paper and various wacky props into the audience. Armed with a laptop and software, Girl Talk has emerged as a poster child for current debates about fair use, sampling and copyright laws. Crafting an infectious twist on the classic remix genre, Gillis often incorporates more than a dozen unauthorized samples from different songs to create new and wildly dynamic compositions. With a career that already spans 10-plus years of sample-obsessed production and relentless touring, Girl Talk has released five LPs on the Illegal Art label. His most recent full-length album, the densely crafted All Day, clocks in at 71 minutes and 372 samples. In April of 2014, Girl Talk teamed up with acclaimed Philly rapper Freeway to release the collaborative EP, Broken Ankles, which features contributions from Waka Flocka Flame, Young Chris and Jadakiss. The duo is also collaborating on a series of new music videos.

8. 2015 Highmark First Night Pittsburgh in The Cultural District

If one of your resolutions is to make more time for art, then we suggest you kick off 2015 atHighmark First Night Pittsburgh. Hop on the bus or T before or after making the rounds—or make an entire night of it—from 6 p.m. to midnight. The region’s largest single-day celebration showcases the magic of the holiday season via an arts-focused, alcohol-free and family-friendly New Year’s Eve celebration activating all corners of Pittsburgh’s Cultural District. The 21st annual edition boasts some 150 events at 50 indoor and outdoor locations within a 14-block area, making it the Burgh’s biggest New Year’s Eve bash. Hotspots will be concerts on the Dollar Bank Stage and a national headlining act ringing in the New Year on the Highmark Stage. The signature countdown to midnight will feature the raising of the 1,000-pound Future of Pittsburgh ball 150 feet in the air above Penn Avenue Place, and the glorious glow of the Zambelli Fireworks finale display.

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Pittsburgh Cultural Trust

Additional highlights include the vibrant FedEx Ground Parade, a cherished tradition featuring dazzling larger-than-life puppets created by Pittsburgh-based artist Cheryl Capezzuti. Based on this year’s theme of “Imagination: Delivered,” Capezzuti and her talented crew will create clever humorous puppets popping out of giant envelopes. Want to help? Sign up for one of Capezzuti’s community-based workshops on December 11th and 13, and get your hands dirty as you help design, build and decorate parade-sized puppets. Then, show up at 7:30 p.m. on New Year’s Eve to get your completed puppet and dance in the parade! Legendary singer, songwriter and entrepreneur Smokey Robinson will serve as the judge for First Night’s annual Sing-Off competition. Chosen by Robinson, the lucky young winner will perform live as an opening act during First Night 2015, and will receive cash prizes. Area students in grades 6 through 12 are eligible to enter now through Friday, December 12th. Just announced on December 3rd are the latest updates about new venues, new attractions and a new look all on tap for First Night. Featured musical acts providing the night’s entertainment will be local brass and electronic music ensemble Beauty Slap—which boast five horns, a guitar and a DJ. Headliners are the Arista Nashville recording duo, The Swon Brothers (aka Zach and Colton), who are fresh on the heels of releasing their new single, “Pray For You.” Nominated as “Vocal Duo of the Year” at the 48th Annual CMA Awards, The Swon Brothers’ debut single, “Later On,” shot to No. 1 on iTunes’ Country Top Songs chart within 24 hours of its release. Hailing from Oklahoma, the young duo first gained national attention as finalists during Season 4 of NBC’s The Voice. New attractions not to miss include special performances by Cello Fury, Texture Contemporary Ballet, Lee Terbosic Magic, one-man variety show Chris Ruggierro, Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company, FJ Hartland’s Postcards from a Dead Dog, Arcade Comedy Theater, Player One, Aaron Kleiber and T-Robe. And if dance is your thing, check out the night’s Roland Ford line dancing, belly dancing by Cattywhomp Tribal, Indian Dance with Aparna Nigam and even Japanese sword dancing. What’s that sound you hear? Pop into the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s galleries to experience the premiere of Toby Atticus Fraley’s The Lost Search Sound Machine in Pittsburgh, which invites visitors to discover, listen to and play old and forgotten sounds. Those who don’t like the chill will be happy to learn that 90% of all First Night events are held indoors. Be sure to check NEXTpittsburgh’s events section for more details about 2015 Highmark First Night Pittsburgh. For all the fun, purchase a 2015 Highmark First Night Pittsburgh button.

Looking for family activities this holiday season? Check out our Top 10 Family Adventures this December in Pittsburgh feature.

Bonnie Pfister

Slide over, Silicon Valley; back off, Boston: Pittsburgh is a hotbed of companies looking for the best technology talent. Are you itching to be someplace where the work is dynamic and interesting — AND you can actually afford to live nearby and enjoy your free time? Pittsburgh could be just the ticket. Learn more here.

Here are just a few of the cool jobs on offer right now:

Senior Robotics Research Engineer at Carnegie Mellon University

Technical Solutions Consultant at Google

Software Engineer at UPMC’s Technology Development Center in popular Bakery Square

Lead Technical Platform Specialist at PNC Financial Service, Inc.

IT Security Manager at Industrial Scientific

* * * 

Check ImaginePittsburgh.com regularly for more career opportunities and news about the region. You can also sign up for our monthly eNewsletter, or follow us by RSS feedFacebookTwitterLinkedIn or our other social media channels.

IT, Pittsburgh, engineering, software, web design, technology, innovation

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Pittsburgh innovation studio Deeplocal created a new twist to the balloons and birthdays theme. Call it an inflated sense of selfie.

Combining the pop culture selfie craze and a birthday party staple, the Selfiebration Machine was designed and constructed by Deeplocal for Old Navy to honor the retailer’s 20th birthday. In October it made stops in New York City’s Times Square and near Los Angeles’ TCL Chinese Theater for eight hours at each location.

Selfies, sent by well-wishers via Twitter and captured by Deeplocal-designed software, were transformed into digitized photos made up of nearly 1,000 customized latex balloons on a 15-by-15-foot structure.

The balloons, divided among 16 identical “balloon boxes,” inflated simultaneously with each capture, thanks to almost five miles of wiring and a pneumatic valving system built by Deeplocal engineers, explains CEO Nathan Martin.

The device is capable of showing two images a minute.

“Fun is intrinsic to Old Navy’s DNA, and the smiles from the wonder and amazement were so rewarding. That said, the reaction in social really blew us away,” says Taylor Bux, director of digital/social for Old Navy.

Displaying about 2,000 images, last week’s participation far exceeded Deeplocal’s goals, says Martin.

“We generated 640 million impressions on Twitter alone; #selfiebration was used over 17 thousand times,” says Bux.

Concept through creation to going live took just eight weeks.

A mix of about 20 artists and engineers, Deeplocal began in 2006 when Martin, then a research fellow at Carnegie Mellon University, led mapping software research work. Since then Deeplocal has crafted concepts and the technology to produce national campaigns for the likes of Nike, Gap, Toyota and others.

“We come up with the ideas to generate news coverage and attention without the client paying for it to help promote the brand for the company,” says Martin.

And most projects, he says, are typically done for less than the cost of a television commercial.

A 2013 campaign for Google grabbed the attention of the Today Show, ESPN and more when the company designed a telepathic robotic pitcher with a vision system. The project allowed Nick LaGrande, a 13-year-old whose rare blood disease prevented him from being in crowds, to virtually pitch a ball through Google’s Fiber network from a studio in Kansas City to an Oakland A’s home game in California.

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UPDATE: Parking will be FREE OF CHARGE in Pittsburgh Parking Authority lots on Friday, Nov. 28, Saturday, Nov. 29 and all Saturdays through Christmas to encourage shopping at downtown merchants. Learn more here.

Powered by Jennifer Baron for NEXTPittsburgh.

Get switched on to the holidays at Pittsburgh’s 54th Annual Light Up Night.

Presented by the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership (PDP) on Fri., Nov. 21st, the highly anticipated kick-off to the 2014 holiday season will feature a vibrant mix of time honored traditions along with brand new components and expanded programming spanning the Golden Triangle.

Discover the more festive side of Downtown Pittsburgh, from dusk to dark, with an entire evening of activities and events for all ages designed to showcase the city’s world-class holiday attractions and shopping. One of the country’s largest holiday celebrations, Light Up Night also ushers in full month of Downtown programming presented by the PDP.

The Christmas tree and skating rink in PPG Plaza.
The Christmas tree and skating rink in PPG Plaza.

Highlights include new components, additional family activities and an expanded lineup of entertainment spanning the event’s four Downtown stages.

Party on the Roberto Clemente Bridge, where the BNY Mellon New Music Stage will welcome national headliner, Cobra Starship, a dance-pop band based in New York City. Rocking over the Allegheny with some of Pittsburgh’s top emerging bands, the Clemente Bridge will also feature performances by Grand Piano and Donora, and an array of tasty treats. The picturesque locale also boasts prime viewing for Zambelli Internationale’s dazzling fireworks finale by, being launched from the adjacent Andy Warhol Bridge.

Looking for a good party spot? Over at the Northwest Savings Bank Stage at Smithfield Street, the crowds will rock out with headliner and local legends Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers who will be joined by special guest sax player and E Street Band member Eddie Manion, for a sneak peek at their upcoming Asbury Park concerts. Also rocking the Northwest Savings Bank Stage will be soul singer Billy Price and country rockers NOMaD. All that rock making you hungry? An added attraction to the Smithfield Street festivities will be the event’s Food Truck Roundup offering an eclectic selection of local eats.

Head to the Holiday Market Stage in Market Square, where the traditions of the season will really come to life. Count down with a guy in a red suit named Santa as he flips that giant switch, illuminating the dazzling BNY Mellon Season of Lights. Featuring more than140,000 lights and a 33-foot tall sphere tree, the choreographed, glittering wonderland will be synchronized to a new high-energy holiday medley and mini-concerts by Jeff Jimerson and Airborne.

Jazz fans should not miss the special homecoming of renowned trumpeter Sean Jones at the EQT Jazzmasters Stage in Katz Plaza. Newly appointed as Chair of the Brass Department at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, Jones will be joined by legendary drummer Roger Humphries and vocalists Michele Bensen, Spanky Wilson and Anqwenique Wingfield.

It’s not a holiday without some shopping, and there’s no better place to find those stocking stuffers and special gifts than at the Peoples Gas Holiday Market in Market Square. New for 2014, the charming European-style holiday market will swing open its doors on Light Up Night featuring 30-plus vendors selling international and handcrafted gifts. While in Market Square, visit Santa’s downtown digs and enjoy live entertainment by local bands and performing arts groups.

If tree lighting is your favorite ritual, you’re in the right place. A full lineup of eight official tree lightings and ceremonies begins at noon, with the lighting of the tree at the City-County Building and the dedication of the US Steel Tower crèche, and then concludes at 7 p.m. with the lighting of Highmark Unity Tree followed by rooftop fireworks.

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Beeswax and honey items for sale at the Holiday Market.

Looking for indoor family-friendly programs? Visit One Oxford Centre for free indoor activities for children, including face painting, balloon art, sand art and caricatures, an exhibition of historic photos celebrating Pittsburgh during the winter season and live holiday music by The Rick Gallagher Trio. Visit with Santa Claus, see the lighting of a 30-foot tree and even take a free horse drawn carriage rides around the block!

For a VIP party experience, check out Light Up Night’s Blast, a special reception hosted by the PDP. VIPers will start at the Union Trust Building with hors d’oeuvres, cocktails and music from 7 to 9 p.m., and will then watch the fireworks from an exclusive viewing area on the Clemente Bridge at 9:38 p.m. Limited tickets are available. (NEXTpittsburgh is a proud media sponsor.)

Be sure to pop into Downtown’s signature buildings and businesses, including Macy’s, Fifth Avenue Place and PPG Place, which will all host Light Up Night merry making, music and family activities.

Leigh White, with the PDP says that between 200,000 and 400,000 revelers are expected to attend this year’s edition of Light Up Night.

 

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Powered by Leah Lizarondo for NEXTPittsburgh.

Graffiti. Wheatpastes. Stencils. Murals. Once renegade and considered urban blight, street art is now a cultural movement showcased in sold-out museum exhibitions and co-opted by brands from Adidas to Dolce & Gabbana.

We’re not talking about the aimless tagging that litters public and private spaces. Think instead of the more famous urban street artists, from Banksy and Basquiat, to Blek Le Rat and Espo.

Or locally think of Tim Kaulen, one of the most recognized street artists-turned-legit. His works–the iconic Deerhead at Carrie Furnaces and his classic Amaco Bulls–were among the first urban art fixtures in the city. Today, his commissioned work appears throughout the city, including  The Workers, a 20-foot sculpture honoring Pittsburgh’s heritage located along the South Side riverfront.

John Rodella rides by The Workers by Tim Kaulen. Photo by Tracy Certo.
John Rodella rides by The Workers by Tim Kaulen. Photo by Tracy Certo.

Our city’s architecture provides a rich canvas for artists—both authorized and transient. And there are some areas where the art is  so concentrated that it’s like walking through an outdoor gallery.

We spoke with Shannon of PGH Murals, street artists Jeremy Raymer and Shane Pilster and visited many neighborhoods with great street art. Here are some of the best places we’ve found and a good start to your Pittsburgh street art tour.

At the Carrie Furnace. Photo by Shane Pilster.
NSF Crew graf at the Carrie Furnace. Photo by Shane Pilster.

1. Carrie Furnace

In 2012, Shane Pilster, a San Francisco Bay native who moved to Pittsburgh over a decade ago, took a tour of the Carrie Furnace.  Pilster, who has been painting graffiti, marveled at the rich “collection” in the historic site—pieces by artists like Hert, Prism, Mfone, Necksi, Onorok, and 21Rak, to name a few. He convinced Ron Baraff, who directs the furnace’s archives, not only to preserve a few of the works but also to designate a couple of spaces for street artists to produce new ones.

Local artist Ryan Keene did this for the Alloy Pittsburgh show in 2013. Photo by Tracy Certo.
Ryan Keene for the Alloy Pittsburgh Show 2013 at the Carrie Furnace. Photo by Tracy Certo.

In these new walls, Pilster and artists like Kaff-eine have created work that is a sight to behold. Pilster holds Urban Art Tours and Workshops at the Carrie Furnace, a great immersive experience to get a broader understanding of street art’s culture and wide-ranging style.

Art by Kaff-eine. Photo by Jeremy Raymer.
Art by Kaff-eine. Photo by Jeremy Raymer.
Art by Matt Gondek. Photo by Jeremy Raymer
Art by Matt Gondek. Photo by Jeremy Raymer

2. Lawrenceville

Of course, uber-hip Lawrenceville makes the list. Start at Doughboy Square to check out Kaff-eine’s work on a boarded-up building.  It reflects the street artist ethos, says street artist Jeremy Raymer. “Note how she preserved a Shepard Fairey ‘Obey’ wheat paste by incorporating it in the creature standing.” Raymer’s work, both commissioned and otherwise, can be seen around the city, including the street art gallery on the walls of houses on 35th St. and 42nd St.  Don’t miss the“Exploding Homer” by Matt Gondek on Dresden Way between 54th and 55th St. PGH Murals lists 23 works in this area alone.

Art by Swoon. Photo by PGH Murals.
Art by Swoon. Photo by PGH Murals.

3. Braddock and North Braddock

With 33 works listed on PGH Murals, a street art tour is just one more reason to check out Braddock. Works by James Simon, Anthony Purcell, Kaff-eine, Swoon, and the 30 artists collective enliven the one square-mile town. Make sure you veer off Braddock Ave. to check out Lady Pink’s Brick Woman under the bridge on Library St. along with Maya Hayuk’s pattern on 809 Talbot Ave., and portraits of local residents by Swoon under the railroad on 505 Verona St.

Since you’re in the area, head over to North Braddock for a short stop. Street art royalty Swoon and the Transformazium art collective have taken over an old church in North Braddock to launch theBraddock Tiles project.  You can see some of her work outside the church, on 798 Hawkins Ave. including a super adobe structure at 714 Jones Ave.

4. The East Busway

At 5880 Centre Avenue on the Busway is one of the most detailed murals in the East End (see top photo).  “This mural is only visible from the busway or from Tay Way or College Ave where it wraps behind the Tokyo Japanese Food Market off Ellsworth Ave in Shadyside. It’s worth the effort to find a vantage point to see it,” notes PGH Murals. Multiple artists contributed to the work but Ashley Hodder’s Mother Nature image on the left is especially noteworthy for its breathtaking detail. Bring binoculars or a telephoto lens to catch every element that makes up this beautiful work.

And not to miss: On the busway’s North Homewood Ave. end, Hodder and other artists have created “Peace Over Pittsburgh” an exceptional mural under the overpass.

Various artists. Photos by PGH Murals.
Various artists. Photos by PGH Murals.

5. Wilkinsburg

Wilkinsburg may not have the most concentration of street art but it does have a great mix of murals and graffiti. Start at 1105 Franklin Ave. to see Lucas Stock’s and Kyle Holbrook’s graffiti-style mural,Wilkinzburg. Trace the busway route and go off on the side streets to catch other great work. Don’t miss 701 Wood St. where multiple artists including Colleen Black have covered five large walls and a gazebo. There is so much detail in this dense collection that you can spend hours just taking it all in.

Artist James Simon. Photo by PGH Murals.
Artist James Simon. Photo by PGH Murals.

6. Uptown

It’s no surprise that artist James Simon’s neighborhood is on this list. Simon’s work can be seen throughout the county, but along Forbes and the short expanse of Gist St. is a concentration of his work and that of his colleagues. Don’t miss the the whimsical Base Man with Moon and the toweringUrban Rhythm along Forbes Avenue. Exploring the street art is a good way to get acquainted with this up and coming neighborhood.

7. Oakland

Start your Oakland tour by checking out the Locks of Love on Schenley Park Bridge, modeled after a project in Paris. Couples can write their names on a lock and fix it to the chain-link fence to commemorate their love for each other. Then go on a scavenger hunt of sorts to spot some pink dinosaurs, protractors and the Doors of Oakland project.

Artist Unknown. Photo by PGH Murals.
Artist Unknown. Photo by PGH Murals.

Bonus: The Garfield Gators Mascot

This work is the only noncommissioned work on the PGH Murals site. And rightly so because it is a beautiful, site-specific work—once discovered, the developers on the site decided not to paint over it. The work is located along N. Pacific Ave at Kincaid St in Garfield and it will take some climbing to find it.  The location is about 2/10 of a mile walk from Penn Ave. on N. Evaline. It’s very much worth the hunt.

One of the best sources for street art maps in this city is PGH Murals. Founded by two avid cyclists who go by the names Shannon and Vannaver, the site is the most comprehensive map of legal street art in the city, an eye-opening collection that showcases some of the city’s hidden gems. Growing from 150 locations three years ago to more than 500 today,  it includes every commissioned public art, from the Sprout Fund murals we know and love to Shepard Fairey’s 20 sites from 2010, once vivid but now worn and familiar.

Street Art Pittsburgh is another online resource that maps some specific work like riot robots and pink dinosaurs, a good source for “non-commissioned” street art.

Got a favorite we didn’t mention? Feel free to comment below or email us. 

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Thousands of people packed the 900 block of Penn Avenue in June for a rousing concert by El Gran Combo, a hugely popular salsa band from Puerto Rico hailed by promoters as the Rolling Stones of their genre.

The opening act – Noel Quintana Latin Crew– performs regularly in the Cleveland and Pittsburgh area and the concert, which drew fans from all over the region, was a big hit. But more than that, it showed in a big and public way that the Latin music scene in Pittsburgh is coming on strong.

“I believe there’s a shared vision that music is an opportunity to really bring people together,” says Betty Cruz, non-profit manager for the Mayor’s office, who worked alongside members of ¡Hola Pittsburgh! and other city officials to help organize the event. Others, like Carla Leininger of Global Beats, who has been working this scene for years, would agree with Cruz.

The turnout was indicative of a demographic shift in recent years as the Latino population in Allegheny County doubled from 11,000 to 22,000 since 2000, according to U.S. Census data.

salsa, puertoriqueno, nuyorican, jazz, Latino, music, free, outdoors, concert
Puerto Rican flags and fans were in joyous evidence at the June 2014 El Gran Combo concert on Penn Avenue, part of the Pittsburgh JazzLive Festival.

Meanwhile, the number of Latin bands in Pittsburgh – ranging from Riot Salsa to Andean flute music – has increased from two or three to about a dozen over the last 20 years, according to local musicians and community leaders.

And the music is reaching younger audiences. Requests for Latin music at schools and dance parties is at an all time high, said Gloria Rodriguez Ransom, performance coordinator for the Pittsburgh Latin American Cultural Union.

Even Steelers fans more likely to catch a game than a live band got a dose of Latin culture at the Sept. 28 game, when Guaracha Latin Dance Band performed in recognition of National Hispanic Heritage month.

It’s all music to the ears of Cuban born Miguel Sague Jr., who has performed and promoted variations of Latin music for more than 30 years for audiences more accustomed to rock-&-roll and American jazz.

In fact, there was a time when Cinco De Mayo didn’t exist in Pittsburgh. “May 5 would come and go and you would not see any mention in any bars or any restaurants—even Mexican restaurants,” Sague Jr. says.

It wasn’t until he walked into the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette building in the mid 1990s holding three national newspapers with Cinco De Mayo coverage that local media took it seriously. “I said to them, ‘does Pittsburgh have to continue to be the backwater town of the country?’”

An article was published that year and his Cinco De Mayo celebration at the former Rosebud in the strip district was packed. “By 1996, we had a well-established Cinco de Mayo tradition,” Sague Jr. said.

And yet performing Latin music was an uphill battle, says Miguel “Cha” Sague III, who would tag along with his dad to shows. The swaying hips of the salsa gigs and the colorful outfits of the Caribbean steel drum gigs in a town known for its steel workers and babushkas was at times both a musical act and a social experiment.

“There were always tough guys who laughed, because they didn’t know how to deal with it,” Sague III says. “But they would start to get the picture when the ladies weren’t laughing. And you get (the guys) on your side when you teach them to dance salsa.”

Sague III has carried on the family tradition as the front man of the Guaracha Latin Dance Band, which originally was formed by his father in the late 1980s.

And while there’s actual competition these days from other Latin bands and DJs, Sague III said the crowds are more appreciative. “A lot of the people coming to shows now are Latino,” he said. The same goes for local dance clubs and restaurants. The dance floor at Cavo in the strip district typically is packed on a weekend night with couples salsa dancing and singles flirting in Spanish at the bar.

In Beechview, a neighborhood known for attracting Latino residents, a fusion of Latin music by Geña y Peña helps draw customers—many of them Mexican Americans—to the Casa Rasta restaurant on Broadway Avenue.

“I’m hearing from customers that (Beechview) is like a Latino community,” says restaurant owner Antonio Fraga, who moved to Pittsburgh from Mexico City 12 years ago.

A second Casa Rasta opened last month in East Liberty, which has provided more gigs for Latin musicians. And while Pittsburgh is far from a Latin hub, musicians and restaurant owners from Latin countries continue to trickle in.

Violinist Alejandro Pinzón moved to Pittsburgh about 10 years by way of Mexico, Argentina and Miami. His latest instrumental project, which he plans to debut in Pittsburgh this winter, blends the violin and guitar of South America and Mexico with the rhythms of Cuba and Puerto Rico.

Pinzon said the music was well received by audiences in Mexico, where the group already has performed. “People sometimes spontaneously would start singing,” he said. “Then I would play a second voicing or something on the violin, because the audience had then become the singer.”

While fresh faces on the music scene work to build a following, local organizations are doing their part.

The Clemente brothers onstage at the El Gran Combo concert
Luis and Roberto Clemente Jr., who spent their childhood summers in Green Tree, introduced El Gran Combo to a jubilant crowd.

¡Hola Pittsburgh! is a year-long initiative designed to attract professionals and talent relocating from Puerto Rico.

Welcoming Pittsburgh is a national and grassroots-driven effort to ensure cooperation between foreign-born and U.S.-born Americans. The timing seems appropriate, based on studies that show Pittsburgh lags behind most peer cities in net immigration.

Sague III says a true indicator of a well-rounded Latin music scene would be the day he’s competing for Mariachi gigs with musicians of Mexican descent.

For decades, the Sague family provided Mariachi music at Quinceañeras and other traditional Mexican celebrations with musicians of Cuban and European descent. “We were filling a need,” Sague III says. “There were no Mexican musicians here at all. We were looking out for the very few Mexicans who were here.”

But for the greater good, Sague III said he wouldn’t mind the competition. “Mexican musicians will start to appear, and when they do, I’ll help book them,” he said. “When we all cooperate and help each other out, there are more gigs.”