Momments #15: Sixties Salsa

The Tuesday concert series at the Mansion on Fifth (MOF) had a bit of Brazilian flavor this month with Kenia Live. Forty folks showed up for a crisp spring evening with this artist, accompanied by a combo of Mark Lucas on guitar and Tony DePaolis on the bass guitar.

Kenia arrived here in the states in the early ‘80’s, following an ‘anything goes’ mentality beginning with artists like Prince, the Police and the Talking Heads. Much of her repertoire comes from the early 1960’s artists that influenced her during the turmoil in Brazil (coup) namely the Beatles, Sarah Vaughn, Carmen McRae and Pittsburgh’s own George Benson. So it was fitting that she began the evening with ‘Here There and Everywhere’ by the Beatles from 1966’s Revolver.


I was smitten at that moment and remained transfixed by the rest of her set which she performed fluidly and with charming stories, anecotes plus a smattering of politics from 7:30-10:00.

She sang a  Gilberto Gil’s song “London London,” a piece that I had never heard, and truly made me want to fly across the pond and have a pint!! And I desperately wanted one of those palm shakers that made the song come alive and Mark (the unofficial music director for the evening) played a wonderful solo. Mark Lucas plays with a variety of bands locally (he can be seen regularly at Tana every Wednesday in East Liberty 5929 Baum Blvd) and in fact, I saw him with Tania Grubbs’ group Travlin’ on Saturday night at a house concert right down the road. Tony DePaolis’ arrangement of the Tears for Fears tune “Head Over Hills” was very accomplished too.

A delightful performance of Kenia Live from beginning to end with spontaneous salsa dancing in the back of the great hall made this event on a scale of 1-10, an eleven!! MOF was the place to be, with a buffet of intermezzo fare and flowing martinis.


And if you haven’t experienced the Mansion on Fifth, you need to get on their email list or make a reservation for their Palm Sunday or Easter brunch, go have a cocktail at the bar one evening or just take a tour on an evening stroll. Richard Pearson and Mary Del Brady, owners of the Mansion continue to do a fine job with this establishment in West Shadyside.

Plus as Tania Grubbs (Musical Concierge of MOF/Fairmont) said last night, the music is just the ‘icing on the cake’ at the Mansion and I can certainly attest to that fact, as I danced my way home at 9:45 filled with the magical moments of Kenia Live.

Pop Post #1: Hangover Helpers

It’s tempting to think of this place as retro, but its décor is actually original – original to the 1970s, that is.

Nancy’s East End Diner features good food at low prices. I stopped in the other day and ordered the club sandwich, served on fresh-baked bread, along with a side of home fries. Excellent.

Photo by Larry Roberts, Pgh Post Gazette

Photo by Larry Roberts, Pgh Post Gazette

But I’m thinking the main appeal might be breakfast. In fact, I’ll bet Nancy’s soon becomes a prime destination on hazy mornings after late nights at the clubs. Significantly, the breakfast menu boasts a variety of Pittsburgh-style “hangover helpers.” These are generously-stuffed omelets, served atop a mound of fresh-cut French fries. I certainly could have used a place like this back in the days when Superdrag played Pittsburgh, and crashed at my house.

Let’s be frank: Pittsburgh isn’t exactly bursting at the seams with good diners. So Nancy’s is a very welcome addition to the local scene. And, because it’s conveniently located on the way to the turnpike, I predict Nancy’s will soon become a favorite among touring musicians. After a late night of performing, followed by a few hours sleep on somebody’s floor, they’ll want to regroup and refuel on their way out of town.

Check out Nancy’s East End Diner, at 616 South Avenue, Wilkinsburg. Tell ‘em SXSC sent you.

Fashawn on Fame and Fatherhood

Minutes before his album release party, we spoke to Fashawn for a recent feature with JENESIS Magazine. The rapper was warm, collected, and balanced his humility with a quiet confidence– traits that are hard to fit in one piece. We thought we’d let him spit for himself, so here’s the interview in its entirety.

When so many artists are shunning streaming music services, what made you want to release your album early, on Spotify?

I love Spotify. I mean, I’m a fan, I listen to Spotify every day. Me and my team decided to just put it all out there.

And how did The Ecology come together?

I take the time off as necessary, to be able to come back and give the audience something of substance. I don’t try to release music every day to try to stay relevant. I’m not out there doing interviews and being a rapper, peddling, whatever you want to call it. I’m just a full-fledged father. That’s the main thing in my life, I’ve been going to work, doing my music. That’s how I stay sane with everything I’ve got going on.

How old is your daughter now?

She is 5 going on 21.

Kids seem smarter now, they grow up a lot faster than they did in our generation. Now she actually has her own perspective on life. Our conversations are really intense sometimes. They’re a lot more intense than conversations I have with fellow 26 year old men. It’s just a pleasure, watching her mind evolve. Watching her personality come alive. It’s an inspiration.

We were watching the news, and she didn’t understand two guys or two girls getting married. She was really interrogative about the whole thing. Why are they two men, why are they kissing, is this ok? The fact that she’s thinking enough to ask me these questions, that’s the most intense thing.

You talk a lot about your hometown on this album. What do you think makes Fresno special?

What makes Fresno special for me, is it’s where I come to escape the industry. The paparazzi, stuff like that. I come here to get my head clear. In the same way, it kind of mirrors the arrogance of the industry. To me, that’s what makes it stand out. In the midst of two giants, like the Oakland sound and the L.A. sound, I think the Fresno sound is similar to a Nashville vibe. It’s really a hybrid of the Black Panther mentality of Oakland in the 70’s and the gang bang mentality of Los Angeles in the 90’s. The whole past is the present.

I hear a lot of Illmatic on this album. Can you tell me about your relationship with Nas, and how it’s changed as you’ve developed music together?

My relationship with Nas, I would compare it to—imagine if El Chapo and Pablo Escobar got to sit down and talk about the game, and where they sit in the game. That’s what me and Nas are. I get to talk to Esco, man, and we get to converse about hip-hop as a whole, what it is to grow up a black man in America, our take on spirituality and what religion is. I don’t get that kind of vibe from a lot of people, we just hit it off like that. I’m always asking him old stories, man, where were you when you wrote this song? What was it like? It’s empowering. He’s a mentor, he’s a big brother to me now. It’s a pleasure to be in his presence. I’m gonna continue the tradition, for sure.

Do you treat your tour openers like Nas treats you, as students of the game?

I wanted to take artists that reminded me of me, in the earliest stages of my career. I kinda needed that push. And Earthgang, with those ballads, I was down as soon as I heard them. That’s what pushed me to make that decision.

You talk about your hunger on “The Letter F.” When did you first find that hunger, and realize it was not something to ignore?

I always felt a need to create, a need to express something even if I didn’t know what I was expressing. This feeling in my stomach, the food was something else. My catalog is pretty extensive now, most of the times I’ve ever doubted myself, I’ve been trying to outdo myself. Finding food for my spirit is a progressive thing, I think.

And how do you stay true to yourself, and your daughter, with all this attention?

My definition of fame has kind of evolved over the years. I used to think fame was just being on a rhythm and being popular, stuff like that. Now, I understand that fame is just a big collection of standings. I know that I’m nothing without my fans. I know that I’m still an artist, even without an audience. But I know that the fans make you a celebrity. They cement your legacy.

Is there a mantra you repeat when you have doubts?

Remember why you got in this, remember why you spent all them nights sleeping on couches, to have enough money to support your passion. I always try to rewind back to those moments. Just appreciate it for what it is.

What are the three things for indie artists to keep in mind on tour?

1) Don’t be afraid of new fans, don’t be afraid of people who just heard of you that night. I’m thinking about, how can I impress someone who never heard my cd before?

2) You have to learn the town before you interact. Deal with the people that actually live there. When I go to a town, I really want to take in the historical places. After that, I get to play with my concert, just for that town. They’re not gonna get the same show every night.

3) You can’t prepare for tours, it’s the most unpredictable thing ever.

Catch Fashawn at Club Cafe, March 14th.

Momments #14: Just Show Up!

It was my birthday request about a month ago, tickets to the Jason Isbell concert on February 9th (a school night, a Monday and a 5:30am crossfit training the following morning…a dangerous combination). But it was worth every single minute and I hate to add may have been the best concert I will see in 2015, if we’re being optimistic.

Though Isbell’s songs are at times dark, brooding, patriotic, powerful and just plain scary (Super 8 Motel), he manages to reach out and touch a wide range of listeners, as evidenced by the sold out crowd at the Carnegie Library in Homestead, PA. Taking the stage at eight o’clock on a very cold evening, the five piece band began with “Stockholm” and didn’t disappoint for the duration with “Dressed Blue” and “Decoration Day” (three of my favorites). An unusually respectful Pittsburgh audience sat in rapture as Isbell flawlessly moved through his brilliant catalog of life stories.

Now I was really excited about the Friday night line up at Mr. Smalls: Jaill, Operators and TheNew Pornographers mostly because of the NP and their new CD, which is receiving ‘good to great’ reviews by all the usual suspects.

Jaill, a four piece band with keyboard, 2 guitars and drums was initially what I would term a beer drinking band and then they sort of lite up their set list with songs not much longer then the attention span of a 16 year old (2.9 mins). All very short synapses of a staccato. Operators cancelled due to a VISA issue…last time I checked Operators was one guy who wrote all the songs and hired his band to sing along… check out his youtube testimonial…

The well-honed New Pornographers came out to a bit of fanfare and raced through their first seven songs. No ‘hey Pittsburgh,’ no ‘welcome to Southwest PA,’ nothin’ honey! One of my pet peeves is that bands don’t do their due dilligence and the audience might as well watch a YouTube video.

The weird thing was Dan Bejar on vocals appeared and disappeared throughout the 40 mins of music. If he was sick, tell us, we get it, but at least give us full disclosure of what’s going on and we will accept, adjust and move on. After all isn’t this the one area of the music business that pays the rent??

AC Newman and Kathryn Calder managed to carry the weight of the evening but their performance was just bland despite “Dancehall Domine” and “Brill Brusisers” which are terrific songs. And again, I’m not a music critic but maybe it was just a little too practiced or it was their day job or they were all sick or it was a nuisance stopover before the valentines gig in NC.

Needless to say I was looking for a redemption night on Valentine’s Day. So this intrepid Mum braved the storm and headed over to my new favorite venue, Mr. Smalls for an evening of talent that I have not witnessed since SXSW showcases in 2014.

Three bands from Brooklyn schlepped into the ‘burgh for four hours of unbridled music, amazing harmonies and catchy fun songs. And the evening started around 7:15 with a Secret Someones sound check ‘check, check, check Pittsburgh’  yup, they know where they are, check!

This band has all the ingredients for success, perfect harmonizing, in unison dance moves with three guitars, one keyboard and some Pat Benitar voice overs combined with drum skills that wrap around the girls in a protective sound of subtle to not so subtle embellishments. The ladies were professional, accomplished and didn’t forget to pitch their music, ask for emails and thank the fans. It’s all part of being humble and respectful to their peeps, check!

Little Daylight played a seven song set sprinkled with their own tunes and one cover by David bowie, “Let’s Dance.” Nikki Taylor was totally surprising, beautiful, not afraid and just knocked it out of the church. The final song “My Life” was absolutely the best of all and an anthem to any band these days: taking agency, being true to the craft, owning the moment and making magic because there is really only ONE SONG at a time. Well done!

In a world where we are extremes of being connected to where is the plug in, it was great to disconnect and see these ridiculously accomplished group comprised of Ben Thornewill,Tommy Siegel  and Jesse Kristin play a dozen plus songs. Jukebox the Ghost is engaging, personable, interactive (let’s not forgot their pooch crowd surfing) at all times. They moved effortlessly through the evening stating their songs throughout, asking for audience participation with “Hold It In” (one of my favorites) and gave credit to their other two touring bands (such southern gentlemen). I caught the grand finale of “Hollywood” and “Somebody.” Who can forget I want it, I need it, and Jukebox was exactly what I needed.

The Savvy Fangirl: A Study

South By Steel City is officially a year old. We’ve clocked 35 interviews, 13 Momments, and 6 music festivals, not to mention the great friends we’ve made. What better way to celebrate than sharing some of our secrets?

Here’s what we’ve learned from our interactions with industry players and embarrassing fans alike. Please, no name-dropping, no breaking into private areas (trust me: it does not end well). In a word: how to be a fangirl, without being a high school junior at Warped Tour.

You can't see it, but Dad's giving Marshall Crenshaw a calm, manly handshake

You can’t see it, but Dad’s giving Marshall Crenshaw a calm, manly handshake

DO—Curb your enthusiasm.

It’s fine to be nervous around someone you admire, but no one wants to talk to a hyperventilating mess. If you’re lucky enough to meet your idol, they’ll probably have other fans to talk to first. Use that time to take a deep breath and gather your words.

Mom didn't let the cuteness of PigPen Theater Co. trip her up.

Mom didn’t let the cuteness of PigPen Theater Co. trip her up.

DON’T—Talk only about their work.

Keep it to one compliment. If an artist is big enough, they’re getting interviewed all the time, and the last thing they want to talk about is the awesome key change during the bridge of their 5th song on their self-titled album. More than that, and you look like a suck-up.


DO—Offer them something: a drink, a gift, a funny story.

Artists are used to people wanting something from them. They’re constantly on the road, rarely get enough sleep, and people always want to “collaborate” (read: ride the wave) with them. So next time you meet someone you admire, bring something you know they’ll love.


DON’T—Force a selfie.

It feels like this.






It looks like this.







DO—Ask nicely for a picture or autograph.

But use your best judgment. If you run into someone incognito, it’s best just to say hello. Only ask if you’re cool with them saying no. And for the love of God please don’t make them take the picture three times. If you’re worried about it coming out blurry, have a millennial take it.

DON’T—Ask for their number.

This screams stalker. And most likely will end in rejection. Awkward.

With most people, you’ll have to settle for a Twitter interaction. But follow their lead, and maybe they’ll ask for your digits.



DO what my momma says—“Be bright, be brief, be gone!”

When you wait outside a venue until 2 am, hanging out with the band feels like your due. It’s not. They have to shower, wake up at an ungodly hour, and do it all again the next day. So when you get the chance to say how much an album means to you, say it graciously, calmly, and without expectation.

Taught to wait outside tour busses at an early age (Drive-By Truckers, ca. 2003)

Taught to wait outside tour busses at an early age (Drive-By Truckers, ca. 2003)

This isn’t to say we haven’t made our fair share of mistakes. Dad told Patterson Hood his political views were misguided. Mom outed a disguised St. Vincent in a hotel lobby. And I straight-up could not speak to Drake Bell. Learn from our mistakes. Make a memory, not a regret. And for the love of God, save your feels for the car ride home.

Momments #13: School Us with Sax

Photo by Joey Kennedy

Photo by Joey Kennedy

Last Thursday I was struck with this beautifully composed picture of John Petrucelli and my initial thought what a gorgeous photo! My second was: I have to go check out his band plus his new double disk CD, The Way.  All original compositions plus three jazz standards? Yes sir! We all know how much Jules and I LOVE jazz in any form, anywhere but especially in our back yard!!

So we arrived at the Savoy to a packed downstairs, Curtis Lewis Jr leading the R+B charge with the house band, Boom. How cool is it that the Savoy has its own house band that plays each and every Thursday?? I can’t seem to get enough of this place and what they are doing for the nightlife downtown. I met with the Savoy manager, Gary White and he took me up to their 2nd floor lounge where John Petrucelli was doing his sound check with drummer James Johnson lll, and keyboardist  Brett Williams– both Pittsburgh natives. Along with bassist William Mazirowski and John from the Big Apple world, what a perfectly matched quintet!

John spent a few minutes with me before playing for two sets of 45 minutes with this stellar group of cool cats. Petrucelli is a graduate of University of Virginia, Rutgers (two masters) and is currently working on his doctoral dissertation at University of Pittsburgh in jazz studies with an emphasis on Wayne Shorter (of Art Blakey, Miles Davis and Weather Report fame). Shorter is the Yoda of the jazz saxophonist world and just last month was awarded the  Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in honor of his “prolific contributions to our culture and history”. Clearly this young 26 year old is no slacker academically. Needless to say, his music did not disappoint the intimate audience of thirty.

John started the evening on his tenor saxophone with “Arrows of Longing,” a ten minute original and then merged into “For Dawn,” an eight minute piece of anticipation, which was keyboard dominated but who cares when you have such fine musicians chiming in with the drums, bass and a bit of sax, yessirrenie, really good stuff. The final song before taking a water break was “Boots,” another Petrucelli original that was nine minutes in duration and had a soft, elegant tiptoeing through notes with a subtle undertone of building magic before a final sax overture, fantastic!

In a scene where the jazz is so smooth, the assembled talent rises to every occasion for this smart composer. And who knew he was also a pretty good Brazilian jujitsu athlete too… okay is there anything this guy can’t do??

The love and attention to detail at Savoy is winning all sorts of positive reviews, even the taste of fried zucchini with a dash of marinara sauce was better than I expected. Good news, the teaser CD release for John Petrucelli’s The Way was a grand success before the official release on February 2 and in wide distribution on the 3rd. In case you were wondering why a two disc CD?? Well like everything else John Petrucelli does “it was just too much for one CD.”

No over thinking it or as Wayne Shorter says, it’s “just a desire to share” and I for one am delighted he did.

Momments #12: Bits of Buddy Holly

I never knew about Sofar Sounds until I was researching Nevada Color and saw one of their videos. What a great idea, live music in a different spot announced via email the day of, with three performances in ninety minutes.

Typically the evening is hosted by a volunteer at their apt/house/loft in their living room with floor seating, only limited libations. Three artists/bands play three or four songs, basically an EP for the evening plus merchandise for sale.

Great idea, right? Well Sunday night we tripped down to Butler Street in Lawrenceville to the apartment of Shawn McGregor, ‘the dope-est dude in Pittsburgh’ to hear three acts play: The Nox Boys, Wreck Loose and Kevin Garrett.

The Nox Boys are a band of three young boys Zach Stadtlander, Zack Keim, Sam Berman and an uncle, Bob Powers from Blawnox. All look about 19 ¾  except for Bob (pedal steel guitarist) who is just a tad older than these youngsters. What this group gave to the audience was a bit of ska with a smattering of Buddy Holly. Zach Keim is the lead with his clever showmanship of these different elements and rock a billy sound from fifty odd years ago that they managed to pull it off brilliantly.

I felt through during their songs that they could just break out and really jam but they kept it close this particular Sunday evening and gave Sofar attendees a well-tuned snapshot/rendition of simpler times.

A very good song was ‘Lost Your Head’ by ‘Zach, the bassist’. The Nox Boys have been playing together for two years and do some DIY shows in Bloomfield at The Shop.

Next up was Wreck Loose, a group of four guys from Aliquippa, York and NY, I think. This band is so musically gifted as a group and the personalities to mix perfect sounds any day of the week.

Their 2nd song was especially good called ‘Country House’ with a bridge of ‘who doesn’t want the finer things’ and why not!! Finally they closed with ‘Feed Me,’ which is on their 45 vinyl (b side ‘Only You’). And I would love to know what it cost them to produce especially when the ONLY area of growth in the delivery of musical content is LP records. Check out them on their winning entry to NPR’s Tiny Desk on New Years Day, really fun.

Finally Kevin Garrett was the last to perform as a singer songwriter on the keyboard. He is just crazy talented with his piano ability, songwriting and falsetto voice. A perfect recipe for a young man to be successful and then you add the songs: ‘Coloring,’ ‘Cavalier,’ ‘Stronghold’ and ‘Never Knock.’ You have a fully baked birthday cake!

Which was funny because we did sing happy birthday to a 30 year old during band change overs.

In any case, Kevin’s biggest issue may be that he thinks too much about this stuff. Or it’s just a coming of age because he brings such passion to each and every song that you want to give him a hug and says it’s all timing man, don’t worry. In addition to his solo stuff, he also does some projects under Noble Hunter and is being a confirmed nomad till April as he travels across the country on his way to SXSW in March.