Best of the 'Burgh 2018: Arts & Entertainment

From waking the dead to a jazz conspiracy to an act of grand larceny –– discover what our editors chose for the Best of the 'Burgh in arts and entertainment.

photo by chris litherland

Chris Litherland grew up in Texas, but when a buddy invited him to visit — and consider moving to — Pittsburgh five years ago, his mind was made up within days. The history of western Pennsylvania intrigued the photographer, and since then, he’s filled his spare time with documenting the region: its amusement parks, its waterfalls, the skyscrapers Downtown, and, most of all, its churches. “I’ve been to pretty much every single church on this side of the state,” he says. “People don’t really realize how many beautiful churches are here.” With more and more churches closing, Litherland says he’s welcomed warmly into the sanctuaries to document the interiors, which often are not as widely photographed as the outside. He regularly chronicles his travels on his Facebook page and has plans for a book as well. ( —LD

photo courtesy beauty slap

The genre “Future-Brass-Thunder-Funk” may seem like a bit of a jumble, but for local band Beauty Slap, the label is a perfect fit. Known for its energetic, multi-faceted shows, Beauty Slap has made a name for itself as one of Pittsburgh’s freshest, funkiest dance bands. This year promises to be the biggest yet: in addition to their usual touring and local shows, they performed at the mainstage of the Indy 500 during Memorial Day weekend. ( —CG

photo: shutterstock

WYEP Morning Mix Host Joey Spehar believes there are two camps of people: those who hate the Grateful Dead and those who love them. He’s in the latter group, which is why, a few minutes after 6 a.m. every morning, he plays something related to the band, whether from a live recording or a spin-off group. “It’s a nice way to ease into the morning, and there’s so much recorded material. I almost did the math — I felt like I could go seven years without repeating something,” he says. From those in the former camp, he’s heard fewer complaints than he expected since he started kicking off the mornings this way last July. “One guy said to me, ‘Look it’s not that I don’t like them, it’s just that I don’t have 10 minutes to devote to a song in the morning’,” Spehar says. “I like the shorter ones. It’s a lot of fun.” ( —LD

photo by audrey gatewood

Fractured landscapes and fragmented memories stimulate slowdanger’s imagination, yielding enigmatic performance installations and music videos referenced with archetypal imagery and accompanied by atmospheric electronic scores. With extensive dance training evident in the quality of their movement, the multidisciplinary performance duo — Anna Thompson and Taylor Knight, Maryland and Texas transplants, respectively — reaches beyond choreography to experiment with improvisation. Since 2014, they have performed locally in galleries, museums and on a floating platform. Look for them at the Carnegie Museum of Art in August as part of a Third Thursday event within “Intimate Subjects,” an evening of performances, games and immersive experiences curated and performed by slowdanger and City of Play. ( —KD

photo courtesy kelly strayhorn theater

Tickets for cultural events can take a toll on your wallet. But they don’t have to. The Kelly Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty allows you to “Pay What Makes You Happy” for KST Presents performances. The subsidized tickets allow you to name your price — even nothing. Now anyone can afford to be a culture vulture without being dead broke. (Kelly Strayhorn Theater, 5941 Penn Ave., East Liberty; 412/363-3000, —BH

photo courtesy the Jazz conspiracy

Swing is the thing for The Jazz Conspiracy. The band is not only concerned with putting on a good show, but the 16-piece ensemble is also the only group in Pittsburgh playing authentic Big Band swing dance music from the 1930s and beyond, and they’re doing it with flair. Every first and third Thursday at 8 p.m., the group takes the stage at the Elks Lodge on the North Side for an evening of danceable nostalgia. For those a little nervous about cutting a rug, a dance lesson with local instructor Mark Peters begins at 7:15. ( —CG


photo by chuck beard

May we suggest you steal the crown jewels? Preferably not the genuine article (they’re busy over there with weddings and babies at the moment) but rather via the thrilling and challenging game at Escape Room 51 in Pleasant Hills. The challenges in this multi-room puzzle range from the labyrinthine to the deceptively simple, all leading up to a painstaking swiping of the crown itself — and a last step toward victory that makes “The Royal Heist” quite possibly the most satisfying escape-room game in the region. (8 Clairton Blvd., Pleasant Hills; 412/714-8076, —SC

photo courtesy the space upstairs

Artistic experimentation flourishes amid coffee tables and upholstered furniture in this unpretentious loft in Point Breeze. Glimpse into the artistic process of post-jazz dance maven Pearlann Porter with co-director John Lambert, her multidisciplinary collaborators and guests in The Sessions Upstairs or immerse yourself in The Invisible Jazz Labs where improvisation and science converge to explore compelling topics. For budding wordsmiths, unleash your inner bard at Poetry Night, a monthly writing workshop with open mic readings. (214 N. Lexington St., Point Breeze; 412/225-9269, —KD

photo by cory morton

Acoustic Brunch at Hambone’s is not your average Sunday affair. In addition to all of the familiar eggs and bloody Marys, the weekly brunch offers an intimate acoustic performance from a variety of musicians. While there is regularly a “featured performer,” the event is open stage, and local musicians are encouraged to come play for an audience as hungry for the soothing sounds of an acoustic guitar as they are for the Hambones Hangover Special. Acoustic Brunch also frequently serves as a fundraiser for local nonprofits and advocacy groups. (4207 Butler St., Lawrenceville; 412/681-4318, —CG

photo courtesy ABC/American Idol

Nine years ago, a young girl stood in front of a stunned pastor and sang “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson, starting her music career. In May, 18-year-old Gabby Barrett climbed to success in the 19th season of “American Idol,” finishing as the second runner-up. Barrett’s YouTube channel caught the attention of the “American Idol” team; they reached out and invited her to audition in front of judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan. Though this season of the recently rebooted singing competition went by faster than most, Barrett says she still learned a lot about performing from the judges. Now the Munhall native juggles TV appearances and concerts, along with her increasing fame. The biggest change for this Pittsburgh girl? She “can’t walk out in public wearing sweatpants and socks that don’t match.” Though fame may haunt and hurt some people, Barrett finds it encouraging. Seeing her face plastered everywhere for something she and her father — her biggest and most dedicated supporter — have been working toward for so long is a great relief to Barrett. The country star recently released an original song, “Jesus and My Mama,” which hit the iTunes chart. ( —AB

photo courtesy pittsburgh glass center

“We’ll blow your mind” the Pittsburgh Glass Center promises in rolling out its new venture, Hot Wheels, which brings the glass-making experience to you. See molten magma turned into works of glass art right before your eyes at the mobile studio, which is available for bookings and will wheel into schools and events, including Three Rivers Arts Festival, KidsPlay at Market Square (July 7), Squirrel Hill Night Market (Aug. 25), A Fair in the Park (Sept. 7-9) and Festival of Combustion at Carrie Furnace (Sept. 29). (Pittsburgh Glass Center, 5472 Penn Ave., Friendship; 412/365-2145, —MM

photo courtesy potters water action group

Water in the developing world is often unclean and unsafe to drink, leading to waterborne diseases such as intestinal diarrhea, typhoid fever and cholera. That’s where Potters Water Action Group comes in. Retired Slippery Rock University pottery professor Richard Wukich was involved with the international group Potters for Peace, which was making a clay and sawdust water filter fired in a kiln and treated with a small amount of bacteria-killing colloidal silver. Wukich took on the project and has worked all over the world, including Sudan, Iraq and Nepal, setting up filter factories where clean water is needed. “Puerto Rico has a big, bad water problem,” he says. “Someone asked how do we decide where we want to build a filter factory, and I said, ‘Throw a dart because pretty much everywhere in the world map you hit there’s a need for clean water; there’s a need for our water filter.’” —LD

photo by richard cook

Sometime after Halloween, Colin Dunlap, host of the 93.7 The Fan Morning Show, noticed a lone pleasure boat docked in the Allegheny River near PNC Park. He mused about its origins on the air. “It became this running thing,” explains morning show producer Matt Koll. Throughout the winter, the boat, which eventually began to list and take on water, remained a fixture on the banks of the North Shore — and the Morning Show — with listeners regularly calling in with updates. (The boat’s owner even emailed the show once, Koll says, although he stopped responding to inquiries in short order.) The last person to report to Dunlap: The man who was towing the boat away. ( —JFC

Categories: Best of the ‘Burgh