Thanks to the Calliope Folk Music Society, the East End now has a respectable acoustic-music venue. When Calliope moved its offices into the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, the opportunity arose to transform the PCA's basement banquet room, dubbed Simmons Hall, into a first-rate listening room with 75-150 audience capacity. After a couple of years of planning and a sizable anonymous donation from a Calliope member, the Center Stage series debuted last September with a concert by local honky-tonk/swing band The Mavens.
For the first time since the organization's founding at George Balderose's North Side house more than 30 years ago, Calliope had its own venue, in addition to its high-profile Acoustic Masters series at Oakland's Carnegie Lecture Hall. Executive director Patricia Tanner saw the advantages immediately. "The audience enjoys the intimacy of the space, but also the opportunity to explore the PCA galleries and browse the gift shop. People who might feel intimidated about going to a club or bar find that by the time they get to the venue, they've already run into people they know."
It also doesn't hurt that Simmons is all-ages, having the potential to attract hordes of college students who live nearby in Shadyside apartments.
In the past few months, the venue has hosted The Wiyos, the Hot Seats and Ernie Hawkins. Tanner plans to book out the venue far in advance for the Center Stage series -- Calliope's subscribers appreciate six months' notice -- while retaining the flexibility to announce last-minute events, such as the April 30 Eliza Gilkyson concert.
The venue will pack the rest of the year with more shows by locals -- Mac Martin, Steve Pellegrino, Mon River Ramblers -- and nationals, such as the Wepecket Island label's Rolling Roots Revue. Next up, at 7 p.m. Thu., March 11 ($10-12), is a double-bill of WYEP-staple indie rockers Lohio and Misra Records artist (and Calliope office maven) Emily Rodgers. Guitarist Eric Cirelli (who plays in both bands) and Rodgers will be wed in a ceremony at the PCA on March 28, so the venue will retain a special significance for them.
But for now, Rodgers is just excited that their upcoming concert is a fundraiser for the Carnegie Library, possibly in dire straits due to government budget cuts. "Calliope was very into doing that [benefit]," she says. "This will be our first time in the room. We'll definitely be the loudest band that's played [Simmons Hall] so far, but it's a great atmosphere."
For more information, visit www.calliopehouse.org.