Notes on the Local Music Scene | City Guide 2008: Local Routes | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

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Notes on the Local Music Scene

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Pittsburgh's greatest musical legacy is perhaps its jazz history. Any music lover's tour of the city should begin with at least a mental nod to the greats who played the Hill District's jazz clubs: Drummer Art Blakey and composer Billy Strayhorn are just two of the legendary musicians who arose from a Hill District scene whose best-known component was the Crawford Grill.

While the historic club is just that -- history -- Pittsburgh's jazz legacy lives on in spaces that combine performance and musical education: The North Side's Manchester Craftsmen's Guild (1815 Metropolitan St., 412-323-4000) is arguably the premier venue for new jazz, while the Afro-American Music Institute, (7131 Hamilton Ave., Homewood, 412-241-6778) provides concerts as well as community-oriented musical instruction.

Similarly historic are Pittsburgh's concert halls, such as Downtown's grand Heinz Hall, home to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (600 Penn Ave., 412-392-4900). A bit out of the way but no less memorable is the Carnegie Music Hall of Homestead (510 E. 10th Ave., Munhall, 412-462-3444), attached to that town's library. Opened in 1898, the austerely beautiful theater offers some 1,000 folding wooden seats, glorious acoustics, and in recent years, a smoke- and booze-free environment for enjoying performances by national folk, pop and rock acts.

Among the city's premier venues for national acts is Millvale's spacious Mr. Small's Theatre (400 Lincoln Ave., 412-821-4447), located in the former St. Anne's Catholic church complex; Mr. Small's also includes a skate park and two recording studios. Smaller quality clubs include East Liberty's Shadow Lounge (5972 Baum Blvd., 412-363-8277), the hub for Pittsburgh's hip-hop scene that features a wide range of live music, dance nights, spoken-word and one-off parties; Bloomfield's Brillobox (4104 Penn Ave., 412-621-4900) hosts hipster-friendly dance nights and indie bands.

In both the Strip District and the boozy South Side, you'll find a ton of clubs offering some combination of live music and DJ dance nights (see our club listings on page TKTKTK for a more extensive list). For a funkier experience than you'll find at many of the big dance barns, try the South Side's Lava Lounge (2204 E. Carson, 412-431-5282), whose distinctive décor brings to mind a Disneyland volcano ride. Downtown's Pegasus Lounge (818 Liberty Ave., 412-281-2131) dominates the local goth and industrial scene with touring acts and the long-running Ceremony dance night.

But if all you want is a PBR, a sticky floor, and a band playing its heart out, among the best rock and punk bars is the 31st Street Pub (3101 Penn Ave., 412-391-8334), where an impressive skull collection jockeys for space with instruments bequeathed by visiting musicians over the years. Equally essential is Gooski's (3117 Brereton St., 412-681-1658), a gem tucked away in Polish Hill, where the local scene's cream of the crop and out-there national acts crowd onto the tiny, smoky stage.

If you seek more adventuresome sounds, an all-ages environment or maybe just some art on the walls, many local art galleries double as occasional music venues. The busiest is Garfield Artworks (4931 Penn Ave., 412-361-2262), run by frequent CP contributor and columnist Manny Theiner, whose ear-to-the-ground bookings offer experimental music and see-them-before-they're-big bands. Other alternative venues include The Mr. Roboto Project, a long-running DIY space in nearby Wilkinsburg (722 Wood St., 412-247-9639) while Lawrenceville newcomer Your Inner Vagabond Coffeehouse & World Lounge offers world music and one-of-a-kind art/music/food happenings (4130 Butler St., 412-683-1623).

For summer music, there are numerous outdoor shows at parks, but the area's largest shed is a short drive west to Burgettstown: the Post-Gazette Pavilion (665 Route 18, 724-947-7400), where you can get lawn seats for Tom Petty or tailgate before Judas Priest.

And while you're driving around to all these great shows, you might as well tune your car radio to the area's more adventurous airwaves: Carnegie Mellon University's free-form WRCT offers classic college-radio programming at 88.3 FM; University of Pittsburgh's WPTS follows a playlist but still offers plenty to stretch your ears at 92.1 FM. Listener-supported station WYEP 91.3 FM targets a slightly older group of indie-music fans, and regularly highlights local-music standouts.

If your idea of a musical experience is more along the lines of dropping a Delfonics platter on an audiophile turntable, you're in luck: Pittsburgh's independent record stores offer a treasure trove of rare vinyl. In recent years, the untold waxy bounty of Jerry's Records, in Squirrel Hill (2136 Murray Ave., 412-421-4533) and Millvale's Attic Records (513 Grant Ave., 412-821-8484) have drawn collectors from as far as the U.K., where the stores' rare soul 45s are in high demand. Jerry's is currently part of a one-stop crate-digging experience, sharing space with the new-and-used CD emporium Dave's Music Mine (412-421-6900) as well as 720 Records (412-421-6485), a DJ-oriented shop specializing in hip hop, house, downtempo and other dance music and supplies.

You'll also want to browse for R&B and soul at the North Side's Stedeford's Records (417 E. Ohio St., 412-321-8333) and for hard-to-find alternative rock, punk and indie at Wicked Discs (406 S. Craig St., Oakland, 412-682-5007). Record Village in Shadyside (5519 Walnut St., 412-682-1984) and Paul's Compact Discs in Bloomfield (4526 Liberty Ave., 412-621-3256) offer personalized service and encyclopedic knowledge you're not going to get from the high-schooler working the CD aisle at Best Buy.

And finally, in its own class entirely, is what's dubbed The World's Greatest Music Collection: 3 million records and 300,000 CDs, which for decades has been housed at Record-Rama in Ross (www.thegreatestmusiccollection.com). Its estimated value is more than $50 million, and it's been up for sale since early this year. So if you're a music lover who's feeling flush -- or just wants to daydream -- Pittsburgh's got you covered.

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