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Initiative afoot to make Pittsburgh a music city

| Thursday, March 9, 2017, 10:21 a.m.
Wiz Khalifa is cited as a recent music success story of Pittsburgh's, but the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership on Wednesday unveiled an initiative to help reinvigorate the city's music scene.
Jack Fordyce | Tribune - Review
Wiz Khalifa is cited as a recent music success story of Pittsburgh's, but the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership on Wednesday unveiled an initiative to help reinvigorate the city's music scene.

Pittsburgh rates well with visitors in most categories, but less than half of the respondents to a recent VisitPittsburgh survey gave the city favorable remarks about its music scene.

To remedy this, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership is launching a yet-unnamed initiative to establish a more vigorous music scene. On Wednesday at PDP's annual meeting, music experts floated ideas that they said could make Pittsburgh a music city.

“The goal is to create a music scene where people can gather,” said Russell Howard, PDP vice president of special events and development.

The city has some advantages, Howard said, in that it “is walkable and compact.” But Howard added what's necessary is “a critical mass of venues and musicians.”

Pittsburgh has a rich music history. It dates to Stephen Foster, often acknowledged as the father of American music, and includes the jazz greats who performed at Hill District clubs, the doo-wop era and the rock decades of the 1970s and 1980s. Abby Goldstein, general manager of WYEP-FM and panel moderator, noted the more recent successes of Wiz Khalifa, Girl Talk and Mac Miller.

But few musicians, Goldstein said, are able to support themselves via music alone.

“We need to create an environment where musicians can make a living,” Goldstein said.

To make Pittsburgh a viable city for working musicians, there needs to be more collaboration, said Ed Traversari, a longtime concert promoter with DiCesare-Engler Productions and an associate professor of sports, arts and entertainment at Point Park University.

“We have to get everybody together to build a new climate,” Traversari said, referring to stakeholders including promoters, venue owners and musicians. “But it's not going to happen overnight.”

A key issue is the idea that Pittsburgh doesn't have enough nighttime attractions. Allison Harnden, Pittsburgh's nighttime economy coordinator, said “we are a day-centric society, with a day-centric commerce.” Harnden said the city must develop “night vision” to make music events and concerts more viable after dark. She pointed to Austin, Texas, where loading zones during the day become music loading zones at night.

People also need to feel safe, Harnden said.

“If you have too much of a police presence, it can make people feel like something's wrong,” Harnden said. “You need to have a balance.”

The music initiative will build on “The Downtown Beat,” a program PDP explored about three years ago. That initiative was deemed premature, but ongoing development Downtown has created a more hospitable climate for new music, the PDP has said.

Rege Behe is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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