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Pairing art, technology mission of CREATE festival in Pittsburgh

| Wednesday, June 10, 2015, 9:11 p.m.

Four major musical acts take the stage this weekend at the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival, Downtown. Rhiannon Giddens, Richard Thompson, Benjamin Booker and Neko Case will highlight the second weekend of the city's free offerings of art, music, theater and all things creative.

Speaking of which, the CREATE Festival will put its stamp on the weekend with events June 11 and 12 at the Wyndham Hotel and nearby Downtown locations that feature art, interactive games, workshops and speakers in an effort to bring together regional and national creative industries.

Words also are a highlight this weekend, through poetry readings, creative writing workshops and discussions on the influence of hip-hop on our culture.

The CREATE and word events require reservations, which can be made at

Of course, the Artists Market continues in Gateway Center and Point State Park, and the Giant Eagle Creativity Zone will be getting kids involved in art at in the park as well.

Rhiannon Giddens

If there's one word Rhiannon Giddens detests, it's genres. Classically trained in opera at Oberlin University, she moved on to a whole different style of music in becoming the leader of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, the Grammy-winning old-time string band from North Carolina whose members all happen to be African-American.

So, Giddens, who plays the banjo and fiddle, clearly knows a few things about different styles of music, and being classified is something she could live without.

“I hate genres. I know that they're necessary, but I hate them,” she says. “What I have learned is that these labels change and what they mean change. ... It all changes, so it doesn't really matter.”

Recently, T Bone Burnett produced her solo debut album, “Tomorrow Is My Turn,” a tribute to a broad range of female singer-songwriters.

While working on the album, Burnett asked her to join his New Basement Tapes project, where she joined Jim James, Elvis Costello, Marcus Mumford and Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes in setting to music previously unreleased lyrics written by Bob Dylan during the time he was recording what became “The Basement Tapes” with The Band.

Giddens' path into American music began after she took up banjo and fiddle and attended an event in November 2005 called the Black Banjo Gathering in Boone, NC. There she met Dom Flemons and Sule Greg Wilson, and the three soon formed the original lineup of the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Touring the country, they were comfortable playing everything from Dixie and Civil War-era fare to ragtime and all stripes of country blues.

Giddens will perform at 7:30 p.m. June 11 on the Dollar Bank Main Stage.

— Dave Gil de Rubio

Richard Thompson

With a career that spans six decades, Richard Thompson's honors reflect more than just his longevity. The British guitarist, singer and songwriter, who appears at 7:30 p.m., June 12 on the Dollar Bank Stage, is one of the most lauded of rock ‘n' roll performers.

Thompson is one of Rolling Stones magazine's Top 20 guitarists of all time. He's received lifetime achievement awards for songwriting in the United States (the Americana Music Association) and England (the BBC Awards), and is the recipient of the Order of the British Empire. A diverse array of artists, including Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt, Del McCoury, the Pointer Sisters, and the Blind Boys of Alabama have covered his songs. His live album “1000 Years of Popular Music” features songs from the Middle Ages to Stephen Foster's “Where Have My Loved Ones Gone” to Britney Spears' “Oops! I Did it Again.”

Thompson is arguably at his best in a live setting. A gifted vocalist and guitarist, his Pittsburgh appearance will feature his electric trio, which means — hopefully — glorious performances of Thompson gems such as “I Feel So Good,” “Wall of Death,” and “1952 Vincent Black Lightning.”

Neko Case

She's mastered a trainload of musical styles since she first hit the stage in 1997, but Neko Case remains a defiant, unclassifiable genre of one.

The flame-haired siren country-noir siren has a voice that hits like a summer storm rolling in over the prairie, complete with flashes of lightning, creepy shadows and panicked livestock. But her eccentric songwriting has always been simply too dark and strange for mainstream country. Luckily, she found a happy home in the more tolerant-of-weirdness world of indie rock, with the occasional detour into traditional country and power-pop.

She'll perform at the Three Rivers Arts Festival at 7:30 p.m. June 13, at the Dollar Bank Stage, Downtown.

Benjamin Booker

His music has a punkish, garage rock sound, but its heart is in the blues. New Orleans-based guitarist Benjamin Booker began to broaden the outlook of his music in 2014 with his eponymous debut album. That work continues this year as he tours festivals from the arts festival here to Bonnaroo in Tennessee and the Governor's Ball Music Festival in New York City.

Booker's music examines civil rights issues and racist violence that never goes away regardless of how slick and sophisticated life seems to be in this era of iPhones and Bluetooth everything.

Some critics have called Booker a time traveler moving between modern sounds and long-lasting wounds.

He will perform at 7:30 p.m. June 14 and the Dollar Bank Stage.


Through the accumulation of audience-generated data, Plume is an immersive, interactive dome of synchronized light and sound gestures. The installation uses motion, sound and color to present an ephemeral and ethereal ecosystem.

Pittsburgh-based multimedia artist Ian Brill says the cinematic form and character of Plume emerges as a pervasive personality from the darkness of the otherwise unlit installation space, and addresses our footprint on this planet and beyond.

It can be experienced from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 11 and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 12 at the Innovation Salon in the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Downtown. Part of the CREATE Festival; reservations required .

ZeGo Bot

You've probably never had cookies this way!

ZeGo is known as a multifunctional “linear delta robot” — whatever that is! — and it's ready to show off its versatility, and simultaneously entertain the public, by “making” cookies. Another bot will serve as a novelty robotic clock. The bots are capable of 3-D printing, wood burning and engraving.

The introduction and the fun runs from 10 a.m.-noon June 11 in the Innovation Salon at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Downtown. Part of the CREATE Festival; reservations required .

Bill Shannon

Some performers might take a pair of crutches and a skateboard and concoct an impressive acrobatic act. Bill Shannon turns it into art.

The dance and performance artist, who uses the crutches because of a degenerative hip disorder, will explore notions of “tech” through video, audio and physical ways.

Shannon's mix of comedy, dance and social commentary is designed to inspire, provoke and entertain.

Born in Nashville and transplated to Pittsburgh at age 5, Shannon grew up in the Steel City. He left in 1992 to get a degree from the Art Institute of Chicago and then went to New York in 1996, where he soaked up the artistic culture. He moved back to Pittsburgh in 2005 and is currently an artist in residence at East Liberty's Kelly Strayhorn Theater.

He will perform from 8 to 9 a.m. and 6 to 6:45 p.m. June 11 at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Downtown. Part of the CREATE Festival; reservations required .

Hidden Characters/Get Down Gang

Members of two breakdance crews — Hidden Characters and Get Down Gang — will give a competitive exhibition of “true B-boy style” on June 14.

The Get Down Gang is one of two breakdance groups led by Teena Maria Custer; the other is her female street-dance group Venus Fly Trap. She teaches dance at Slippery Rock University, where she earned her bachelor's degree.

The show will start at 3 p.m. at the Stanwix Stage.

‘Mission: Implausible!'

The audience is literally part of the show for this interactive comedy that employs Facebook, Twitter and Skype to engage everyone in the heroine's (Top Secret Agent Karen, played by Sandi Carroll) effort to save the world.

Everyone attending will contributing ideas by serving as “intelligence agents.” By the show's conclusion, not only has the audience emerged as heroes, but they will be sent out into the world to help complete the mission and report back via social-media channels, taking “interactive” beyond the confines of the performance space, inspiring positive action for change and community-building.

Carroll, whose credits include Broadway and independent and major studio films, has written, performed and produced her shows on both coasts and internationally.

The performance will be from 1 to 1:45 p.m. June 11 in the CREATE Ballroom at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Downtown. Part of the CREATE Festival; reservations required .


The inspiration of robotics, innovation and the energetic spirit of play are wed in this opportunity to “come experience the magic of 3-D printing first-hand and get a glimpse of the future.”

PieceMaker was founded early in 2013 by two Carnegie Mellon University graduate students passionate about bringing 3-D printing to a wider audience. Arden Rosenblatt and Alejandro Sklar believe they are pioneers in taking 3-D printing to the masses. One of their goals for their “factory in a store” concept is to let consumers personalize about 100 designs for toys, jewelry and other small gifts.

See what it's all about from 10 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. June 12 in the Innovation Salon at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Downtown. Part of the CREATE Festival; reservations required .

Family Hip-Hop Yoga

This public-art project is bringing its Super Hero Sessions to the Dollar Bank Stage from noon to 1 p.m. June 14.

It's an interactive yoga session for people of all ages, backgrounds and ability levels, set to classic and expansive hip-hop instrumentals. Roopa Singh, a certified yoga teacher and scholar, will lead the session, while DJ Vex — aka Reese Brown — will provide the live mix.

Singh and Vex use call-and-response techniques to keep kids and their parents engaged. Singh combines the yoga movements with a super-hero narrative.

Words words words


Michelle Naka Pierce, director of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University in Boulder, Colo., will host a workshop at 3:30 p.m. at the Trust Arts Education Center, 805 Liberty Ave. At the workshop, participants will write poems after responding to visual art. Reservations required.

Then, at 5 p.m. on the Dollar Bank Stage, Tameka Cage Conley and Dave Newman will read their poems.

A Louisiana native residing in Pittsburgh, Conley's works have been published in the magazines Huizache, Fledgling Rag, Chapter & Verse, and Callaloo. Nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2012, Conley has taught at the University of Pittsburgh, Bucknell University, Duquesne University, Chatham University, and the Community College of Allegheny County.

Newman, a Michigan native living in Trafford, is the author of two collections, “The Poem Factory” and “The Slaughterhouse Poems.” He's also published more than 100 poems, stories, essays and articles in magazines and journals, and is the author of the novels “Two Small Birds” and “Raymond Carver Will Not Raise Our Children.”

Conley and Newman's readings are in conjunction with City of Asylum Pittsburgh.

Creative writing

An arts festival might seem like an odd place to have creative writing workshops, but this festival doesn't think so. On June 14, aspiring writers have three options from which to choose:

• Kim Chestney will host the “Art of Intuition” at 1 p.m. at the Trust Arts Education Center, 805 Liberty Ave. Chestney, author of “The Psychic Workshop: A Complete Program for Fulfilling Your Spiritual Potential,” will teach attendees about the power of intuition and how to use it to enrich lives. Reservations required.

• At 1 p.m., also at the Trust Arts Education Center, Anjali Sachdeva will host “Sharing Your Story — A Writing Workshop.” Sachdeva, director of education programs for the Creative Nonfiction Foundation In Pittsburgh, will teach attendees how to turn journals and personal notes into essays and articles for publication. Reservations required.

• At 4 p.m. at the Trust Arts Education Center, Dreams of Hope will host “Get sQooled,” a hands-on creative writing workshop about LGBTQA ideas for people of all ages. Dreams of Hope works with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and allied youth in Pittsburgh who are interested in theater, poetry, music and dance. Reservations required.

Talk it over

A recent study published in the journal Royal Society Open Science posited that hip-hop and rap, not rock, is the most influential music of the past 50 years.

Thus, the panel discussion “Race, Gender, and the Power of Language in Hip-Hop” scheduled for 5 p.m. June 14 at the Trust Arts Education Center, 805 Liberty Ave., is timely and topical. Hosted by 1Hood Media, a group of rappers, artists and producers, the discussion will focus on the use of language and how it impacts mainstream views and attitudes towards hip-hop culture. One of the goals of 1Hood Media is to show how language can be used to dispel stereotypes and improve negative self-images.

Reservations requested.

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