Keynote Café owner celebrates its ‘community of creative people’ as closing nears | TribLIVE.com
Westmoreland

Keynote Café owner celebrates its ‘community of creative people’ as closing nears

Patrick Varine
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Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Members of the band OHM Project, including percussionist Ed Wiancko, left, of Pittsburgh, pack up their instruments after performing their set at the Keynote Cafe on Friday night, May 31, 2019 in Jeannette. The Keynote Cafe will be hosting performers for the last and final time on June 29 from noon to midnight. The art and music venue opened in 2007.
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Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Jill Sorrels, owner of the Keynote Cafe in Jeannette, gives a hug to musician Rachel Leigh, 16, of North Huntingdon, after she performed her last show at the Keynote Cafe on Friday night, May 31, 2019 in Jeannette. "Jill was the one who gave me my start," said Leigh while on stage. "I owe everything to her. So thank you guys for all of the support." The Keynote Cafe will be hosting performers for the last and final time on June 29 from noon to midnight. The art and music venue opened in 2007.
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Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Musician Rachel Leigh, 16, of North Huntingdon performs at the Keynote Cafe on Friday night, May 31, 2019 in Jeannette. The Keynote Cafe will be hosting performers for the last and final time on June 29 from noon to midnight. The art and music venue opened in 2007.
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Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
The band 1/4 Mile performs at the Keynote Cafe on Friday night, May 31, 2019 in Jeannette. The Keynote Cafe will be hosting performers for the last and final time on June 29 from noon to midnight. The art and music venue opened in 2007.
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Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Members of the Pittsburgh band the OHM Project, which stands for "Obscure Hippie Music," from left, guitarist Tom Boyce, keyboardist and vocalist Joe Skoski, and vocalist Janet Pazzynski, perform their set at the Keynote Cafe on Friday night, May 31, 2019 in Jeannette. The Keynote Cafe will be hosting performers for the last and final time on June 29 from noon to midnight. The art and music venue opened in 2007.
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Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Christy Sullivan, left, of North Huntingdon, talks with Dennis Walendziewicz, right, of Oakmont, while waiting for performers to go on stage at the Keynote Cafe on Friday night, May 31, 2019 in Jeannette. Sullivan was at the music venue to see her daughter, Rachel Leigh, perform her music for the last time before the venue closes.
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Patrick Varine | Tribune-Review
Keynote Café owner Jill Sorrels poses for a photo on Monday, April 22, 2019.
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Submitted photo
Keynote Café performers, volunteers and more gather for a photo marking the cafe’s 10th anniversary in 2017.
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Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Sound board technician Duane Shuster works on an audio mix while a band performs at the Keynote Cafe on Friday night, May 31, 2019 in Jeannette. Shuster has been doing the sound for the music venue in Jeannette since it opened in 2007.
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Patrick Varine | Tribune-Review
Keynote Café owner Jill Sorrels poses for a photo on Monday, April 22, 2019.
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Patrick Varine | Tribune-Review
Keynote Café owner Jill Sorrels points to photos and autographs covering a wall in the cafe’s back office on Monday, April 22, 2019.
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Patrick Varine | Tribune-Review
Keynote Café owner Jill Sorrels looks through a photo album from the cafe’s early days on Monday, April 22, 2019.
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Patrick Varine | Tribune-Review
A colorful sculpture of a saxophone player is just one of many works at the Keynote Café created by Greensburg artist Brian McCall.
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Patrick Varine | Tribune-Review
Photos and autographs of bands and performes cover a wall in the Keynote Café’s back office on Monday, April 22, 2019.
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Submitted photo
The band Chances are High plays a 2007 show at the Keynote Café when it was located on Clay Avenue in Jeannette.
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Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Musicians and audiences members talk while listening to performers at the Keynote Cafe on Friday night, May 31, 2019 in Jeannette. The Keynote Cafe will be hosting performers for the last and final time on June 29 from noon to midnight. The art and music venue opened in 2007.

Jill Sorrels just wanted to hear live music again when she made the decision to open Keynote Cafe on Jeannette’s Clay Avenue in 2007.

“I missed the music,” Sorrels said of get-togethers at her home where friends would regularly play and sing. “I had enough money for about six months, and I thought, ‘If I open this place, I can get live music.’ ”

Recently, Sorrels was poring over a wall covered in autographs from musicians who have come through the Keynote Cafe since it opened.

After a dozen years, the Keynote will host its final concert Saturday, and Sorrels has begun booking the final run of shows at its current home on South Fourth Street, the former Jeannette News Dispatch building.

Sorrels was not initially planning to retire, but received a cash offer on her building from Mosaic Community Church that she eventually decided she couldn’t pass up.

“I initially said it as a joke: ‘You know, I’m turning 60, so if you’d ever want to buy this building’ … the pastor’s eyes got huge,” she said. “This place is my whole identity, and it took a long time for me to come to terms with selling it.”

Back in 2007, Sorrels said Speal’s Tavern on Route 119 was one of the only places in the area that regularly hosted live music. With no budget for advertising, she began letting friends know about the Keynote.

“One by one, my friends started coming in, and then they started forming their own bands and making other musical friends,” she said. “It really became this community of creative people.”

Sorrels didn’t have money to decorate the Keynote, but instead partnered with local artists who filled its walls and corners with local art, which Sorrels sold without taking a commission. The upstairs also hosts a small art gallery.

Even sitting empty with most of the lights turned off on a weekday morning, vibrant islands of colored sculptures command attention from all corners, the work of Greensburg artist Brian McCall.

Keynote alumni have gone on to form bands, attend prestigious music schools such as Berklee College of Music in Boston and become record producers in Nashville.

Some, like Antolena Damico of Penn Township, are just getting their start in music, and the Keynote has served as an important part of that process.

“The Keynote is a feeling, like music is to me,” said Damico, 12. “Although I sang for years before I went there, I learned from going there in this last year that happiness is like music: You take it with you wherever you go.”

For Sorrels, who grew up on Clay Avenue, opening the Keynote was her way of trying to help revitalize Jeannette, where she is a third-generation resident.

“Twenty-five years ago, the last glass factory closed,” she said. “Around that same time, my dad sold his business, Urbani’s Healthland, to Rite Aid, and he was heartbroken for his town. He said it would take a generation to come back and that it would only come back through the eyes of artists who could see its potential.”

Her father wasn’t wrong: Art-related businesses like The Glass City, AB Ceramics and You Are Here are all within walking distance of the Keynote Cafe.

“There are so many talented people in this town,” Sorrels said. “I wanted to give them a chance to show off that talent.”

When she first opened, Sorrels said friends and neighbors thought she was crazy.

“And maybe I was, but I knew what I wanted to do,” she said. “This was my little creation. After a few years, people started to notice. They’d come in, they’d start having fun, and that’s what music and art do for people.”

That is certainly the case for Damico.

“Even though the Keynote will not be there, it was Jill and the people that came through there that made it so special,” Damico said. “And they aren’t going anywhere.”

For Sorrels, the decision to sell the building was not easy, but Keynote patrons like Damico give her confidence.

“I saw a younger generation that came here for a decade, and they’re now doing it on their own,” Sorrels said. “They’re finding venues and making music, and I want to hand this baton to them.”

The Keynote’s final concert will be June 29.

For details, visit KeynoteCafe.wordpress.com.

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter .

Categories: AandE | Music | Local | Westmoreland
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