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Mac Miller remembered at vigil in 'Blue Slide Park'

Natasha Lindstrom
| Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, 8:57 p.m.
Mourners gather at Blue Slide Park to honor Mac Miller during a vigil Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018.
BEN SCHMITT | TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Mourners gather at Blue Slide Park to honor Mac Miller during a vigil Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018.
Ava Kunkle, 18, is overcome with emotion as Mac Miller's music is played over the speaker prior to a vigil held for Mac Miller at Frick Park on Sept. 11, 2018.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Ava Kunkle, 18, is overcome with emotion as Mac Miller's music is played over the speaker prior to a vigil held for Mac Miller at Frick Park on Sept. 11, 2018.
Shoes are placed near a memorial for Mac Miller at Frick Park on Sept. 11, 2018.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Shoes are placed near a memorial for Mac Miller at Frick Park on Sept. 11, 2018.
A memorial is added to prior to a vigil held for Mac Miller at Frick Park on Sept. 11, 2018.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
A memorial is added to prior to a vigil held for Mac Miller at Frick Park on Sept. 11, 2018.
Emily Gillot, 18, of Bridgeville, looks on prior to a vigil held for Mac Miller at Frick Park on Sept. 11, 2018.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Emily Gillot, 18, of Bridgeville, looks on prior to a vigil held for Mac Miller at Frick Park on Sept. 11, 2018.
Mourners gather at Blue Slide Park to honor Mac Miller during a vigil Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018.
BEN SCHMITT | TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Mourners gather at Blue Slide Park to honor Mac Miller during a vigil Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018.
A memorial is added to prior to a vigil held for Mac Miller at Frick Park on Sept. 11, 2018.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
A memorial is added to prior to a vigil held for Mac Miller at Frick Park on Sept. 11, 2018.
Mourners gather at Blue Slide Park to honor Mac Miller during a vigil Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018.
BEN SCHMITT | TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Mourners gather at Blue Slide Park to honor Mac Miller during a vigil Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018.
Fans wait prior to a vigil held for Mac Miller at Frick Park on Sept. 11, 2018.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Fans wait prior to a vigil held for Mac Miller at Frick Park on Sept. 11, 2018.
Mourners gather at Blue Slide Park to honor Mac Miller during a vigil Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018.
BEN SCHMITT | TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Mourners gather at Blue Slide Park to honor Mac Miller during a vigil Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018.

Pittsburgh threw Mac Miller a farewell party Tuesday night that drew more than 2,000 people to a place the late rapper made internationally famous — the Blue Slide Playground at Frick Park.

Charged by their love for Mac Miller's music as much as their tears over his untimely death, fans and loved ones packed into the corner of the park in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood to pay tribute to Miller, who played as a child at the same park and continued to give back to his hometown after his rise to fame.

At one point, the crowd chanted the city's area code, "412! 412!" followed by, "Thank you, Mac!"

Mourners came from around Western Pennsylvania and the nation — New York, Atlanta, Toronto, to name a few — to honor Miller for inspiring people around the world through his music, relatability and willingness to talk about his struggles.

"He was raw. He was very honest," said Tiera Hempfield, a fan whose family members worked in the studio alongside Miller. "He never shied away from who he was, and he was a good guy."

Miller, born Malcolm J. McCormick, died of a suspected drug overdose Friday at his Los Angeles home. The 26-year-old had grown up in Pittsburgh's Point Breeze neighborhood.

Blue Slide Park is a place where Miller spent much of his childhood.

As the vigil began about 5 p.m. Tuesday, the poles at the top of the Squirrel Hill playground's signature blue cement slide — coated with a fresh layer of epoxy courtesy of Pittsburgh Public Works — served as a makeshift memorial adorned with colorful roses and black-and-gold Penguins, Pirates and Steelers gear.

"It doesn't feel real to me," said Rachael Schwenning, 23, of Baldwin. "He represented the city, and he wanted to give back to the community and just help more people. He brought us all together."

Speakers blasted Miller's tracks in chronological order and food trucks served up refreshments while parents watched their children play and fans shared memories and their favorite songs.

Beth Wengerd, 22, of Green Tree said she learned about Miller's death via Twitter. She said she had to step outside for a few minutes to catch her breath and mourn.

"Someone was like, 'No, not Mac! And I had to go outside and check because I didn't believe it," said Wengerd, who immediately called her best friend to break the news. "We grew up with his music. It was definitely a shock."

By 7:30 p.m., more than 2,000 people had packed into the playground and surrounding area of the park section near Beechwood and Forward avenues.

Police directed traffic as cars parked alongside the streets of dozens of residential blocks and Allderdice High School, Miller's alma mater.

A close friend and collaborator spoke of Miller's resiliency and tenacity as he told the crowd about the time Miller made his first album and gave copies to everyone at the high school — only to be "dissed" by most and have his CDs tossed to the floor.

Speakers also touched on mental health challenges such as depression and drug addiction.

"We are working with nonprofits to raise awareness about addiction and mental health," said Brandon McCaslin, CEO for Nightfall Records, which organized the memorial service. He thanked everyone who came and officials with "the city for how incredibly helpful they've been."

Mac Miller's roots in the region run deep.

Blue Slide Park is a short walk from the field where he used to play in middle school. Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald was his youth coach.

"As a football player, he was kind of small, but he was always willing to stick his neck out and take on the biggest kids," Fitzgerald recalled.

"He was a real hard-working kid — and funny, too. He would keep everybody laughing."

Fitzgerald said he didn't know Miller as an adult but learned of his fame via his children. He said he's saddened the world has lost someone "with so much future and such a warm heart."

"He was still a Pittsburgher at heart, no matter how big he was and wherever he was, whether he was in a production studio in New York or LA or here in town. He will be missed."

As nightfall hit, the youngest kids went home and the candlelit portion of the memorial service began.

Fans held candles and lighters in the air as they sang along to Miller's music.

Some took turns kneeling, praying and taking photos beside the makeshift memorial at the top of the slide.

The homemade tributes continued alongside a nearby fence lined with balloons, handwritten letters, artworks, poems, photo collages and other carefully placed items — a Pirates hat, Kool-Aid packets, bottles of Patron tequila and Miller High Life, Pokémon cards, an old pair of black Nike sneakers and Smiley cookies from Eat'n Park.

"One more song! One more song!" the crowd called out when the music began to fade.

A few moments later, on came the last song of the night — "2009," in which Miller references his breakup with Ariana Grande, renewed faith in God and grappling with depression.

"Sometimes I wish I took a simpler route," the song goes. "Instead of havin' demons that's as big as my house. Have a ball with a dribble and bounce.

"Isn't it funny? We can make a lot of money. Buy a lot of things just to feel a lot of ugly ...

"A life ain't a life 'til you live it. I was diggin' me a hole big enough to bury my soul. "Weight of the world, I gotta carry my own. My own, with these songs I can carry you home

"When your heart get cold, see what's behind all them unturned stones.

"And I'm a pro when it come to my job. But really I'm just tryna start believin' in God. Now when it gets hard, I don't panic, I don't sound the alarm.

"Because I don't need to lie no more. Nowadays all I do is shine, take a breath and ease my mind."

When the song ended, the organizers called for a moment of silence.

The crowd fell quiet.

About a minute later, the service ended to cheers, applause and the crowd dispersed from Blue Slide Playground.

Some fans have requested that the park be renamed for Mac Miller.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto — who considered Miller a close friend and admired his commitment to fund local parks and youth programs — said he's willing to discuss renaming the park, but he first wants to give his family and friends time to grieve.

City ordinance requires a wait if three years after someone dies before any city facility can be renamed in their honor.

Peduto said that Miller had talked to him about investing in "blue slide" park safe zones throughout the city as well as youth programs that teach skills such as computer coding.

"In his memory, we're going to continue to work on those types of programs, and hopefully get other local artists to be a part of it," Peduto said.

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, nlindstrom@tribweb.com or via Twitter @NewsNatasha.

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