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Friday, January 29, 2016

Of Museums, Randyland and Dumpster Sets In Alleyways

Okay, so it all started with this message:

That's Brian, the drummer from the great Boston band, Guster. We became Facebook friends several years ago. Guster (comprised of Ryan Miller, Adam Gardner, Luke Reynolds and Brian Rosenworcel) are touring this winter, and my girlfriend and I were planning to drive to Philadelphia on January 23rd to catch their always exuberant show because: 

A) they weren't coming to Pittsburgh this leg and 
B) the opener was none other than the lovely blue-eyed one himself, RHETT FUCKING MILLER! 


I mean, C'MON! The double bill of my fangirl dreams! 

Ahhhh, but that fuckwad monster storm, Jonas had other ideas. Poised to dump upwards of 18"- 24" of the powdery white stuff all over the mid Atlantic and Northeast (and subsequently New York City, because weather predictors have their heads up their asses at times and totally blow snow accumulations in metropolitan areas), this beast of a storm cell made travel east a fool's errand. 

jonas was so big,
you couldn't even find the U.S. under it's blanket of badassery

In the end, wiser heads prevailed, and my fangirl-fantasy, double-shot show slated for Saturday, January 23rd was cancelled. 

And there was much sadness in Pittsburgh.  

As it turned out, Pittsburgh got double the predicted snowfall, and I had one hellish drive to The Special K hours before the butt crack of dawn. As grumpy and sad as a petulant child, I finally resigned myself to the fact that this wasn't going to happen. No matter how much I held my breath, I was going to miss the rare opportunity to revel in the spirits of my two favorite performers. 

And then my Facebook Messenger dinged...

Guster made it to their show in State College Friday, but had to reach Charleston, West Virginia for a date with Mountain Stage Sunday night. They braved the elements and made the harrowing trek west to Pittsburgh for an overnighter. FYI, the band loves Pittsburgh. Like, really REALLY LOVES Pittsburgh. As if I needed anymore reasons to love them dearly.

These four bandmates are unbelievably cool. For starters, they're super accessible, social media savvy, and are known to do all sorts of wacky, creative things like acoustic dumpster sets, running errands with fans, and collecting granny afghans from their devotees to cover their instruments and wear as super stylish vests. 

awash in fan-delivered yarnwear

They embrace their public, which is what endears them forever to the hearts of their following. And they are unbelievably sweet, nice guys. 

the expertly curated dumpster stage

So anywho, back to the dumpster set. The guys decided to search for an appropriate dumpster on the North Side near our uber contemporary museum, the Mattress Factory. The other cool thing about this group is they take time to explore the cities in which they play. They ride bikes, visit attractions, eat at local dives. The idea was to hit up the museum after their brief acoustic set. 

the scene of the action

After Brian and Luke freed me from the snow mound I'd managed to lodge my trusty Vibe into, my friend, Lizzie who worked with Guster in Boston, and I packed six men and various instruments in our cars, and headed off to the still snow-covered streets of the North Side. 

Side note: Pittsburgh is notoriously slow to plow its streets, no matter who's mayor. It's just a fact. There was a point where I started to slide and all I could think of was "Don't kill Brian and Ryan. Sweet Jesus! Don't kill Brian and Ryan!" Clearly, I'm not very good in the snow. What was I thinking carting these talented men around post-winter storm?

Brian and Ryan working the interwebs

So the deal is, Bryan picks a dumpster at random. He and Ryan Instagram and Tweet the location and set time. At the designated time, they start playing for whomever shows up. We whiled away the time having lunch at a nearby hole-in-the-wall taco place named El Burro. Delicious and cheap. 

mmmm... burritos

logging the twitter activity

When we walked back from a local coffee shop, five people were waiting by the dumpster. By the time everyone was set up, a few more fans joined in. Neighbors poked their heads out, passersby stopped to listen, curious about the random happening in their alleyway. When it was all said and done, about a dozen or so adults, one baby and two dogs enjoyed the impromptu concert. 

the early birds

soundchecking of sorts

the bulk of the crowd minus the dogs in adorable booties
even the house behind them had a happy "tear" in its eye

the sun played the part of stage lighting
(check out Adam's guitar strap--granny squares!)

The debate in the car was whether to alert fans via Facebook or just post photos afterward. At the last minute, Ryan decided to live stream the event on Facebook using its version of Periscope. Lizzie recorded the pop-up performance. About 1700 watched it live from all over the country. In the time it took to break down the instruments, take photos and walk to the cars, they had amassed 20,000 views. They were blown away! It didn't stop there. In 24 hours, their video had over 135,000 views and was picked up by online newsletter, Next Pittsburgh, shared by who knows how many followers on Facebook and tweeted by a crapton of people, including our hip news anchor, Ken Rice and Mayor Peduto who in his exchange with Ryan promised to declare Guster Day the next time they play in town. This thing has some long legs! And right now, at the time of this writing, they are up to 185,000 views. Madness! 

The power of social media is real, motherfuckers!

Bryan wrote about the analytics on his road journal here. And while your at it, treat yourself to some of his past writings, especially his ongoing battle with his nemesis, the port-o-john. This gem contains a side order of past posts to compliment the hilarity. If this doesn't make you laugh-out-loud-spit-take your morning coffee, we can't be friends. Seriously. 

But I digress... 

After the 20 minute acoustic set, we gathered for a commemorative group photo. A fun time was definitely had by all. 
family photo with most of the audience
(photobombed by the happy house)

Dumpster 2016 Set list:

Doing it By Myself
Jesus on the Radio
This Could All Be Yours

Moving on...

On the drive over, Ryan had expressed a deep interest in going to Pittsburgh's most colorful landmark, Randyland. It's whimsical, chaotic, overstimulating and fantastic. Randy Gilson is the eccentric creator, with a good heart and very little filter. He was outside shoveling snow when we walked the short distance to his house. Sweet guy, but man, is he a talker. He shared his entire back story, philosophy, message in a rapid-fire 15 minute monologue. He's unique in a positive way, but he is a bit out there. You can see for yourself in this video he made with Guster, or "Gustet" as it's labeled here

the man himself

exterior during Randy's monologue

next cover?

inside Randy's garden with the addition of funky Adam panorama head

seems a little too conventional for Randyland
but then again, we don't know what's under the snow

randy and ryan
(a boy's dream come true)

After our adventure in Randyland, we headed back to the Mattress Factory for a guided tour. This museum is one of our city's best kept secrets. A powerhouse of notable contemporary works packed into a small space. The museum occupies three buildings: the main factory space and two houses on the block. Each has it's own specific feel. The curators encourage the artists to utilize their spaces however they want, which at times includes tearing out walls, closets or floors. It's a little bit of New York in the Burgh. 

a wee face in the algae exhibit

this was the eeriest exhibit in the newest building
thousands of strings enveloping ordinary
apartment settings

gives off a combo fairy tale/serial killer vibe

What an insanely great afternoon. I'm still pinching myself. Thanks for letting me tag along, men of Guster. As my niece says, I less than 3 you! It was a perfect early birthday gift. I am one lucky shithead, yo.

I've transported Francis Dunnery, John Green, Murry Hammond, Ken Bethea, and now Brian Rosenworcel and Ryan Miller in my car... I can never sell Rita now.

I can't thank Lizzie enough, first and foremost for her friendship, and for introducing me to these fine humans. 

For my every-loving Geo: 
How about those lucky bastards scraping off their cars to a live Guster soundtrack?

I heart them so. 

Brian dropping the sticks is everything. Ha Ha! 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Time Takes A Cigarette...

I was 12 when my brother bought The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust. I think it was a Christmas gift for one of my older sisters. It doesn't matter whose it was, we five shared all of our albums. I remember staring at the strangely dressed figure on the cover, not able to take my eyes off of the provocatively posed, bleach blonde in the blue jumpsuit. Then my brother dropped the needle on Suffragette City, and Wham-Bam-Thank-You-Ma'am, my world opened up. 

Three years later my girlfriend and I signed up to participate in Junior Achievement. JA was a collaboration between local business people and the city to introduce principles of commerce to teenagers. There I meet a 15 year old guy from a tough neighborhood. He was a troubled kid from a messed up family who was mercilessly harassed at school. I liked him. He was weird and different and funny. And a little scary sometimes. And he LOOOOOOVED Bowie. 

Some weeks he'd come in all tense, nervous and out of whack. Adamant and angry over the fresh hell he faced at an unbearable high school where no tolerance was shown towards outsiders and no prisoners were taken. No matter how agitated he was, as soon as we'd start talking about Diamond Dogs, the bullshit was immediately washed away and he'd light up. Bowie was his lifesaver, his safety net, his life's blood. His connection to this flamboyant artist was real. This tender young lad needed Bowie to survive the way humans needed water. 

Music saves, my friend. 

Bowie, his outlandish, gender-bending personas and his music made it okay to be a misfit. By just being, he gave voice to the disenfranchised, the marginalized, the outcast. He was a true original. An innovative musical master who always bent the rules, subverted the dominant paradigm and was elegant to the end. 

And what an ending, huh? He gifted the world a final album on his birthday knowing it would serve as his eulogy when he stepped off this mortal coil two days later. His life and death both played out on his own terms. It doesn't get any more poetic than that. 

To me, Bowie was the ultimate King of Cool, reinventing himself at precisely the right time. Chameleon to the bitter end. An artist at his very core, making his indelible mark on fashion, music, life. Admittedly, my adoration for his genius waxed and waned as I got older, and I cherry-picked through his later catalog. I may not have appreciated every contribution like a devotee, but the ones that resonated with me were magic. They still are. 

It's been a week since the Starman ascended to the heavens, and the void left by his passing is still very real. The outpouring of love, loss and tribute from around the globe continues. The universal loss is palatable.

(I am particularly fond of this clip. It shows his marvelous sense of humor.)

When I first read the shocking news of his death, I immediately thought of two people. The fragile misfit from JA and my musical love, Rhett Miller. Like many pre-teens who don't fit the social norm, he was brutalized at school. Discovering David Bowie saved Rhett's tumultuous young life and inspired him to pursue a life in music. For that, I am forever grateful. 

Wading through the copious essays and reflections, Mr. Miller's was the one I waited for in earnest. His was worth the wait. Like many, Bowie was his "North Star". I won't sully his work with a feeble attempt to summarize. I'll let you read his eloquent, heartfelt thoughts for yourself here

Rhett in his Bowie-shrined bedroom
not knowing his music would become as vital to his fans
as Bowie's was to him. 

Knowing you are not alone in your struggles navigating through the heaviness of being in your most vulnerable years is a precious gift. Music is that gift. Music doesn't judge. Music connects us like family. Whether he realized it or not, David Bowie was the saving arm reaching into the quicksand of adolescence for multitudes of fans.

Well done, sir.

For the time being, it seems only fitting to put his work on repeat, rewatch the Five Years documentary, and thank the Universe for his magnificent light.

Farewell Thin White Duke.