City Winery Pittsburgh brings sophistication to concertgoers


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Dec 29, 2023

City Winery Pittsburgh brings sophistication to concertgoers

At City Winery, sometimes they judge how much concertgoers enjoyed a show by the

At City Winery, sometimes they judge how much concertgoers enjoyed a show by the amount of broken glass on the floor.

No, it's never some bottle-slinging hillbilly audience like in "The Blues Brothers" movie ― far, far from it.

City Wineries, like the one that just opened in Pittsburgh's Strip District, offer a sophisticated, upscale experience. They're a place where concertgoers sit at tables and sip from glass stemware ― not plastic cups ― it's just that during the encore when it's time to dance or give a standing ovation, fans sometimes forget their surroundings, and bump their table, "and invariably, glasses start falling to the ground," City Winery founder & CEO Michael Dorf said. "We don't mind. It just means people are enjoying themselves."

Maybe unlike audiences in Philly, Chicago and Nashville, City Winery Pittsburgh spectators will be more mindful of their wine glasses, starting with the sold-out June 10 show by Americana artist Valerie June. The 260-seat venue will host a mix of national acts like John Pizzarelli Trio (June 24), Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (July 18) Marshall Crenshaw (July 19) and comedian Michael Rapaport (Sept. 29-30), plus Pittsburgh stalwarts like The Bill Henry Band (June 18) and Joe Grushecky & The Houserockers (June 30).

Dorf said the stage is oversized, a theme for City Wineries, so artists accustomed to bigger stages will feel comfortable playing there, maybe doing a tour warmup show, residency or multi-night stay.

"One of the greatest compliments is having people like Marc Cohn, Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle among our core artists and friends," Dorf said. "I mean, when someone like Suzanne Vega says to me, 'I don't want to play anywhere else ...'."

With the Strip District reminding Dorf of Brooklyn's hip Williamsburg neighborhood, Pittsburgh fit the criteria to become the ninth City Winery location.

"It's got what we need; a cosmopolitan-meets-hipster, or cultural-meets-hipster vibe," he said. "The more time I spend in Pittsburgh, the more I learn about its great food scene and interest in wine."

At City Winery, "the concept is small plates meant to pair with wine," Dorf said, noting the restaurant/music chain does the opposite of convention, suggesting you pick your favorite made-on-site wine first, then build your meal around that.

Interviewed three days after City Winery Pittsburgh turned on its cash registers, Dorf said, "There seems to be a nice buzz in terms of a very positive response."

Find it at 1627 Smallman St., in the multi-block, redeveloped Terminal building. The website is

The Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival ends Sunday with a 7:30 p.m. performance by one of the last of the 1960s blues giants, Taj Mahal.

An artist who headlined over Led Zeppelin, inspired the Grateful Dead, and appeared in the Rolling Stones' "Rock and Roll Circus" broadcast in 1968, which single-handedly elicited the participation of Eric Clapton, Mahal and his quartet will perform material spanning his multi-Grammy Award winning career.

Remember: This year's art festival's main stage is along Fort Duquesne Boulevard directly across the river from PNC Park. The people complaining it's no longer at Point State Park can blame the state Department of Conservation & Natural Resources for its rule preventing any event longer than seven days from happening there.

The new location offers quicker access to the artist vendors' tents, and is in a really cool-looking part of the city, though the rectangular layout made it tricky getting close to the stage to take photo ops at June 2's opening night with pop-rocker KT Tunstall.

Tunstall was an utter delight, as a one-woman band using loop pedals. She'd start songs by thumping her guitar with her right hand to create a percussive noise she recorded on-the-spot by pressing down on a foot pedal, creating a percussive track that backed her as she sang and strummed.

For her 2004 smash "Black Horse and The Cherry Tree," Tunstall weaved in a bit of "Black Betty" and The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army." Her enthusiastic and humorous storytelling set up enjoyable new songs, while her shrewd cover picks included Don Henley's "Boys of Summer" and Tom Petty's "Won't Back Down," which she began with a quick shout-out to Pride Month.

A student of the blues and R&B, Tunstall demonstrated how ― like numerous artists before and since ― she lifted the Bo Diddley beat for her other huge hit, "Suddenly I See."

It was the best arts fest performance I've seen in years.

Every other Tuesday, Frank Piscopo, Bob Spak and Mike Como, all from The Project Band, will host an open mic at Zooky's Sports Tavern in Fallston.

The open mics take place rain or shine.

"If the weather is nice, we will be set up around the fire pits," Piscopo said. "We start at 7 p.m. and end at 10 p.m. No drums, but congas or cajon percussion is OK. Depending on how many sign up, musicians can play two to three songs each."

Sign-ups start at 6:30 p.m. The next session is June 20.

"Zooky's is a perfect venue for this type of event," singer-songwriter-guitarist Piscopo said.

Last week, 15-year-old artist Ashley Marina released on major music platforms her new single, "Words to Live By."

The Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School student debuted an acoustical version of that original song in March, when she dazzled an audience at Beaver Station Cultural & Event Center.

"Words to Live By," and its correlating music video, streaming on the Kennedy Township resident's YouTube channel, was inspired by the "Who Was" book series, which tells the stories of trailblazing historical figures and their contributions. The song's lyrics remind listeners they can accomplish great things, and that anyone could be in a "Who Was" book if they use their gifts and determination to pursue their dreams.

Marina will perform six times daily at Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio, from June 26 to July 2.

Scott Tady is entertainment editor for The Times and easy to reach at [email protected].