Neighborhood News

Brass, beat, and summer heat

By Carol Fryday, Bloomfield Development Corporation

Though he’s best known for Pandemic, his long-running series of raucous dance parties, Bloomfield resident Pete Spynda, is now taking the festivities from the club scene to a number of outdoor, family-friendly venues.

Pandemic Pete
Spyda sets the beat at Brillobox, which hosts “Pandemic” the first Friday of the month.

This DJ, concert promoter, and party-thrower, will be introducing an eclectic mix of world music to Pittsburghers of all ages with a summer of foot-stomping events.

Spynda kicks off the merry-making on May 2nd with Pittonkatonk, a loud, riotous, and just-plain-fun brass band festival and potluck.

Like last years’ event, which drew a hip crowd of over 750, this year’s festival features an assortment of high-energy, mobile marching bands playing a global mix. And because there’s no stage, the bands mingle with revelers who dance until their feet hurt.

To the uninitiated, dancing to the music of brass marching bands may sound incongruous, so Spynda puts the scene into its musical context, pointing out that, “There’s a whole legacy of carnival bands in Brazil, marching jazz bands in New Orleans, and Balkan brass ensembles that perform at wedding, parades, and funerals.”

The official poster for Pittonkatonk illustrates the May Day insanity.

But unlike these more established genres, Pittonkatonk features music that sometimes defies category.

While What Cheer? Brigade, an 18-piece punk brass band from Providence, RI, plays an aggressive mix of Bollywood, hip-hop, punk, and Latin; the 27-piece Detroit Party Marching Band, pumps out what it describes as party-ready “Guerrilla brass.”

After Pittonkatonk, the party continues with Weather Permitting, a summer-long Sunday evening concert series. A collaboration between Spynda and Shadyside Nursery owners, Bill Brittain and Mike Georges, the series is now in it’s third year. Every week the nursery turns into a vibrant outdoor event space featuring bands, beer from local breweries, food trucks, and a farmer’s market. Last year the series averaged 150-200 partygoers each week and it’s growing in popularity, in large part because it too is family-friendly.

Pandemic Poster 1
“Drinking Dancing Yelling Stomping,” pretty much sums it up.

As a father, Spynda understands the need for events where adults can bring their family. “An outdoor space allows everyone to enjoy the music away from the usual nighttime scene in bars and clubs.” While Spynda books the bands and sets the scene for his summer series, his 6-year-old daughter, Sophie, an aspiring event planner, organizes the childrens’ activities and personally tests all squirt guns, bubble wands, and other toys before they are distributed to the crowd.

Spynda also manages the Bayardstown Social Club, another cool summer alternative to the bar scene. The Club, which turns an empty lot in the Strip District into a backyard barbecue, provides members and guests with grills, a horseshoe pit, picnic tables, food trucks, and live music.

In addition to his roster of summer events, Spynda takes Pandemic for a spin the first Friday of every month at Brillobox in Lawrenceville where party-goers dance to a hybrid of traditional folk and contemporary dance music from around the world, including gypsy brass, cumbia, chalga, bollywood, afrobeats, Arabic and African hip hop, and Brazilian bass.

Pandemic has also turned up the volume at the Three Rivers Arts Festival, the Carnegie International, the Andy Warhol Museum, and the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, and is available to light up private parties throughout the region.

Neighborhood News

Woolslair Elementary Moving Full STEAM Ahead

By Dave Breingan, Lawrenceville United

A year ago, the future of Woolslair Elementary was uncertain. Pittsburgh Public Schools had recommended closing it, and although the school board rescinded the closure, parents and staff worried that this was only a temporary situation.

Today, the outlook for the school is much brighter. Beginning in the 2015-2016 school year, Woolslair will be a partial magnet school with a new curriculum focused on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math), which emphasizes hands-on learning and uses different disciplines to complete projects related to real-world issues.

Woolslair combined

This new vision for the school came from a grassroots effort made up of Woolslair parents, staff, and community members, who planned for months and then successfully lobbied the school board to approve their plan.

“We really all came together to decide what we wanted the future of this school to look like in the long-term,” says Valerie Allman, a Woolslair parent who was active in the planning and attended professional development alongside teachers during the summer to get educated on STEAM curricula.

Parents with kids approaching kindergarten age seem just as excited about the new vision. “STEAM is the future,” says Amber Thompson, a Manchester resident whose daughter is starting kindergarten at Woolslair next year. “Our kids need to be well-rounded if they’re going to be prepared for the 21st century.”

Ms. Thompson says she was also drawn to the culture of the school. “It seems like Woolslair is a real community, and the supports are there for the children.”

Although changes to the curriculum won’t begin until next school year, Woolslair teachers have already implemented an afterschool club teaching Scratch, a tool that allows students to learn the basics of computer programming by building their own video games and animations, in partnership with the Sprout Fund’s Digital Corps. Students are also building and programming robots, and the club recently held a special three-hour session to host the National STEM Video Game Challenge Tour, where Woolslair students had the chance to compete against other kids across the nation.

Next year, all students in grades K-2 will receive the new STEAM programming, and an additional grade level will be added each year. Families residing in Bloomfield, Lower Lawrenceville, Friendship, Polish Hill, and the Strip District still have automatic entrance to the school. City residents outside these neighborhoods can also apply through the magnet process. Spots are still available. For more information or to enroll, please contact Woolslair at (412) 529-8800.

Neighborhood News

An alluring proposition

By Carol Fryday, Bloomfield Development Corporation

Ellen Levick 1
Ellen Levick models one of her own designs, a net vest which comes in several colors and complements a number of her other pieces.

It’s a cold, grey February day on Liberty Avenue, but you only have to step inside Allure, Ellen Levick’s warm and inviting boutique, to see the world in bold, bright technicolor.

For over twenty-three years, this Pittsburgh artist has curated a multi-colored, multi-textured, and multi-cultural collection of women’s apparel at her storefront in Bloomfield.

Levick, a petite blond with a pedigree that includes Fine Art degrees from both Seton Hill and Carnegie-Mellon Universities, enjoys dressing in  clothing from her own collection. Today she greets customers in black leggings overlaid with an asymmetrical yellow net vest and bright, lemon-colored boots—apparel not likely to be found at the local mall.

Ellen Levick 4

Though Levick points out that chain stores serve a purpose, she is interested in helping women develop their own, unique style. To that end, she infuses her shop with inventive displays designed to inspire, arranging richly woven textiles with patterned purses, bold belts, and her own, one-of-a-kind jewelry, wall art, and sculpture.Ellen Levick 6

Given that Levick’s wares are designed to both fit and flatter a variety of shapes and sizes, she has acquired a devoted clientele, regularly shipping goods pictured on her store’s Facebook page to customers across the country. This repeat business may also have something to do with her philosophy of “carrying pieces that are ultimately practical because they can be worn worn in a variety of situations.”

When Kathy Greene of Mt. Lebanon emerged from the dressing room in a long, black skirt with a leopard-print waistband, Levick showed how it could be dressed down during the day, with a t-shirt and jean jacket, or dressed up for evenings out with a camisole and shear blouse.Ellen Levick

Ellen Levick 5Levick’s eclectic taste is derived from a broad and diverse range of sources. She has traveled extensively, spending time in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Tanzania; and for three years, lived in the Middle East where she was drawn to the colorful outdoor bazaars where vendors loudly hawked everything from live chickens to handmade rugs.

Though it may seem a bit of a leap, Levick ended our conversation with a brief description of how her work has been impacted by Quantum Physics, the repetitive and infinite patterns found in fractals, and the theory that all physical aspects of the universe are interconnected.

Thus, Levick provides an environment where her clientele has an opportunity to see that contrasts in textures, colors, and shapes are integral part of the whole. It is this sense of wholeness that Levick seeks to both partake of and to impart, making a visit to her shop an Alluring proposition.

Neighborhood News

Allegheny Health Network Market Wrap Up

By The Employees of West Penn Hospital 

As the first year of the Bloomfield Saturday Market concludes, we would like to take this opportunity to thank the Bloomfield Development Corporation for their vision and hard work in hosting this impressive 23-week community event.  At Allegheny Health Network, we share your vision to invest in the health and wellbeing of the communities we serve.

By partnering with the local farmers and entrepreneurs, you have highlighted the direct correlation between good health and healthy lifestyle behaviors, such as managing stress, engaging in regular physical activity, and eating a healthy, well-balanced diet.  By showcasing these neighborhood vendors, you have increased the community’s awareness for the many benefits – both health and financial – of eating fresh, locally grown and produced foods.

At West Penn Hospital, we are your friends and neighbors.  We are committed to providing you with first class healthcare, at an affordable price, with the award-winning, nationally-recognized care you deserve.  It has been our honor to sponsor and attend your Market each week, sharing the many high quality resources and skilled medical professionals right at your fingertips.  We salute the BDC on the Market’s rousing success and look forward to partnering with you again!

Neighborhood News

Bloomfield Saturday Market Ends on a High Note

hugging-heaterThe weather was gloomy but spirits ran high last Saturday at the last Bloomfield Saturday Market of 2014. 6 large rented heaters gave everyone in attendance a chance to warm up, particularly our volunteers and vendors who soldiered through 5 hours or more outside.

We went out with a bang, our attendance hitting 755 and the children’s activities of pumpkin ring toss and cookie decorating a big hit. Brad Yoder played for more than three hours in the wind, drizzle, and cold, thoroughly bundled up. Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank’s Harvest for the Hungry collected 175 pounds of food that we took to Pittsburgh Aids Task Force after the Market, most of which was already distributed three days later.

The outpouring of support this year from volunteers, neighbors, business owners, sponsors, West Penn Hospital, and the larger community, has been overwhelming. If you haven’t yet, please share your ideas for next year with bloomfield-market-vendorChristina Howell, Market Manager, at

The Bloomfield Development Corporation tips our hat to everyone who helped make the first season of the Bloomfield Saturday Market an incredible success.

Thank you, and we’ll see you at the Market in May 2015!