Lawrenceville Occupies South Side
…Or dare I saw music community a-la mode? More specifically, Larry-ville’s hipster community and local acoustic group The Grifters occupied OTB recently. While my intentions were to meet up with the other NakYouOut folks and catch a lil’ Thunderbird CafÃ© action, I found myself in the embrace of my dear old friends at OTB Bicycle CafÃ©. Trying to find a place to stand to enjoy the show was difficult, especially since the whole rear room became an impromptu dance floor…but I’ll return to the music and dancing in a second.
It has been said that a good writer always writes from the perspective that the reader is entering the situation blindly and assume the reader knows nothing of the subject, history, or background. So for all of you unfortunate enough to not have visited this gem of the South Side, let me tell you about a lil cafÃ© with a BIG impact on the community. Side note: We also came here during our most recent Beer Run! This place has an award-winning kitchen, a huge vegetarian/vegan menu, and probably one of the best burgers in the world, â€œThe THICK Burgerâ€. OTB was born into Carson St on New Year’s Eve, ushering in the year 2009, which turned out to be a pretty good year for the city, bicyclists, OTB, and acoustic music on Carson Street. The city in 2009 was euphoric. The Steelers finally brought home the one for the thumb, Lord Stanley made his way home to the igloo one last time, and OTB found themselves voted â€œBest New Bar in Pittsburghâ€ by the City Paper and their readers. The city was humming; live music was making its way into new venues weekly.
From the beginning, OTB has always prided themselves on being a vehicle for local community artists to display their work. As soon as you step in the door you cannot mistake the huge artistic presence this place has. You see biking murals on the ceiling, sculptures and impressionistic art hanging on the walls. Some are for sale, as well as around the restaurant for practical uses. So, OTB figured the obvious choice was to add live music. While they had several bands over the first year, their music scene began to form itself when they launched their weekly Wednesday acoustic open mic night in the latter half of the year. It was during one of these open mics is where The Grifters and I first crossed paths. The dating duo was an acoustic guitar and upright bass combo. However, from the first riff it was clear these two had a sound that filled the room greater than that of their numbers. The band was from the up-and-coming neighborhood of Lawrenceville. They were playing various open mics in the South Side, seeking gigs at one of the many new venues offered to local singer/songwriters.
South Side was indeed the â€œmusic Community a-la modeâ€. If you are confused by that statement, no I am not implying venues were serving ice cream covered music. In fact, the term â€œa-la modeâ€ actually means “of fashion”. Prior to Americans scooping ice cream on a slice a pie, it was actually of fashion to melt a piece of cheddar cheese on top of a slice of apple pie…soooo how do you like them apples…a-la mode?!?! Now in music, just like delicious, delicious pie, times they are a changing. Almost two years later, it’s hard to find live acoustic music on Carson Street other than the weekly Acousticafe sessions at Club Cafe. Most of the venues and open mics dissolved when the crowds, hipsters, and music found cheaper rent, drinks, and more welcoming music venues in Lawrenceville. You can find live music there almost nightly – from open mics, to concerts, to even Arsenal Lanes hosting bands several times a week. The bands that previously were searching for work on Carson are now headlining shows at Thunderbird, Hambones, Belvederes, Brillo, etc. Instead of searching for gigs, L-ville musicians and their well traveled fans are becoming a hot commodity and sought as a staple of booking in the South Side.
â€œWe build it then we break it, then we rebuild it bigger…Then we break it, build it bigger, then break it again, then we build it too high and it falls and we sigh, oh we broke it, now let’s build it, back bigger again.” These words from The Grifters’ “Build It Biggerâ€ could not speak any truer of the situation today, be it the economy, politics, or even the aforementioned music scene in Pittsburgh and its recent round robin of hip, music-conscious communities. From the first crack of the door the two piece leaked a familiar folk sound onto Carson’s frozen pavement. As I proceeded through the crowded OTB Bicycle CafÃ© I began to notice the band was in the backroom, but that didn’t limit the crowd’s enjoyment as even patrons seated at the front bar found themselves tapping and hollering along to the funky folk/blues/Americana sounds of The Grifters. In between songs the band was wise enough to appease a drinking crowd with a few well-known covers from such favorites as Dylan, Grateful Dead, and Cash, to name a few. The character of this band, their followers, and proof in how well traveled the Lawrenceville crowd is was the interaction and jubilant singing of choruses of both originals and songs 100 years their senior! Within moments of the first song, it was clear the crowd wanted more, wanted to dance, and this band had come a long way from their open mic debut almost three years prior in the very same venue. The life cycle of trends, music, fashion, and even life itself will always be a cycle, and mankind should be happy. Things that grow withered, stale, and old should be put aside, but put aside with the compassion and knowledge also that one day renaissance awaits it again.