Backyard at 8th & Penn expands arts and music events through September with JazzLive

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At the intersection of 8th Street and Penn Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh cultural district, more than 100 people gather in a new green space featuring free jazz music, activities and food. The backyard is a calm and relaxed environment in the middle of the industrial city for people of all ages to come together, relax and have fun until September 27th.

The Backyard at 8th and Penn, a project by Pittsburgh Cultural Trustdebuted this summer and is open to the public Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. The Trust is a non-profit arts organization dedicated to the cultural and economic development of the Cultural Quarter.

More than 100 people gathered in The Backyard on Tuesday night to listen Reggie Watkins Quartet with Orrin Evans. The performance was part of BNY Mellon’s live jazz series that takes place every Tuesday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the Backyard. The series features performances on the Backyard stage by local jazz musicians.

Mattie Woods, a Penn Hills resident, said she regularly frequents the backyard because she likes the space to include elements of nature and city life. She pointed to the area around the backyard, from the new buildings along 8th to the old buildings along Penn.

“Even sitting here, you get a glimpse of heaven, of new and old and of creativity, and all of it rolled into one,” Woods said. “There are friends, people we have come to know. We’ve been coming for weeks, and there are other people we’ve known for years, but it’s just nice to come together as a community. And music brings us together – for various bands, it brings them together.

The location features local and global musicians, artists, and performers, as well as free activities such as outdoor yoga. The space also includes food trucks, a mobile bar, patio furniture, yard games, and Ecograss landscaping to resemble a backyard environment. Art projects and installations decorate the space, such as the Sparkling clean mural with colored bubbles, the Pittsburgh Creative Body Gallery and XL Pyramid Sphere.

Woods said she and her husband love jazz music and enjoy visiting the Backyard for the weekly performances because it allows them to relax and connect with others.

“We are people who are always on the go, and music is so important to us. We love jazz, so that’s one of the things we’re involved in,” Woods said. “There’s something about people who love music and jazz – it really is a culture in its own right, and most of the people who come are relaxed people, they like to mingle with others. We chat while quietly enjoying the beauty that surrounds us.

Woods said having a backyard-like space in the middle of town is important because it can have a deeper sense of community.

“The garden means many things. It means family, it means great conversation, hearing music, the sun shining, the cool breeze,” Woods said. “For people coming in from work, it’s a big factor in relaxing and just being at peace.”

Abdur-Rahman Shareef, another regular attendee of JazzLive performances every Tuesday, said the Backyard is a great space to enjoy all kinds of music and outdoor events.

“I love outdoor concerts. I love live music, and here The Backyard is a really nice setup, they have the weed, where it is, it’s a perfect place. I was very lucky, and it’s free too. You can’t beat free,” Shareef said. “Love the outdoor venues, outdoor festivals, live music, fresh air, especially at night in downtown Pittsburgh’s cultural district.”

Terri Bell, the Trust’s vice president of strategic partnerships and community engagement and curator of the JazzLive series, said the program began in order to engage the community and raise awareness of Pittsburgh’s cultural and arts scene.

“The arts are such a vital part of any city’s life, and supporting this effort is really important to all of us,” Bell explained. “On the one hand you are supporting a worthy effort, on the other hand you might just learn something, have a rewarding experience, you might just have a lot of fun. For the time a Pitt student is here in the city, it is truly important to support the efforts of those who provide arts and culture.

Bell said she’s passionate about the JazzLive Series’ efforts to embrace Pittsburgh’s jazz history and host performances at the Backyard to bring jazz lovers together.

“Pittsburgh has such a rich jazz history and heritage. It has cultural significance and significance, it has musical significance – it’s an art form to pay attention to,” Bell said. “It should be celebrated and appreciated, and we have this vehicle every week, it’s amazing because we have so many musicians.”

Bell explained that the backyard is just one of the new features being introduced to the cultural district to support art and culture and bring people together to thrive as a community.

“To see this space reimagined in this way and program this music every week and see people enjoying it, it’s such a bright spot in the cultural district,” Bell said. “To see it reinvented and see where it came from, its less than humble beginnings in this world-class entertainment center it has become, serving not just Pittsburgh but the entire Pittsburgh area. It’s something I’m really proud to be associated with.

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