At the intersection of 8th Street and Penn Avenue in Downtown Pittsburgh’s Cultural District, more than 100 people gather at a new green space featuring free jazz music, activities and food. The Backyard is a calm, laid-back environment amongst the industrial city for people of all ages to come together, relax and enjoy until September 27.
The Backyard at 8th and Penn, a project by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, made its debut this summer and is open to the public every Tuesday through Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. The Trust is a nonprofit arts organization dedicated to the cultural and economic development of the Cultural District.
More than 100 people gathered in The Backyard on Tuesday evening to listen to Reggie Watkins Quartet With Orrin Evans. The performance was part of BNY Mellon’s JazzLive series that occurs every Tuesday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the Backyard. The series features performances on the Backyard stage from the region’s jazz musicians.
Mattie Woods, a Penn Hills resident, said she attends the Backyard regularly because she loves that the space includes 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 the sky, the new and the old and the creative, and all of the things all in one,” Woods said. “There are friends, people that we’ve come to know. We’ve been coming for weeks, and there are other folks we’ve known for years, but it’s just nice to come together as a community. And music brings us together — for diverse groups it brings them together.”
The location showcases local and global musicians, artists and performers, and free activities such as outdoor yoga. The space also features food trucks, a mobile bar, patio furniture, yard games and an Ecograss landscape to resemble a backyard environment. Art projects and installations decorate the space, such as the Sparkly Clean colorful bubble mural, the Pittsburgh Creative Corps Gallery and Pyramid XL Sphere.
Woods said she and her husband love jazz music, and they enjoy visiting the Backyard for the weekly performances because it allows them to relax and connect with others.
“We are people that are always out and about, and music is so important to us. We love jazz, so this is one of the things that we participate in,” Woods said. “There’s something about people who like music and jazz — it’s really a culture of its own, and most people that come are relaxed people, they like intermingling with other folks. We have conversation while quietly taking in the beauty around us.”
Woods said having a backyard-like space in the midst of the city is important as it can hold a deeper meaning of community.
“Backyard means a lot of things. It means family, it means great conversation, hearing music, the sun shining, the fresh breeze,” Woods said. “For people coming from work, it’s an important factor to relax and to just be at peace.”
Abdur-Rahman Shareef, another regular attendee of the JazzLive performances every Tuesday, said the Backyard is a great space for enjoying all kinds of music and outdoor events.
“I love outdoor concerts. I love live music, and down here The Backyard is a very nice setup, they got the grass, right where it’s at is a perfect location. I’ve been very fortunate, and it’s free too. You can’t beat free,” Shareef said. “I just love outdoor venues, outdoor festivals, live music, the fresh air, especially at night downtown in Pittsburgh in the 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 spread awareness of the culture and art scene in Pittsburgh.
“The arts are such a vital part of the life plug of any city, and to support that effort is really important for all of us,” Bell explained. “For one, you’re supporting a worthy effort, two, you might just learn something, have an enriching experience, you might just have a lot of fun. For the time that a Pitt student is here in the city, it’s just really important to support the efforts of those who are providing arts and culture.”
Bell said she is passionate about JazzLive series’ efforts to embrace Pittsburgh jazz history, and organizing performances at the Backyard to bring jazz lovers together.
“Pittsburgh has such a rich history and legacy of jazz. It has cultural importance and significance, it’s got musical significance — it’s an art form that needs to be paid attention to,” Bell said. “It needs to be celebrated and appreciated, and us having this vehicle every week is amazing because we have so many musicians.”
Bell explained that the Backyard is just one of the new features introduced to the Cultural District in order to support art and culture and bring people together to thrive as a community.
“To see this space reimagined in this way and to program this music every week and see people enjoying it, it’s just such a bright spot in the Cultural District,” Bell said. “To see it reimagined and to see where its coming from, its less-than-humble beginnings into this world-class entertainment center that it has become, serving not just Pittsburgh but the entire Pittsburgh region. It’s something I’m really proud to be associated with.”