Bathed in a reddish, pre-sunset glow, the Forbes Digital Plaza attracts a crowd of passers-by investigating the dream pop tunes that can be heard around the corner. It’s an image that feels both distinctly Oakland and refreshing.
Recently, local musicians have utilized the plaza for live concerts. The Jazz Improv Ensemble brought spontaneous jazz funk to the public space on April 30. The day before that, Dave Pirozzi, an incoming senior at Pitt majoring in corporate/community relations, led a small concert at the corner of Forbes Avenue and Bouquet Street.
It is well known that the plaza showcases visual art from local and international artists. Currently on display is a video piece by performance artist Bill Shannon. Diagnosed with Perthes disease at a young age, Shannon’s work resembles interpretative dance while incorporating crutches to his movements.
Shannon performed throughout Oakland — including at the Digital Plaza — on May 5 as part of Ramp Crawl 2017, a benefit organized by Oakland For All that highlights accessibility in public spaces for people with disabilities.
Upcoming showcased artists at the plaza include Dadpranks, a Pittsburgh-based artist collective whose postmodern “pranks” are compiled in a head-scratching Tumblr blog, and Jennifer Meridian, whose collaborative work “The Other Border Wall Proposals” has garnered national attention for suggesting a wall at the border of the United States and Mexico be made out of hammocks or lighthouses.
Now, the plaza is trying to throw another form of art into the mix — music. Pirozzi, lead singer of the Oakland band Pinstripe Sunny, worked with Oakland Business Improvement District — where he interns — and Aaron Henderson, assistant professor of studio arts at Pitt, to organize the event.
“Luckily, we had speakers and enough set up to play full band,” Pirozzi said. “We supplied all the amps/electric instruments/drum set, but Aaron worked with another gentleman to bring the PA system and proper set-up so that our vocals and [keyboardist] could be heard.”
Pirozzi seemed particularly delighted about the atmosphere of the show, which gave any meanderer of Central Oakland something to enjoy between the waning hours of six to eight. Pinstripe Sunny’s dancy, jangly pop rock, able to turn a basement into a dreamy place with ease, converted the highly trafficked outdoor area into an intimate event. With a fixed crowd and the occasional bunch of drifters, Pirozzi guessed there were about 40 to 50 people hanging out in the public space.
“It was so amazing to see everyone come out and support the bands and occupy the Digital Plaza — it really brought it to life,” Pirozzi said. “We played right about at Golden Hour,” referring to the period of the day shortly before sunset, “so everything and everyone were coated in a beautiful sunset, and seeing them all dance was such a mood-lifter.”
Allegra Eidinger, a recent communications graduate from Pitt and musician under the name AllegrA, played a set of her solo work, which is a combination of basement jams and dream pop. Backed by two members of Pinstripe Sunny, she was asked to play at the April 29 show when another band dropped out.
“It was really nice — I think people don’t hang out there at the plaza that much so it gave people a reason to,” Eidinger said.
Eidinger sees the potential for regular shows in the public art space, giving Oakland bands a new venue outside of South Oakland basements.
“If it was a regular occurrence, I think that would be so awesome, especially because there are some bands in Oakland that could use that type of reach,” she said.
Jonathan Winkler, the manager of marketing and communications at OBID, expressed his fervor for more events like these at the Digital Plaza.
“We hope to bring live music to the heart of Oakland’s commercial district as often as possible,” Winkler said.
Even if future plans are still in the making, there is a certain demand for live music in Oakland. Eidinger also mentioned the need for this different type of show in Oakland’s presently small music scene.
“There are people that are in the music scene in Oakland, but they only go to basements to play shows — so you have to know the right people,” Eidinger said. “So I think that playing out in the middle of Forbes was really good for accessibility.”