Calliope caters folk concerts at lunchtime

By Larissa Gula

With the opening of the newly renovated Cup & Chaucer comes a weekly musical series catering to folk fans. Calliope Emerging Legends Series

Takes place weekly in the Cup & Chaucer Cafe from noon to 1 p.m.

Free admission

Ronni and Al, today at noon

With the opening of the newly renovated Cup & Chaucer comes a weekly musical series catering to folk fans.

The Cafe in Hillman Library will feature a one-hour performance each week, usually on Fridays. Performances are part of the Emerging Legends series presented by the University of Pittsburgh library system (ULS) and Calliope, a local nonprofit that promotes traditional and contemporary folk music and arts.

Rush Miller, director of the library system, has worked on the board with Calliope for four years. He soon got the idea to bring local musicians to Pitt’s campus through the nonprofit.

“I thought this would be a nice way to combine music with a cafe,” Miller said. “I wanted guitarists or somebody in there to set up atmosphere and make it more inviting and fun to be in.”

The old cafe featured a couple shows in the past, which Miller described as a “win-win.”

“It gave some publicity to acts, including some of our faculty,” he said. “We’ve had fairly well-known people in folk music come through and perform in the Cup & Chaucer.”

The upcoming program is the first in a series titled “Emerging Legends,” featuring artists affiliated with Calliope. Today’s performance is part of the grand re-opening celebration in the remodeled cafe. Future performances will also be one-hour long, unless the program is successful enough to expand to include other forms of art like poetry readings, Miller said.

“Calliope provides us with American roots and folk music,” he said. “We may have some classical ensembles and individual artists.”

Each artist who comes through will help to make the Cup & Chaucer “more than a coffee shop,” Miller said.

“We want to make it an inviting atmosphere to come to in the library,” he said. “The new shop will have a large screen TV in the wall, food, different seating, outlets for laptops. It will just a place to come eat and listen to music. Bring a little culture and something different into the library.”

The first performance is by Ronni and Al, a piano-guitar duo that has played together for about three years. Ronni Weiss plays the piano, but considers herself a stronger vocalist than pianist.

Weiss practiced the piano as a little girl and continued to play at different points in her life. She never played piano or sang to make a living. Instead, she used it as a creative outlet.

“Al, the guitar player, is the main player,” Weiss said. “As far as vocals go, throughout my life, I’ve sung. It’s my passion. It’s just not something I can do without.

“Over the years, I’ve played with different groups. When I was in college I sang with an all women’s group. About 15 years ago, I played with a group of men. We played a blues-rock style. Al and I [play] blues, jazz, [and] folk.”

Weiss met her partner, Al Bowers, after putting an ad on Craigslist.

“We have similar musical tastes. He’s a wonderful guitar player. I pretty much pick the music and do the vocals, and he is able to pick the stuff up really well. So I play a keyboard along,” Weiss said.

Weiss and Bowers play covers rather than compose songs to perform. The covers they do are distinct in that they prefer to cover songs people aren’t likely to recognize. This includes Taj Mahal, Sue Foley and Tracy Nelson.

Though they have done a couple Bob Dylan covers, “the stuff is pretty much older artists who are still recording,” Weiss said.

Bowers was also the one with affiliations with Calliope, Weiss said. He submitted the duo’s CD to the nonprofit after it announced the upcoming series at Pitt. Weiss is familiar with coffee shop environments; it’s where she plays the most. She’s “curious” and hopeful that students will enjoy what the duo brings to campus.

“I think people will recognize some of the music,” she said. “We’ve played to audiences of all ages, so I take that in mind when choosing a set list. We do a number of kinds of songs. Depending on who we’re playing for, I keep in mind who they are. We do have a lot of college students at other venues, too.”

Miller also believes students will enjoy music coming to the cafe.

“The purpose isn’t to bring in other people [to the cafe],” he said. “The idea is to bring interesting music for students who were already at the cafe.”