Legends emerge in Hillman Library

By Jordan Streussnig

There’s a new venue in town, and it’s right on Pitt’s campus.

A… There’s a new venue in town, and it’s right on Pitt’s campus.

A recent collaboration between Pittsburgh’s folk music society Calliope and Hillman Library will transform Cup & Chaucer Café into a folk music venue once or twice per month.

The quiet concerts are part of the Emerging Legends Series, which is the brainchild of University librarian Rush Miller. The series facilitates performances by local folk musicians in the Cup & Chaucer Café, located on the ground floor of Hillman Library.

“The Hillman Library is a perfect setting for this series in that a large part of Calliope’s mission is to educate the public about traditional music, and presenting the series in an academic environment — both at the University and in a library setting — compliments the series perfectly,” Patricia Tanner, executive director of Calliope, said.

Miller said the idea to create some sort of music program has been brewing in his head since Cup & Chaucer was added to the library eight years ago.

As a board member of Calliope, Miller proposed the idea to Tanner, and then the idea took off.

“I think it’s great to have all these wonderful performers for people to enjoy free of charge. These same musicians are playing in concerts not free to the public,” Miller said. “The whole goal of the program is just to make the café more welcoming, not so quiet and boring.”

But students don’t have to worry about the performances interrupting their studies.

“We want to provide casual background music, not to be thought of as necessarily a concert, that people can listen to as they come and go.” Miller said.

Miller also mentioned plans to renovate the café this summer to create a more music-friendly setting with a bit more space for listeners.

“I think we will attract more people when the renovations are complete, and I want to expand the program, start to include more genres of music,” he said. “Everything from classical to who-knows-what … but it can’t be too loud.”

This past week, Pitt chemistry professor Steve Weber and Pitt English professor Phil Smith rocked Cup & Chaucer with their own stylings of some classic folk tunes.

The duo did a Bob Dylan cover and gave renditions of older songs such as “Duncan and Brady” that are so steeped in tradition that they have no known original artist.

Smith and Weber also played “One Meatball,” originally performed in the 1930s by Josh White. The song details the despair of one man so poor he went to a restaurant asking only for what he could afford: one meatball.

Tanner asked Weber and Smith, members of the board of directors at Calliope, to play last January at Cup & Chaucer.

Though they had known each other for a while, the two musicians had not joined forces as a consistently performing duo. Weber is a member of another band, the Monongahela Sheiks, and Smith, Smokestack Lightning.

The first show was such a success that Weber and Smith were asked to return to the café — an invitation that propelled them to continue practicing together.

“I like the idea of creating social space within the library. It makes the library a more interesting environment for thoughtful activity,” Weber said.

Though perhaps not in agreement about the most interesting subject matter academically, Smith and Weber can come to terms on one thing — that the tradition of folk music is alive and well in Pittsburgh, and they each hope to do his part in keeping it that way.

“I became interested in folk music during the ’60s. We all liked rock ’n’ roll, but there was something stupid and commercial about it,” Smith said. “Folk music is very socially conscious and thoughtful, and during the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam, this music seemed to address itself in socially aware ways.

“The artists,” he said, “were sort of generational models.”

The Wreckids will perform the next show at Cup & Chaucer Wednesday, April 14, from 6 to 7 p.m.