Arts & Culture

Arts and culture reporting from 90.5 WESA.                    Sign up for our weekly eNews

Ah, coffee.  The magical beverage that makes us all feel more human by 9 AM. What would we do without it? Grab your mug and settle in for a very buzz-worthy Social Club.  

Matt Gebis of Espresso a Mano in Lawrenceville joins Rachel and Josh to share his journey into owning his own business, explains why he doesn’t sweat Starbucks as competition, and instructs us on how to brew the most delicious hot (and cold!) cup of coffee at home.

Also happening this weekend:
Carnegie Science Center 21+ Night

Ginny / Flickr

The new food documentary The Search for General Tso takes viewers on a gastronomic journey. The film’s producer is New York Times writer and Splendid Table guest host Jennifer 8. Lee. She’ll clue us in on the origins of General Tso’s chicken and other Chinese dishes that enjoy worldwide popularity.


Lee talks about the origin of General Tso’s Chicken :

“ All evidence points to the fact that the general never actually ate the chicken dish. There was a chef in Taiwan in the 1950’s that created it at a banquet for the nationalist government. The chef himself was from the Hunan province, which is where the general [General Tso] is from… so he named the dish in the general’s honor. That dish came to the United States, but the dish we eat today no way resembles the dish that he cooked.”

This weekend will mark the launch of a new program celebrating Pittsburgh’s jazz history. Steel City Grooves: Celebrating Western Pennsylvania Jazz will chronicle the past, present and future of jazz in Pittsburgh. Joining us for a preview of this Senator John Heinz History Center Volunteer Ambassador Program is WESA jazz host Bob Studebaker.

Bob Studebaker gives us a taste of what to expect:

Rob Rogers / Post-Gazette

In the aftermath of the shooting deaths of 12 people at a satirical weekly in Paris, what concerns does this tragic event raise for political cartoonists here at home? Award-winning political cartoonist Rob Rogers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Randy Bish, editorial cartoonist for the Tribune Review, discuss the Charlie Hebdo attack as an attack on free expression.

Being Busy is So 2015: Social Club, Jan. 9

Jan 8, 2015

Let’s talk about New Years Resolutions.  

Want a new hobby? Sip beer and learn about the brewing process while meeting brewing experts at Pittsburgh Brew N Chew!

Perhaps your goal is to try new things. Schedule a reservation for that so-hip dining spot during Pittsburgh Restaurant Week.

How about the old classic: “This year, I’ll get in shape!” Grab a kettlebell and get ready to pump some iron at a free class at Get Fit at Stout Training Pittsburgh.

Or, maybe you just want to enjoy life a bit more: prepare your best belly laugh for Second City’s N’Ats All Folks show – a comedic act making fun of everything Pittsburgh.

Jennifer Schatten

As the year comes to a close, we’re looking back on our favorite Essential Pittsburgh stories and guests from 2014. Today we’re highlighting some of our favorite author interviews from the year.

To hear the full-length audio for this story, please refer to the original post.

Before Elizabeth Gilbert wrote her best-selling memoir “Eat, Pray, Love” she was known for novels about travel, adventure, and characters that defy convention. Elizabeth came to town for the Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures Monday Night Speaker Series in November to talk about her latest novel, “The Signature of All Things,” and her return to fictional storytelling.

After the success of “Eat, Pray, Love” and “Committed,” she talked about what prompted her to return to writing novels and this one in particular.

“It had been twelve years since I wrote a novel, and I think part of me was a bit afraid that maybe I’d forgotten how to do it, and I wanted to aim high. I felt like I kind of have nothing to lose, so I wanted to write the kind of novel that I love to read.”

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA


As the year comes to a close, we’re looking back on our favorite Essential Pittsburgh stories and guests from 2014. Today we’re highlighting some of our favorite author interviews from the year.

To hear the full-length audio for this story, please refer to the original post.

The success of the Harry Potter books has proven that adults and children can enjoy the same literature. Pittsburgh based author Jonathan Auxier writes books for ages 8 to 14. He’s visited our show a number of times in the past year to review the work of other children’s book authors.

When Auxier first visited our studios back in February, he described his new book “Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes,” featuring a small blind orphan who happens to be the greatest thief who ever lived.

“The book is actually fairly dense on a word level. It’s got very complicated language structure. I was actually working out of a tradition of the eighteenth-century neoclassical writers like Samuel Johnson or Swift or people like that. But the story itself has a very childlike sensibility, and I love mixing that.”

Jacket Design by Eric Fuentecilla
Eric Fuentecilla / Penguin Books

As the year comes to a close, we’re looking back on our favorite Essential Pittsburgh stories and guests from 2014. Today we’re highlighting some of our favorite author interviews from the year.

To hear the full-length audio for this story, please refer to the original post.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow” is a science fiction novel set in Pittsburgh, or rather a full-scale computer simulation of Pittsburgh, created in the aftermath of a terrorist attack that has destroyed the city. The book came out this summer and received good early reviews.

By the time this segment aired, the movie rights had been optioned by Sony Pictures -- an auspicious start to the literary career of cyberpunk author Thomas Sweterlitsch, a long-time Pittsburgher.

Among other things, WESA Morning Edition host Josh Raulerson asked Thomas when he started writing stories.

“I started writing when I was seven -- that’s my earliest notebook I still have. I remember very clearly writing stories about G.I. Joe. I think I was obsessed with the movie “Red Dawn.” So, all my stories were G.I. Joe/”Red Dawn” mashups. So, it’s kind of fun for me to go back because my mom had saved all of these notebooks that I’d filled up over the years, and they were just full of little horror stories that I was writing when I was nine and ten years old.”

Mark Schultz /

As the year comes to a close, we’re looking back on our favorite Essential Pittsburgh stories and guests from 2014. Today we’re highlighting some of our favorite author interviews from the year.

To hear the full-length audio for this story, please refer to the original post.

In 1996 Olympic wrestling gold medalist Dave Schultz was shot to death by John du Pont on the Foxcatcher Farms estate in Pennsylvania. What followed was sensational media coverage and a murder trial. Du Pont was found guilty and died in prison. A movie about these events, called “Foxcatcher,” was recently released in theaters. It’s based on a new book by Schultz’s brother and fellow gold medalist Mark Schultz.

We spoke with Mark Schultz in November about the true story behind his brother’s murder. Schultz explained to us that although he and his brother were Olympic medalists, they were still struggling to make ends meet, and that’s how they first got connected with millionaire philanthropist John Du Pont.

“He was the opposite of a coach; he was a bad example. We coached him! He was the biggest loser on earth, but he just inherited all of this money, and he was the only guy in the country willing to pay us to just compete. And with Title IV wiping out all the men’s wrestling programs, he was the only game in town.”

The Carnegie Museum of Natural History has some 22 million objects and specimens relating to the history of life on Earth.

Starting in 2015, Stephen Tonsor will take over as director of science and research. He will also head the museum’s Center for Biodiversity and Ecosystems.

Fear not, Pittsburgh: Josh and Rachel have your New Year's Eve all planned out in the final Social Club of 2014.

Tired of bar hopping and over deafening club music? The Social Club proposes an evening of exclusive Pittsburgh parties; including Round Corner Cantina’s No Mames Party, a Post-Apocalyptic 3014 Bash (yes, 3014) at The Cloak Room, and a Ball Drop Bash at Brillobox.

Classic options like Highmark First Night in Downtown Pittsburgh and the Gateway Clipper Cruise are discussed, as well as a kid-friendly daytime celebration Noon Year’s Eve at the Pittsburgh Zoo. 

NPR Host Interviews in 2014: David Greene Reflects on Russia

Dec 23, 2014
David Gilkey / NPR

As the year comes to a close, we’re looking back on our favorite Essential Pittsburgh stories and guests from 2014. Today we’re highlighting some of our favorite interviews with NPR personalities.

To hear the full-length audio for this story, please refer to the original post.

In November of this year, NPR Morning Edition host and former Moscow bureau chief David Greene came to Pittsburgh for a member event co-sponsored by 90.5 WESA and the World Affairs Council titled “Reflections on Russia.”

Many of those reflections were included in his new book "Midnight in Siberia," about a train journey into the heart of Russia. He joined us by phone from Washington D.C. to talk about what inspired his book.

NPR Host Interviews in 2014: Michele Norris Eavesdrops on Race

Dec 23, 2014
Michele Norris / Shoxclix

As the year comes to a close, we’re looking back on our favorite Essential Pittsburgh stories and guests from 2014. Today we’re highlighting some of our favorite interviews with NPR personalities.

To hear the full-length audio for this story, please refer to the original post.

Last October, award-winning NPR journalist and former All Things Considered co-host Michele Norris gave a talk entitled “Eavesdropping on America’s Conversation on Race” in conjunction with the exhibit “Race: Are We So Different?” at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

In 2010, Ms. Norris released her first book, The Grace of Silence: A Memoir, which focuses on how America talked about race in the wake of Barack Obama’s presidential election and explores her own family’s racial legacy. She is currently a host and special correspondent for NPR, which inspired her talk.

Ben McLeod / Flickr

As the year comes to a close, we’re looking back on our favorite Essential Pittsburgh stories and guests from 2014. Today we’re highlighting some of our favorite interviews with NPR personalities.

To hear the full-length audio for this story, please refer to the original post.

In November, 90.5 WESA welcomed a new show to the weekend lineup: an hour of storytelling called Snap Judgment. The program is hosted by Glynn Washington, whom the Atlantic referred to in a 2013 article as “the fastest rising public radio star in memory.” Here’s Glynn Washington, explaining why Snap Judgment is called “storytelling with a beat.”

Shaun / Flickr

As the year comes to a close, we’re looking back on 2014 and airing some of the Essential Pittsburgh stories that were most popular on our website,

To hear the full-length audio for this story, take a look at the original web post.

Back in October some folks weren’t quite sure what to make of Pittsburgh’s ascension -- or, descension -- to the final four in America’s ugliest accent tournament, created by the website Gawker. Was this honor a source of pride or a put-down to a certain part of our citizenry?

For those with sensory sensitivities or autism spectrum disorder, a night out at the theater might seem impossible.

But this holiday season, the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre is hosting its second sensory-friendly production of "The Nutcracker," making the performance and venue more accessible.

Your Favorite Holiday Tunes by Request

Dec 19, 2014
Heather McClain / 90.5 WESA

For over thirty years WESA director of internships Kevin Gavin has hosted his All-Request Holiday Music Special. Kevin joins us for a preview of this year's special as well as a look back at Christmases past.

Gavin explains that he first got started airing holiday music in Pittsburgh 38 years ago, when WESA (then WDUQ) general manager Ken Duffy noticed a lack of Christmas music on the airwaves in Pittsburgh. Duffy asked Gavin to play whatever holiday music he could find, and Gavin dug up some holiday record albums and became an impromptu disc jockey.

What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?

Dec 19, 2014
Anthony Quintano / Flickr

With the year coming to a close and holiday celebrations abounding, travel contributor Elaine Labalme stops by with suggestions to help you answer the musical question, "What are you doing New Year's Eve?"

75 Years of the Nestle Chocolate Morsel

Dec 19, 2014
Ana Liza / Flickr

1939 was an important year in American pop culture. Some of the greatest Hollywood movies, including "Gone With the Wind" and the "Wizard of Oz" were released. Lou Gehrig retired and the "World of Tomorrow" World’s Fair opened in New York.

In the annals of baking, the chocolate chip cookie was created at the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts. A key ingredient in this iconic cookie is the Nestle morsel, which turns 75 this year. Roz O’Hearn, Communications & Brand Affairs Director for Nestle, talks about the morsel’s past, present and future.

According to O’Hearn, the chocolate morsel has an “accidental” origin story. Near Boston, a restaurant owner named Ruth Wakefield ran the Toll House Inn. Wakefield smashed a Nestle semisweet chocolate baking bar into small pieces to put into her cookie recipe, creating the first chocolate chip cookies.

Don't be a hero! Heed our sanity-saving holiday tips: intercept and re-gift your kids' presents, keep your sippy cup topped up at all times and phone it in whenever possible.

If you insist on making an effort, here's a taste of the finest last-minute holiday cheer Pittsburgh has to offer:

Market Square Holiday Market

Pittsburgh Symphony Holiday Pops

Courtesy of Slow Danger

Anna Thompson and Taylor Knight, who create both dance and music as Slow Danger, were drawn to each other’s willingness to explore new ways to interact with their art form.

Beginning with dance, they soon began creating their own music for their performances. Knight said it was inevitable for their art to “merge and intersect in that way.”

"The movement and the music, for us, goes hand in hand,” Knight said.

Thompson and Knight said their intention is to present an ambiguous identity that isn’t Anna, isn’t Taylor, but rather “this otherness that we create through.”

Untold Stories behind Holiday Songs

Dec 17, 2014
Pamla J. Eisenberg / Flickr

From “Jingle Bells” to “White Christmas,” many of our most popular holiday songs have interesting stories behind them. Pop culture contributor Joe Wos tells us the stories behind some of our favorite holiday songs.

Wos singles out “Jingle Bells” as possibly the first Christmas pop song. Originally intended as a Thanksgiving song, “Jingle Bells” became a popular drinking song and ultimately became associated with Christmas.

The Story Behind Andy Warhol's 13 Most Wanted

Dec 16, 2014
Courtesy of the Warhol Museum / Twitter

Fifty years ago, the 1964 World’s Fair opened in Queens, New York. The organizers commissioned work from Andy Warhol, to be displayed on the facade of the New York State Pavilion, one of the fair’s main venues. 

According to Jessica Beck, assistant curator at The Warhol Museum, the NY World's Fair was all about “Peace through understanding, and man’s place in this changing and shrinking world.” 

She says it was meant to be a family-friendly attraction. 

But at that time, Andy Warhol was still experimenting with pop art, and growing in notoriety. For his commissioned work, Warhol created “Thirteen Most Wanted Men,” a mural composed of 22 head-and-shoulder mug shots taken from a booklet created by the New York City Police Department with images of the most wanted criminals of 1962. The painting, unsurprisingly, caused a scandal. 

Rusty Stewart / Flickr

What impact could last month’s US elections, as well as the upcoming elections in Israel have on that region? 

We pose that question to our guest, J Street Chief-of-Staff Steve Krubiner, as he prepares for a discussion on the US-Israel relationship and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Find out why he's advocating for a two-state solution.

A New Venue For Storytelling in Pittsburgh

Dec 15, 2014
Lisa Kirchner

Chicago has its 2nd Story, Baltimore has the Stoop and public radio has The Moth. They’re all storytelling series where everyday citizens relate a true-life story.

The Pittsburgh Story Syndicate became the latest venue for people to connect and share their stories after holding several events in the city earlier this month. Bringing her storytelling skills back to Pittsburgh was author Lisa Kirchner who joined us in Studio A to discuss her creation.

Kirchner, who lives in New York City, was involved with the Moth as a story coach and traveled to places such as schools and rehab centers to encourage people to share their stories.

“To be able to tell your story is a way to connect more deeply with other humans… going onstage can be a lot of fun and a great motivator of people to hone their skills,” she said.

On Mondays at Cannon Coffee in Brookline, all participants put their name into a hat. When a name is drawn, that person comes up on stage and has five minutes to tell a true story- with a beginning, middle, and end. Other than that, Kirchner says there are no rules.

As the holidays approach, this week there’s a guest on tap for the Social Club: Vito Gerasole of Natrona Bottling Company and Girasole in Shadyside joins Yelp’s Rachel and 90.5 WESA’s Josh. He stops by to answer some pressing questions. For instance, is it soda or pop? Listen in for why, “Josh doesn’t give presents for his kids! He’s a Grinch.”

This weekend’s events:

Neighborhood Flea at the Pittsburgh Public Market

Superfriends Holiday Market: 12 Days Until Christmas

How Media Coverage of Sexual Assault Could Be Improved

Dec 11, 2014
Bob Mical / Flickr

In November, Rolling Stone published a story about an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia, relying on the account of the victim. 

The magazine later apologized to readers, revealing it believed her story contained inaccuracies. We'll discuss the most recent developments with Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Tony Norman and Jeff Ritter, Communications Department Chair at La Roche College.

Finding Winter Warmth in a Bed and Breakfast Getaway

Dec 11, 2014
Jon-Mark Davey / Flickr

Looking for a way to de-stress from the holidays? Travel contributor Elaine Labalme suggests some bed and breakfast getaways in the Commonwealth. 

Local Perspectives on Celebrity Scandal and Damage Control

Dec 8, 2014
Dave / Flickr

Long considered one of America’s most beloved comedians, Bill Cosby is scheduled to perform in Pittsburgh this coming February. However, Cosby has been receiving a lot of negative press lately for allegations of sexual misconduct.

He is the latest in a long line of childhood heroes and lovable icons mired in scandal.

Pop culture contributor Joe Wos shared a brief history of celebrity scandal, from 1920’s silent movie actor Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, to kiddie-show icons Paul Reubens, known by many as Pee-wee Herman and Kevin Clash, who played Elmo on Sesame Street for almost 30 years.

Wos says Reubens is a great example of someone who managed to turn his negative public image around after the scandal broke. He says that’s partially because Reubens’ crime was victimless.

But for celebrities like Cosby, who portray themselves on TV and in real life, as having a higher moral standing, Wos says when those people fall from grace, “I hate to say that there’s some enjoyment in it but there is a sense that he was put in his place. When you set yourself up to lead by example, you better be Mr. Rogers.”

Damage Control

Considering the media’s obsession with the cult of celebrity and scandal, is it any wonder that American TV viewers have become obsessed with the ABC drama “Scandal”? Millions watch Olivia Pope “handle” and “fix” the reputations and images of high profile clients each Thursday night.

But in real life what does it take to repair one’s image after falling from grace?

Two Pittsburgh organizations known for their sometimes controversial art installations are teaming up to talk about the First Amendment.

Conflict Kitchen in Schenley Plaza and the Mattress Factory on the North Side are hosting a panel discussion Tuesday on the challenges artists face when creating and presenting work inspired by the relationship between Palestine, Israel and the United States.