Saturday, December 5, 2015

DARE TO BE DIFFERENT - STILL DARING

Hello New York, Hello Pittsburgh and everywhere else, I'm bird and you're in the Birdcage! Yes, after all these years there are still people daring to be different. What we started all those years ago is still having an impact today. Let me tell you what I'm talking about.........



On November 28th, 2015 at the STAGE AE in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, listeners, musicians and the original disc jockey's of Pittsburgh's WXXP 100.7 gathered to celebrate 30 years of the impact the station had on the city's music scene and economy. The city's current mayor, Bill Peduto had declared the day WXXP day (same as last time) and not only attended but he gave a speech that showed he was not just a listener.....he understood exactly what we tried to do and the impact it had on the Pittsburgh music community. Meeting the Mayor was one of the highlights of my trip. I don't know his politics but I can tell you he loves his city and understands what I have always known about the place. The people are great Americans. They are part of the heart and soul of this country and I learned so much from them.

Back in 1985, the owner of WLIR 92.7 in NY (the station I worked at) bought a station in Pittsburgh. Located in a little town called Millvale, the AC format at 100.7 was barely registering in the ratings that were dominated by the AM giant KDKA, the AOR WDVE and the top 40 station B 94. They had the most ratings and influence in the market by far. But, to the credit of the local music scene, the stage was set for someone to come in and tap into a small but passionate base of creative people who just needed a little push to get the scene to grow. That's where I come in.

I was asked to take the music director position, do a daily show and help shape and sell a hybrid version of what we were doing at the World famous WLIR. Because of my Rock & Roll background and my passion for the "New Music" we played it was like a perfect dream come true. WXXP was born and had launched the format change before I arrived so a lot of work had already been done. But there was so much more to do.

I won't bore you with all the details of the behind the scenes work that went into shaping what became WXXP and it's format but there is one element that I believe was THE SINGLE reason why WXXP still influences the Pittsburgh music scene. We listened to and then played local bands. Not just on an hour show buried in some crappy once a week time slot. We gave them the same treatment as any other good new band got. In addition we also featured a weekly show where local bands were played if they weren't ready for regular rotation. This was the fuse we lit on a scene that was primed to explode, and explode it did! I never understood why it took out of town-ers to get that party started but I was happy to play a roll. Many of the pieces were in place...venues, record stores, clothing boutiques and the musicians themselves were all there. 

It's my belief that the combination of bringing a new music format together with a strong local band scene is why so many are still influenced by the very brief existence of WXXP. The connection between the station and it's listeners quickly became a bond that remains to this day. With that in mind, allow me to tell you my story of the WXXP reunion  that took place at Stage AE on 11/28/2015.

10 years ago we gathered on Carson Street at the Rex Theater for two nights of WXXP music. It was a huge success and a ton of fun. There was a second show in 2007 at the same place. But when Paul Cramer (WXXP DJ and operator of WXXP.com complete with a web radio station) and Rod Swartz (Bass player of the 11th Hour and Generation XX) began to put this together it was decided to do one night at a bigger place. Stage AE is located between the Football stadium and the Baseball stadium in the city. It's a great place to see or play a show.


Iron City beer is still a fave of mine!

I flew in on Friday the 27th and set out for some food and memories. Once again I made the trip from the airport and when I went through the Ft Pitt tunnel and saw the city lights as I exited I was taken back 30 years. What a beautiful sight. We decided to hit Carson street and Bob Studebaker with his lady joined us for a good meal and some stories. We then hit a place called the Lava Lounge which has an eighties themed night in progress. Most if not all the songs played were WXXP staples. I was able to meet some of the musicians from Seven Color Sky, the band who would open the show the following night. Even my bartender was going to be attending. It was a real fun night filled with great memories and a few adult beverages. We headed back to the hotel which was only two blocks from the venue. The next day was already here and the real fun was still ahead of us.

I woke up early and grabbed a coffee before heading out for a walk and a smoke. The overcast skies seemed typical but the warmer temps were a welcome surprise. I walked out towards the river where the city has various monuments I wanted to see. I saved that for a little later but I was already feeling the excitement of the day. I returned to the hotel and we had breakfast. Then it was time to walk it off. With a drizzle of rain coming down we dodged the goose poop and walked along the river. We visited both stadiums as well as the various war memorials that dotted the riverside. Pittsburgh has always played a large role in the history of our country and the monuments told the various stories of those who had served and the roles they played. In addition, the sports hero's are well represented with street names and statues. Even the great Honus Wagner is on display. I had just enough time to get a nap in and then prepare for a 3:00 sound check. Then it was off to Stage AE for my first look at the place from the inside.

The place itself is fantastic. The first floor is quite large with plenty of space for concert goers. There is a bar so no worries there. Even the bathrooms were plentiful and clean. The sound system and the staff were beyond my expectations.......very professional and the high end equipment was used with expertise. As the various musicians took turns getting set up and tuned I had the chance to catch up with a few guys whom I had befriended all those years ago. Paul Cramer was beginning his marathon night by loading in a bunch of stuff and worrying about all the details he hoped to fix or finish. One can't say enough good things about the time and effort Paul put into this show. We all owe him our gratitude for his tireless work. I had met my buddy Duncan at the hotel and he, who is often overlooked in the WXXP story sat in the balcony as I walked the place and got a feel for it and the stage. If the sound check was any indication we were in for a great night! Then I did my part, not very well I might add but at least I remembered all the words. I was maybe at 65% as I didn't want to blow out my already weakened voice. It was time to return to the hotel and get ready for the show.

I had noticed all the parking lots in the area filling up and thought to myself, wow.....there are a lot of XX fans and they sure are early. Funny, there was the State High School football championships at Heinz Field. Thousands of locals were pouring into the area for several games that took place throughout the day and night. That too added to my excitement, it amplified the buzz around the entire area. Finally it was time to get to the venue. I didn't want to miss anything.

After arriving and checking into the XX DJ dressing room, other XX DJs began to arrive. What great fun seeing people I hadn't seen in ten years. We began to reminisce about our time together and swapped a few stories. We really did have a great staff and it was nice to see that my former co-workers were as excited as I was. The fist band went on as the place continued to fill and the night was off and running. Everything after that happened so damned fast I can hardly remember all of it. I had a chance to intro the Generation XX band and had way too much fun talking to the fans who had shown up. I'm told I asked the city to make love. Hey, I was having fun and so were they!

The outstanding performances were too numerous for me to describe in detail but a few highlights are in order. The Affordable Floors probably had the biggest benefit from their WXXP airplay and to this day has quite a loyal fanbase. Their fans cheered with delight as the Floors payed their set. Chris Theoret who fronted the Sponges (and owns the Rex Theater) did a version of Bowie and Queens Under Pressure that was just magnificent. I introduced the RE 52s who killed it and so many of Pittsburgh's finest took their turns delighting the audience. I would have been happy to just be there let alone be part of it.

Then the XX DJs were introduced and I had the privilege of standing on stage with these wonderful people one more time. We came from all over to say thanks to all those listeners who still care even though our last broadcast was back in 1987.  I an so honored to be a part of something we did that still means something decades later. It really is a special feeling to know that the work we did was appreciated by so many and continues to be a part of so many peoples lives today. I can't thank my fellow DJs enough for their hard work and for their time and effort to attend. Some traveled from even greater distances than the 1125 miles that I traveled. I'm quite sure they had as much fun as I did.

Being the ham I am I just couldn't let an opportunity get away so once again Rod and I had discussed me singing with the band. I had a three song set that I had worked on but trying to get all the musicians to learn and rehearse three songs on top of the 70 plus songs they had already scheduled was not to be. So we decided it would be easy to just do U2's I Will Follow as I had ten years ago. Sure, I would have really enjoyed the set I had in mind but this was still a chance at having some fun and I don't get a 1500 plus audience to perform for these days so I was happy to get any song at all!

I was always one that incorporated current events into a show and this night would be no different. I had thought about a few things I wanted to shed light on and hell, they gave me a mic and turned it on. First, I felt the need to express my thanks to the local bands so I took a lyric from a song by the S.P.U.D.S. an inserted it into I will follow. I hope that message was received. Second, Joey Ramone called me for a live interview on WXXP during my first week on the air and that helped give me some credibility with the listeners. Joan Jett did the same. I get to say thanks to Joan every so often. Joey is gone. So, the shirt was to say thanks to Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee. I am tied to the World Famous Ramones in so many different ways and they deserve to be honored. So I had thought about that a bit. The Human League who had played Pittsburgh first in the US had a song I loved, Things That Dreams Are Made Of. It all kinda made sense in my mind, so I get where all that came from.

The opening just came out.

".......two weeks ago some bad guys shot up a place just like this, the first shots on music in this war on terrorism...... forcing U2 to cancel two shows in Paris. They've since been rescheduled because you CAN NOT KILL OUR MUSIC. You can not kill our freedom. This is for Paris,.....this is for Pittsburgh, This is for WXXP, The Station That Dares To Be Different!"

I Will Follow



video

I'm hoping to get audio and video of the show at some point. Until then, this is one of two videos I have. Sorry, I can't film and perform at the same time but if any of you have video or pics, please send them to me. I'd love to have it.

I can't thank the people of Pittsburgh enough for inviting me to take part in this celebration. I truly enjoyed living there and each time I visit it's a treat. Perhaps we will do this again. I promise that if I am able, I'll be there.

----}- Bird 
   

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