by Meg Fair
Pittsburgh Current Managing Editor
The Spirit Summer Recess is a day-long experience of music, art, food and community. The smells from local food vendors waft around, the sounds of laughter and music dance off the patio and into the streets. In its fourth year, the party still has the same mission: bring together the best things in life: music, food and each other.
“It’s tough to describe the energy, because it’s a 14-hour event that kind of runs the gamut,” explains Spirit co-owner Tom Barr. “It starts out almost wholesome, and kind of always ends on a surreal vibe, with a healthy dose of chaos in between…It’s pretty beautiful and very much a reflection of Spirit’s M.O. actually. There’s a little bit for everybody.”
Before the existence of Spirit, Barr threw an event called the Bushwick Block Party in Brooklyn. Co-owners Jeff Ryan and Barr worked together at the time at the New York-based pizza shop, Roberta’s, and co-owner Leigh Yock would visit from Pittsburgh to hang out for the party. So when Barr, Ryan and Yock opened Spirit, an annual outdoor party was a must.
Spirit Summer Recess began four years ago, and the event has grown considerably. It still features live music and mural paintings, but now there are more vendors and moving parts. This year the street will be blocked off and the main outdoor stage moved to 51st Street.
The event features 18 bands and dance parties like italo disco/ new wave/ post punk spinners Jellyfish, and the Make Sure You Have Fun dance tent. Picking the bands is very much a team effort between Yock, Barr, general manager Justin Strong and the staff of Spirit. As a result, the genres include everything from pop (Bjordan) to psychedelic rock (Astrology Now) to post hardcore (edhochuli), hip hop (Benji) and beyond. There’s even a ska band on the lineup. That diverse charcuterie of sounds is very reflective of the taste of Pittsburgh’s incredibly varied music community.
In addition to treats for the ears, live Spirit Walls mural painting will satisfy the eyes of attendees. This year’s artists include Danny Devine, Wavy Wednesday, Meg Shalonis, Shane Pilster, Aaron Regal and Bowen Schmitt. It’s a crop of artists curated by Brian Gonnella, who this year wanted to shine a light on local talent specifically.
Since the inception of the event, the team at Spirit has been working tirelessly to manage a well-oiled party machine. But there are new challenges too.
“A lot of production logistics have been dialed in, like power needs and permitting which makes for less stress, but things like changing diapers, stomach ulcers and lower alcohol tolerances have stepped in to even the playing field,” says Barr.
Although things continue to grow and change with Summer Recess, some things stay the same.
“Things that have been consistent and that we can always count on, Leigh [Yock] will lose her cellphone at some point during the event, Jeff will sleep in his car, and I will undoubtedly have to work brunch the next morning,” says Barr.