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Pittsburgh Soul Food Festival Expands To Four Days

Like most other annual events, A Soulful Taste of the Burgh took 2020 off. But the Pittsburgh soul-food festival is probably among the few that’s returning as a notably larger in-person event than before the pandemic.

The first Soulful Taste, in 2019, was a one-day affair in Market Square. This year’s second edition is four days long, and will occupy parts of Third and Fourth avenues as well.

Founder and organizer William “B.” Marshall said the growth was warranted partly by the response to the inaugural Soulful Taste, when vendors ran out of food hours before the event ended. “People like food festivals,” he noted succinctly.

But Marshall, whose group Stop the Violence Pittsburgh also produces the city’s big annual Juneteenth celebration, also said he perceives a pent-up demand for social events: “People are trying to get out to have some interaction.”

This year’s Soulful Taste features three dozen Western Pennsylvania vendors of barbecue, chicken and waffles, mac-and-cheese, greens, sweet-potato pie, and other delicacies. Other attractions include live music, arts-and-crafts vendors, and kids’ activities. There’s even a barbecue contest.

The festival also includes an increased focus on the long history of Black entrepreneurs Downtown, especially in the food industry.

One is Benjamin Richards, a Black man who owned a butcher shop on Third in the late 1700s; his son, Charles, owned a tavern called The Negro, said Marshall. In 1838, the Rev. John C. Peck, of Bethel AME Church, opened an oyster house and ice-cream parlor at Third and Wood Street.

“It just inspired me to recognize that area, and that location, and people that did all these great things in the city of Pittsburgh to elevate the level of economic development for Black Americans in Pittsburgh,” Marshall said. “That was during the height of slavery that these guys were flourishing in Downtown Pittsburgh, on Third Avenue and inside Market Square.”

Some Black businesspeople were involved with the Underground Railroad here, including John C. Vashon, who in 1829 opened a bathhouse and barbershop Downtown. At night, the site doubled as a stop on the Railroad, to help Black people who were escaping slavery.

Headliners for the four days of live music include nationally known DJ Kid Capri, touring Michael Jackson tribute band Who’s Band, and Pittsburgh native and touring jazz keyboardist Kevin Howard. Local acts including The Flow Band and Tubby Daniels.

For more information, see the Soulful Taste Facebook page.

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: bodriscoll@wesa.fm