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More room to move at the Three Rivers Arts Festival

People in a crowd in front of a stage.
Bill O'Driscoll
90.5 WESA
Spectators watch Los Lonely Boys play the festival's main stage this past Saturday.

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This past Saturday, half of Pittsburgh was joking about avoiding Downtown because of a rare convergence of the Three Rivers Arts Festival, Pittsburgh Pride and the Kenny Chesney concert at Acrisure Stadium.

They also could have thrown in local-boy-made-good Jeff Goldblum’s show at the Benedum Center and a Riverhounds game at Highmark Stadium.

I’m guessing some of the quipsters were folks who don’t routinely hit the town anyway.

But in any case, although plenty of people were out Saturday evening around the time you’d expect mutual activity to peak for these events, things on the street seemed … pretty much OK?

I’m sure there were some traffic snags here and there. (When aren’t there, weekends Downtown?) But from the Chesneyite motorboats moored five deep off North Shore Riverfront Park to the folks wearing Pride-flag capes and “Sounds Gay — I’m In” shirts traversing the North Side, everybody I saw seemed to be having a fine time.

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At the arts fest, guests had happily adapted to the event’s new footprint, whose key elements included an expansion onto the Rachel Carson Bridge and a relocation of the main stage, which now sits at Ninth Street, facing downriver and all four lanes of Fort Duquesne Boulevard.

On Saturday, with Texas blues-rock trio Los Lonely Boys headlining, that setup was noticeably more commodious than last year’s, which had the headliners’ stage at Stanwix facing upriver toward just the two inbound lanes, with the outbound lanes still open to traffic. It was serviceable, if a bit cramped.

The new arrangement left room for the couple of hundred people standing in front of the stage to spread comfortably to the right and left of the stage. It also left space, in the outbound lanes facing the stage, for dozens of the most orderly rows of lawn chairs I’ve seen in my three decades of attending the festival. (Admittedly, the event’s traditional home in Point State Park was so sprawling that chairs and picnic blankets could reasonably go most anywhere.)

Meanwhile, booths housing most of the festival’s art-and-craft vendors occupied both inbound and outbound lanes of Fort Duquesne between the audience area and the Clemente Bridge, with a couple dozen more on the Carson Bridge. And there was just one row of booths per two lanes of traffic, so even folks who miss Point State Park would have to admit the new artist market setup beats the old location in Gateway Center, where visitors often had to walk sideways between booths.

There’s plenty more fest to go through Sunday. Artists-market vendors rotate out, so if you visited last weekend you’ll find many new artists starting Wed., June 5. The free festival’s remaining music headliners are Ozomatli (June 5), Say She She (June 6), Doom Flamingo (June 7), Sugarhill Gang & The Furious Five (June 8) and Ben Folds (June 9).

And budget a few minutes for the fest’s annual Juried Visual Art Exhibition, at SPACE Gallery.

With works by just 19 artists, it’s quite a bit smaller than previous years’ shows. But if you worried that this year’s theme, “Furry Friends,” might prompt too much sentimentality, instead think: AJ Evans’ eerie painting of an opossum playing late-night back-porch chess with a skeleton; Don Strange’s family of Creatures from the Black Lagoon assessing their human fishing haul; Lizz Ford’s eloquently eulogistic “Betrayal”; and personality-driven works like Jeff Distefano’s “Oh Comely” and Sandy Kessler Kaminski’s “Neighborhood Watch.” There’s even an artificial-turf-carpeted story corner, complete with a stash of on-theme picture books.

More info on the festival is here.

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: