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BWW Review: PIXELATED Rocks the BITES AND PINTS FESTIVAL at Kennywood Park

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Little by little, Pittsburgh is returning to normal, but live entertainment is still catching up

BWW Review: PIXELATED Rocks the BITES AND PINTS FESTIVAL at Kennywood Park Kennywood's open: a sure sign of summer, and a classic Pittsburgh euphemism for "check your fly." In June of 2021, many of the Pittsburgh institutions I cover regularly are still finding their new normal. St. Vincent Summer Theatre Company is still shuttered, Pittsburgh Public has JUST ended its Zoom-based offerings and moved towards a live-in-person season this fall, and Quantum Theatre's stunning new musical The Current War was offered as both a well-filmed streaming production AND as a somewhat overprotective live socially-distanced production (masks mandatory, separate pods, no eating and drinking allowed). Only Pittsburgh entertainment mainstay Kennywood Park seems entirely unscathed by the recent pandemic... until you look closer.

I'm a native Pittsburgher, and I've spent many happy summer days from childhood on at Pittsburgh's iconic theme park. Naturally, I couldn't miss the chance to attend again, both to see a great live band AND to check out the new Bites and Pints festival (more on that shortly). Immediately, I was awash with nostalgia and summer joy. Everything was there right where I remembered it... except one thing. A normal visit to Kennywood is loud and chaotic and fun, due in no small part to the wide array of theme park entertainers on every corner. Singers, dancer, jugglers, musicians, stilt-walkers, even the seedy charms of "character suit performers." They were rarely the most memorable highlight of a Kennywood visit (Pittsburghers know that the performers often play a much more featured role at Idlewild Park, anyway), but they added something. A touch of more-human magic to the sometimes mechanized wonder of thrill rides. Maybe it's the pandemic, maybe it's the labor shortage, but I'm hoping that by next year bowling pins will be juggled again and energetic medleys will be a cappellaed.

But I digress- let's get to the main event. All throughout June, Kennywood has launched its attempt at an Epcot-style foodie destination challenge. The Bites and Pints festival operates very much like Epcot's "eat around the world" program: multiple national/regional vendors take kiosks around the lagoon with upscale food offerings and signature drinks. Festival attendees buy a pass with multiple punches: each punch is worth one "tasting" (more than an appetizer, less than a full meal) or one drink. The food was astonishingly good: I enjoyed the spaetzle with beef stew or the duck consomme the best. The only disappointment? A Bechamel-slathered Monte Cristo sandwich was not made for a nearly ninety-degree day, and it all but curdled in the heat. The festival also hosted live bands and entertainers (the only entertainers in the park this month, it would appear); I was lucky enough to catch nineties tribute band Pixelated, a four-piece combo that brought such delight to my middle-millennial heart.

Was it theatre? It was not. Was it live entertainment? It was, on several levels. And if nothing else, I learned- and I hope you learned too- to think about, appreciate and even enjoy those lower-tier, less prestigious forms of live entertainment. You never know when you'll suddenly realize your life is just a little sadder for not having a college student waving at you in a kangaroo costume. Here's to another summer, and here's hoping next summer will be so normal it won't even be a "new normal." Kennywood's open. Soon, Pittsburgh will be too.


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