(Video by Beth Hollerich)
Headed to Downtown Pittsburgh this summer? You may find free art and music shows, a vintage grand prix – even a pickle juice drinking contest. You’ll also find throngs of visitors, increasingly from outside the region or even the country.
As many as 500,000 people are expected to attend the Three Rivers Arts Festival, traditionally the first and the largest downtown summer event. Celebrating its 60th year in 2019, the 10-day Downtown extravaganza is among the nation’s most popular free arts shows.
Running now through June 16, the festival boasts an artists’ market with more than 300 vendors from around the country, as well as public art installations and live dance and musical performances.
The festival has attracted top-notch talent during its rich history, including Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Allen Ginsberg, Keith Haring, Phillip Glass and Spalding Gray. This year’s performers include four-time Grammy Award-winner India.Arie.
The arts festival and other summer events in western Pennsylvania are aiding attempts to attract international visitors, including from Europe on British Airways or Condor Airlines flights.
“With many international visitors, they’re looking for unique, authentic U.S. experiences and Pittsburgh certainly has a number of those,” said Tom Loftus, chief marketing officer for VisitPittsburgh.
Picklesburgh certainly qualifies as unique: its centerpiece is a 35-foot inflatable pickle that floats above the action. The event focuses on the pickle’s place in international dishes and artisan cocktails and includes cooking demonstrations and live vendors. Scheduled for July 26-28, Picklesburgh recently was named America’s top specialty food festival by USA Today readers.
“That’s become one of the bigger events of interest,” Loftus said. “Several publications in the U.K. have written about it.”
Picklesburgh recently was named America’s top specialty food festival by USA Today readers (Photo credit: Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership).
The city also hosts the nation’s largest vintage vehicle street race. The Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix, held this year from July 11 to July 21, provides racing, car shows, parades and parties. It will culminate with the 37th annual vintage car race, which attracts thousands of spectators to view the vintage vehicles make their way through Schenley Park’s winding roads – the only race of its kind that takes place on city streets.
Also of interest to potential visitors from England is the annual Britsburgh Festival during the first week in September. The six-day event celebrates the connections between western Pennsylvania and the United Kingdom through events that spotlight British history, art, literature, culture, sport, music, tea and beer.
The city’s annual Deutschtown Music Festival has been profiled by German writers. This year’s festival, taking place July 12-13 in the German national historic district on the North Side, will showcase more than 300 bands and include food trucks, a beer garden, artists’ market and children’s activities.
Other summer events that garner attention from well beyond the region are the annual Anthrocon Convention, which fills Downtown streets each Independence Day week with “furries” – people dressed in animal costumes; and the EQT Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta (Aug. 3-5), featuring Formula F1 powerboat races.
Permanent regional attractions such as the Andy Warhol Museum, the Great Allegheny Passage biking and hiking trail and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater also help draw visitors during the year’s warmest months.
Fallingwater, Wright’s uniquely designed home for the Kaufmann family in Mill Run, has been nominated for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s World Heritage List, which recognizes cultural and natural sites with outstanding universal value.