When the popular James Street Gastropub & Speakeasy on the North Side closed its doors, it was a major blow to the local music scene. James Street had become a vibrant and diverse live music destination and a special home to Pittsburgh’s legendary jazz musicians. But numerous anonymous noise complaints forced co-owner Kevin Saftner to shutter the venue last fall.
Less than four months later, Saftner is booking acts at The Stage at Karma at 1713 East Carson Street on the South Side. The new venue — the former home of Devils & Dolls — will celebrate its grand opening this weekend with two shows.
“After James Street sadly closed, I went and checked out numerous locations for a new venue,” says Saftner, Karma’s general manager and booking agent. “After all of the searching, The Stage at Karma was the perfect place to land.”
Saftner says the name of the space — originally selected by Devils & Dolls’ owners — seemed like a good fit, given the serendipitous way he met his new business partner. He found a kindred spirit in Karma’s owner, Mike Papariella.
“His goals for Pittsburgh music and entertainment were very similar to mine, which was a great relief,” says Saftner. “We have jazz, EDM, rock, burlesque, drag, live art, beer events and so much more already in the works.”
Saftner believes Karma will be a hub for local music, art and entertainment that will bring “a totally new vibe to East Carson Street.” He says the South Side location is appealing because foot traffic will make it easy for people to drop in and discover local music.
The two-room venue will have a small stage and a main stage, allowing for early and late shows and festival-style events. The main stage area — with a capacity of 250 — will include a VIP balcony for great views.
Starship Mantis bassist Beni Rossman says that since his band — which fuses funk, jazz and pop — began its musical journey at James Street just over a year ago, the people who worked there have become like family.
“We are both excited and honored to be a part of The Stage at Karma’s grand opening because to us, it means a rebirth of the James Street legacy,” Rossman says. “Kevin Saftner and his team will be pioneering the way towards cultivating a scene for all local musicians — from all walks of life — in a city that, just three months ago, was struggling to find its musical identity.”
Led by husband-and-wife duo Ben Barson and Gizelxanath Rodriguez, Afro Yaqui Music Collective blends opera, jazz and world music with a social conscience. Their performance on Saturday will benefit the indigenous Yupka people of Venezuela to help them combat narco-trafficking and oil smuggling in their region.
Barson thinks Karma will play an important role in promoting new ideas, artists and styles in Pittsburgh. He describes his vision of the venue as “a space where jazz, hip hop, rock, social justice and community-building can come together as a single expression of sound and soul.”
Saftner echoes that vision: “Our goal is to be a place that everybody feels comfortable expressing themselves, just like we hoped it was at James Street.”
The Stage at Karma’s grand opening shows are scheduled for 9 p.m. on Friday, March 2 and 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 3. Tickets are available at www.jamesstreetpromotions.com.