At the end of June 1970, Festival Express lumbered across Canada for a two-week boozy jam session, transporting music icons Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead and The Band to performances in Toronto, Winnipeg and Calgary.
More than 40 years later, an artier train that's the brainchild of multimedia artist Doug Aitken is cruising from New York to San Francisco, transporting a band of music, food and arts luminaries on a nine-city tour that's one of the largest art events of the year: Station to Station.
Pittsburgh's Union Station/The Pennsylvanian was Station to Station's second stop on a trip that runs through the end of September. Ticket holders here gained access to bands in the main terminal as well as art installations and food in a series of colored yurts, a take on the portable dwellings used by nomads in Central Asia.
Installations were captivating although not terribly challenging, as entrants were required to take off shoes before entering an all-white yurt with a disco ball. Another evoked the beaches of Rio de Janeiro with fabric and light. A third displayed tailors in the round as they assembled denim, a nod to Levi's, the event's sponsor.
A canceled Alice Waters talk left her free to roam the venue, as chefs and fans stopped to talk with the apostle of slow food. With Pittsburgh her only stop, the founder of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., was promoting Edible Schoolyard, her latest project to help transform school cafeteria food. For eating onboard, Ms. Waters looked to Leif Hedendal, who sourced food from Wild Purveyors in Lawrenceville for the onboard kitchen where he has been cooking for 100-plus participants.
Inside the terminal, videos played on panels behind musicians, high art imagery reminiscent of Mr. Aitken's languid video wrap, "Song 1," projected onto the Hirschhorn in Washington, D.C., last spring.
The audience was mesmerized by the shadowy underbelly of a high-speed train while a limber Thurston Moore and percussionist John Moloney played as Caught on Tape, their collaboration with an album release last year. Sonic Youth frontman Mr. Moore also worked with Mr. Moloney as a part of Chelsea Light Moving. The set included songs from their collaborations and solo careers.
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti put out atmospheric trip hop punctuated by an occasional Beatles sample and guitar refrains like angry engines on a NASCAR loop. Music was set to images of paint-splattered canvas and blood coursing through arteries.
A second set from YOSHIMIO, Hisham Akira Bharoocha and Ryan Sawyer moved the audience from the stage to rock the lobby, with YOSHIMIO squatting for a moment in her full-length hoodie using the floor as a drum.
But the Kansas City Marching Cobras stole the crowd's affection with their marching band regalia and their drum and dance show. Part step, part go-go, part second line, the 20-plus crew of youths and adults flipped and dipped to syncopated rhythm that echoed off the arched ceilings in the Beaux Arts rotunda.
Back on the platform, the after-party unfurled on the train, where artists drank sparkling wine or Chicago's Old Style from the can. As they tucked into booths, musicians made their way to the Moog Sound Lab, an on-board recording studio.
Outside the train, LED lights remained quiet in a trio of stationary rows. By morning the panels would alight, a Doug Aitken installation in which velocity transforms something common into a work of art, however fleeting.
Melissa McCart: 412-263-1198 or on Twitter @melissamccart.