National singing star Kelly Hogan is eager to return to Pittsburgh to sample, once again, the city's uniqueness. From french fries on a sandwich to Phat Man Dee, Ms. Hogan embraces that which makes us special.
"I have a crush on Pittsburgh. I can't wait to get back. I love Pittsburgh so much," she said in a phone interview from a Chicago hotel last week. "I've been riding in vans, playing in bands since 1989, and I've played through there a lot. I've had some magical times in Pittsburgh."
So have the audiences that have heard her perform.
Ms. Hogan returns to Pittsburgh tonight with fellow singer Neko Case for a show at Mr. Smalls on Lincoln Avenue in Millvale.
Praise for Pittsburgh pours out of Ms. Hogan. As do music, writing, tears, laughter and Southern-spiced conversation. She's like a fountain.
"I feel good about Pittsburgh. Any place that Mister Rogers comes from," she said. "I'm a big fan of Johnny Costa and so much of Pittsburgh's progeny. The people are so real.
"I like an industrial vista, with all the bridges and all the rivers. I'm psyched to come back."
God knows where you've heard Ms. Hogan before, but you probably have. Her headline shows have a cult-like following. She sings backup for numerous stars, and at one point was a member of five different bands. She provided the voice for one of the Sirens on "Aqua Teen Hunger Force."
"I was in Wee Hairy Beasties, which was a kids band with John Lankford and Sally Timms and Devil in a Woodpile," she said. "And one thing you don't want to do when you're playing to kids is actually look at the audience, because I guarantee you three of them are picking their noses and eating it at any given time. It makes you forget the words and what you're doing and where you are."
In spite of that, she said, she loves performing music live. And even though the Atlanta native sometimes wears the label of "torch singer," performing what she herself describes as "makeout music," the truth is, you never know what you're gonna get.
"I love to play the songs live," she said. "It's like inflating the songs with air. They always kind of morph a little bit and change.
"I like to try on different kinds of musical clothes. Cheap Trick, Carole King, Sonny Smith, Alan Toussaint. And we're going to re-up our Hold Steady cover. I like to play with all the crayons in the box. I like to stay scared. I like to always be learning."
When the songs work, there's nothing else she'd rather do.
"I can't believe I do this for my Ramen noodle living. It's amazing," she said. "It's my joy. I've had nightmares about not being able to sing. I tried to quit music once, and it felt like I was going crazy. So I decided to just be poor the rest of my life and sing. Life is short, but if you're not doing what your heart tells you to do, it can be lo-o-o-ong.
"It's a tradeoff. My dad is always like, 'You need to get your priorities straight.' And I tell him, 'I do have them straight, they're just not in the same order as yours.' Sure, there are lonely times and worries and things like that. But I've had some kick-ass times, I've traveled, I've gotten to collaborate with people like Mavis Staples, Oscar Brown Jr. and my music legends."
Tonight at 7 you can treat yourself to the talents of Ms. Hogan -- and Ms. Case -- for $30. They promise to show you a good time.
"I feel like I'm a hostess. Like, if I could offer people a cracker between songs, I would do it," Ms. Hogan said. "I have brought banana pudding to certain shows, when I'm nervous about how it's going to go. That way, if things go badly, people think, 'That girl, she sure couldn't sing, but boy that pudding was great.' "
Get a preview of tonight's event!
Kelly Hogan: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8BRvZ_qbqA
If you have a suggestion for something to do some evening, let us know about it and we'll see if we can get some of our friends to join you. Contact Dan Majors at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1456.
This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/