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This may be the best country music party in PA

Plus, who's suing Kennywood now?

Welcome to PA Local, a free weekly newsletter about the great people, amazing places, and delicious food of Pennsylvania.
Your Postmaster: Tanisha Thomas

April 26, 2024
Inside this edition: Big house, convenience cheese, blue milk, Kennywood lawsuit, duplicate diplomas, and Philly rodeo. Thanks for checking in.
A Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.
Which Pennsylvania county is larger than the state of Rhode Island?
A. Lycoming County
B. Adams County
C. Indiana County
D. Beaver County

(Keep scrolling for the answer, but don't miss all the good stuff in between. Like what you read? Forward this email to a friend.)
Our five favorite Pennsylvania stories of the week.
» One property worth seeing: The Campbell Soup family's former 26.3-acre, 19-bedroom estate in Montgomery County is going up for auction next month. Bidding starts at $2 million.
» One machine worth trying: There's a new 24/7 cheese vending machine in Philadelphia that offers award-winning cheese, charcuterie, jams, and crackers, FOX29 reports. Here's the location.
» One drink worth explaining: May the 4th came early with the release of Star Wars “blue milk" at a store near you. Why blue milk? Luke Skywalker sips on some in Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope.
» One story worth sharing: A Kennywood season-pass holder is suing the park, alleging it withheld news of the season-long closure of its flagship rollercoaster to avoid losing sales, via TribLIVE.
» One story worth reading: A Westmoreland County high school will have an interesting Class of 2024 sendoff this summer with 11 sets of twins ready to receive their diplomas, KDKA-TV reports.
🗞️ THINK YOU'RE UP TO SPEED? Prove it with this week's PA News Quiz: 2024 matchups, protest votes, and Roe remarks.
The top stories published by Spotlight PA this week.
» Cutler survives formidable primary challenge
» More Pennsylvania primary election results
» Whistleblower protections missing despite 2013 law
» Disappearing internet discount to hit PA families
» PA mail ballot redesign may have backfired
Cowboy-hatted patrons stand around a bar.
Baby's First Rodeo in Philly. (Tanisha Thomas / Spotlight PA)

“Stomp, stomp, kick, slide. Walk, walk, walk, turn.”

Donkey Dover, Jr. gave those line dancing instructions to a throng of city slickers from under a tan cowboy hat on a recent Saturday night in Philly.

Confusion, apologies, and foot-stomping emanated from the floor. The standing-room only crowd, showered in the silver sparkles of an overhead disco ball, jostled accordingly, and the Cowboy Charleston came alive in Northern Liberties, a former manufacturing district north of Center City.

“You got it!” one patron shouted to another.

Dover, on a mic in front of a glowing curtain, said, “Line dancing builds community.” Then the wood floor quaked again. The room got even hotter.

This is Baby’s First Rodeo, a “cosmic country party” in the heart of Pennsylvania’s biggest city. 

Once a month, bedazzled belts with obnoxious buckles, tall boots, and shiny vests pack into Ortlieb's — a normal-looking bar on a residential street — for line dancing, live performances, and karaoke. This month there were also rodeo-themed Soft Belly Cookies for Dover’s birthday. 

A neon sign reading “It’s all over now, baby blue” hangs over the bar alongside the massive taxidermied head of an African water buffalo. Past the bar, attendees walked through tall black doors to an intimate room with this month’s headliners: Zachary Lucky and Mandy Valentine.

Donkey Dover, Jr. on stage. (Tanisha Thomas / Spotlight PA)

Allie Pearce, a costume designer for film and TV, co-founded the event in Brooklyn, New York before the party made its way to Philly in 2017. It rotated between homes before settling at Ortlieb’s.

Promoter Jennifer Zimmerman said they wanted to bring an accessible and inclusive country space to the city. Several years later and the genre is resurgent, having received a bigger spotlight as pop stars like Beyoncé, Post Malone, and Lana Del Rey have all pivoted their sound to it. PA Local previously highlighted Black country artists who felt the boost in visibility from Beyoncé’s Cowboy Carter album rollout.

“When we first started it, it was just friends,” Zimmerman said of Baby’s First Rodeo in Philly. “Now it’s people I’ve never seen before. It is going somewhere, and there’s a country presence here.”

In 2021, Zimmerman met Dover at Kung Fu Necktie, another Philly bar. Zimmerman thought adding line dancing to the event would be a fun addition to the live music, and Dover was just the person to do it.

Dover, who uses they/them pronouns, travels around the country to teach line dancing and stresses the importance of representation. 

They said: “Part of making country music more accessible to more people is they need a window. They need to see someone do it to see themselves reflected in it.”

Baby’s First Rodeo also hosts Country Queer Nights to highlight LGBTQIA+ voices in country music. There are lots of newcomers to the scene. The name encourages it.

“It’s our first step into that world,” Montana Bertoli, one of the more than 160 people on hand at this month’s rodeo, told PA Local. “We don’t have to listen to country music and know everything.” 

Molly Seavy-Nesper, who attends every month, loves the atmosphere. 

“It’s very cool to be in a space where it’s celebrating country music, and it’s progressive and inclusive,” Seavy-Nesper said. “It feels like a really inclusive way to enjoy this kind of music.” 

The next rodeo takes place May 18 at 7 p.m. at Ortlieb’s. If you're closer to Pittsburgh, that city's monthly country music dance party — Honky-Tonk Jukebox — happens next on May 24 before a summer break.

Tanisha Thomas, newsletter writer

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A quote from a Pennsylvanian that we found interesting this week.

“I would play if I got negative 5 dollars, if I got a million dollars. It’s just a part of me."

Performer Mark Nicholson on how much music means to him as he plays his trumpet at various public spaces around Philadelphia.

Our favorite reader-submitted photo of the week.
The Roberto Clemente Bridge in Pittsburgh on a sunny day, via your postmaster. Have a photo to share? Send it to us by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag @spotlightpennsylvania.
a long yellow bridge in front of a city skyline with a cloudy blue background
The answer to this week's Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.

The answer is "A. Lycoming County." 

Lycoming County is the largest county in Pennsylvania covering 1,228.59 square miles, ABC27 reports. In comparison, Rhode Island, the smallest state in the U.S., is 1,214 square miles.

Thanks for reading. We'll see you back here next week.

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