Jeff Holt was one of my first and best friends in Pittsburgh, Penna. As both the owner of Hambone’s and my friend, he genuinely supported my music and art, providing me countless opportunities.
When I first started working the Tuesday Acoustic Open Stage as a cocktail waitress, I would stay after the bar closed to keep him company. We would get Primanti’s at the end of the night – you know, them sammies with french fries n’ coleslaw on ’em.
The “end of the night” was generally around sunrise.
Jeff gave me a venue to host my very first solo album release. He actually put together a sign with my name on it – all lit up. In my experience, rare is the venue-owner so personally involved and hands-on with their community.
Jeff also gave me some of my first gigs in Pittsburgh. He recommended I join The Girlie Show, an all-female lineup founded by, booked by, and showcasing women and female-identifying artists. The Girlie Show became a Hambone’s mainstay thanks to the support of Jeff Holt and the tenacity of the women who perpetuated the show.
Before I knew anything about the local music scene, I remember leaning across the Hambone’s bar (where one could almost always find Jeff bartending) and asking how to score a gig as an open mic host. He responded that they were good on hosts, but he needed an opener for that weekend. I took that gig.
I look back on that ask and I’m both embarrassed and proud of myself for being so ballsy. I didn’t yet know that each week had a designated host who included the founders of said Acoustic Open Stage. Years later, when one of those hosts started a family and stepped down, Jeff asked me to take over as host on first Tuesdays. I was really honored to have been asked and accepted the slot.
Some of my best memories were forged at that open mic. I met some of my best friends there. Tuesdays at Hambone’s were low-pressure, yet professional opportunities to get stage time and network. You could also just sit back and enjoy the show.
Before the pandemic shut down, we had one, last Acoustic Open Stage at Hambone’s on Tuesday, March 10, 2020. I often refer to it as “The Last Normal Day.”
Words cannot express the gratitude I feel for the gift of that day.
Jeremy Caywood hosted that evening, which was his usual slot, second Tuesday. Liz Tripoli was back in the kitchen and periodically popped out to say hello or personally deliver some tacos (the choice food of Tuesdays). Nick Graybeal was on the soundboard, a place where I felt safe putting my gear and hanging out since I began attending.
On The Last Normal Day: Jeff, Nick, Jeremy, Liz, and I sat together, shared the entertainment, and chatted.
I got to sit and chat with some of my best friends in the whole world.
It is a moment that simultaneously exists forever and will never be replicated. While I grieve the loss of my dear friend, I look back on that day as so utterly beautiful in its simplicity – a true gift from god.
Our love for Tuesdays at Hambone’s motivated me and a team of former employees and artists to continue the Tuesday tradition with the Virtual Open Mics on Zoom.
Jeff Holt and Hambone’s were pillars in the Pittsburgh arts community. Both were growing to be hubs for the global arts community, hosting more and more touring acts from across the USA and globally.
Hambone’s has been a home. More than one person refers to the Hambone’s dining room as their “living room.” I certainly felt that way. Jeff created that environment for us to feel so welcomed, safe, and at home.
I will always hold dear the many, many things Jeff did for me: the good times and good food we shared, the opportunities he gave me as a professional, the friendship and support he gave to me when I struggled…
I will do all that I can to carry on his spirit of community and inclusivity. And I will love my friends within the community he built evermore deeply in an attempt to make up for the loss of our keystone: Jeff Holt.
Thank you for everything, Jeff. You are forever loved.
● You can read a heart-warming obituary by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette music writer, Scott Mervis, “Obituary: Hambone’s owner, Jeff Holt, created a home for musicians, comedians.”
● You can read Jeff’s official obituary here.
● You can read more about Jeff’s impact on the arts community on this Reddit thread.
● From the Pittsburgh City Paper: “‘He was a good dude.'”
● Here is a loving and thoughtful piece from a comedian and Hambone’s regular responding to the subsequent closure of Jeff’s venue, Isaac Crow: “A Toast To The Ham-Themed Bar.”