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Pittonkatonk May Day Brass BBQ Picnic has brass to pump up your day | TribLIVE.com
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Pittonkatonk May Day Brass BBQ Picnic has brass to pump up your day

Bloomberg News
| Wednesday, April 29, 2015 9:00 p.m
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Pittonkatonk
The Pittonkatonk is an all-day brass band party.
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Pitchblak Brass Band
Pitchblak Brass Band

Brass band music has a bit of a stodgy reputation in America, where we’ve become accustomed to seeing it at recital halls, high-school pep rallies, holiday parades and almost nowhere else.

In other parts of the world — and even pockets of the States, like New Orleans — it’s the opposite. It’s loud, it’s in the streets, it’s the soundtrack to protests and wild, all-night weddings parties. It’s bound to tradition, and constantly absorbing the sounds and styles of the moment.

There’s no better place to spot the difference than at Pittonkatonk 2015: A May Day Brass BBQ Picnic on May 2 in Schenley Park.

There’s Brooklyn’s hip-hop heavyweights, the Pitchblak Brass Band, who wanted to see what rap would sound like with live brass and drums. There’s the What Cheer? Brigade from Providence, R.I., who evolved out of that city’s renowned punk-and-experimental-noise scene, incorporating everything from fiery Balkan brass to funky New Orleans second-line.

There’s Black Bear Combo from Chicago, who take that city’s long history of intertwined Eastern Europe musical styles and add experimental energy lifted from punk rock and free jazz. Beauty Slap, from Pittsburgh, adds electronic beats and guitar to a full brass section and are the only band with anything amplified.

Then, there’s the spontaneous, roving instant-party that is the Detroit Party Marching Band.

Brass needs no amplification, so if the band wants to move, they move. If they want to jump on the table, or march out into the street, they do it. No cords keep them anchored in place.

“I’ve been a real big fan of Balkan brass for a long time,” says Pittonkatonk founder Pete Spynda, who also puts on Pandemic, a long-running world-music-focused dance night at Brillobox. “Rich (Randall, co-founder) was ending this program called the Listening Spaces. We did a May Day Music and Labor discussion, and Pittonkatonk was the after-party for that.”

There are two local high-school bands on the roster this time, U-Prep (Pittsburgh Milliones, University Preparatory School) from the Hill District, and Marion Center High School from near Punxsutawney.

“I think we reached a lot of high-school-age kids (last year) who had never experienced anything like that, had never seen these kinds of brass bands,” Spynda says. “People stereotype marching bands as being rigid — performing in formation at football games. This kind of blew a lot of people’s minds, especially kids.”

Adding an educational component was a big goal this year. Members of the What Cheer? Brigade recently did a workshop at U-Prep in the Hill District.

“We wanted to work with some local high-school bands, to talk about being a mobile brass band and the opportunities you have. … How you can make a statement with your music, you can have a message with this music, and do it in a positive way. If something happens in your neighborhood, or if there’s a political thing you want to talk about, you can do it through music,” Spynda says.

The U-Prep band will perform a collaborative set with the What Cheer? Brigade.

“Pete and I are envisioning the workshop and potluck brass BBQ as one (unified) thing,” Randall says. “That’s why we’re bringing the (high school) bands to the Vietnam Vets Pavilion to perform. Let’s make this real, and not just some classroom exercise.”

Pittonkatonk has been financed largely through an online crowd-funding effort at indiegogo.com.

“We want the kids who don’t have the money to come to something like this, not to leave because they can’t pay,” Spynda says. “It’s pay-what-you-want. That’s not a very good business model. We reached our goal yesterday, but it’s low. Our budget is more than double or triple what we asked for.”

It’s also a potluck, so patrons are encouraged to bring food.

Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at mmachosky@tribweb.com or 412-320-7901.

Categories: Music
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