ShareThis Page
Pittonkatonk May Day Brass BBQ Picnic has brass to pump up your day |

Pittonkatonk May Day Brass BBQ Picnic has brass to pump up your day

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

“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 or 412-320-7901.

Categories: Music
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.