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In its second year, the Pittonkatonk May Day Brass BBQ is more than a music festival

“Music, it’s not something we buy — it’s not something we go to see. It’s something we do.”

For one day, Pittonkatonk will transform Schenley Park into a whirling convergence of horns, trombones, drums and barbecue. The all-ages brass music festival returns for its second year, this time with even more local and touring bands, kid-friendly activities and handmade Serbian sausages.

Last year’s Pittonkatonk saw nearly 700 people, including about 100 performers. This year’s festival will welcome national acts including: What Cheer? Brigade, from Providence, R.I.; New York’s Pitchblak Brass Band; Chicago’s Black Bear Combo; and the Detroit Party Marching Band. Local acts Beauty Slap, May Day Marching Band, Slide Worldwide and Col. Eagleburger’s Goodtime Highstepping Band will also perform, along with Pittsburgh-area high school marching bands.

Like most grand plans, it all began one night at the Brillobox.

Scratch that. This story begins at Lollapalooza, in 1993, when a teenage Pete Spynda was handed a brochure about “indie rock” by longtime Pittsburgh music promoter Manny Theiner. The flyer was Spynda’s introduction to college radio, Don Caballero and self-discovery in the LP aisle. “It was mind-melting,” says Spynda. “It changed my life.”

Unpolished: What Cheer? Brigade - PHOTO COURTESY OF TODD SEELIE

  • Photo courtesy of Todd Seelie
  • Unpolished: What Cheer? Brigade

Fast-forward a couple of decades and Spynda is now one of the city’s most prominent event producers and DJs. He’s responsible for Pandemic, Weather Permitting and programming the Bayardstown Social Club.

“Pete had a reputation for making stuff happen,” says Rich Randall, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University who looks at music, technology and culture in the 21st century. Randall was wrapping up a project for CMU’s Center for Arts in Society and had an idea for something new — a May Day event focusing on music and labor. He and Spynda chatted upstairs at Brillobox, and Spynda thought about the sweaty, raucous What Cheer? Brigade shows his friend Jason Dunbar had been putting on in his Highland Park garage: donation-based attendance; explosive, genre-defying sounds; lots of eating and drinking and dancing.

“Those Dunbar parties were really the precursor to Pittonkatonk,” says Spynda.

The first Pittonkatonk, in May 2014, was “the most fun Schenley Park’s had in a long time,” says Dunbar, who now volunteers with the festival. “It’s the most inviting community. It’s almost impossible to have a bad time when watching these bands.”

But this is more than a musical festival. As Spynda says, “We’re not just trying to throw a party in the park.”

The focus of Pittonkatonk is on community. It’s about bringing together people who might otherwise never convene, and blurring the line between performer and spectator. There’s no admission fee, there are no food trucks, and there’s no stage or sound system.

It’s unstructured, chaotic, respectful, safe and family-friendly. Festival co-directors Spynda and Randall sigh in unison over last year’s festival being “magical” and a little “hippie-dippie.” They reference 1960s “happenings” and Eastern European social clubs. They talk about disrupting the political economy of “musician” and “audience.”

But the magic doesn’t come without effort — this year’s Pittonkatonk is the fruit of many folks’ labor. Planning has been underway since October, and the co-directors’ gratitude is flowing for everyone who’s helped, including the mayor’s office and Citiparks. Then there are the individuals who are: making food; housing musicians overnight; lending parking permits for bands’ vans; and donating to the festival’s IndieGoGo campaign, which runs through May 6.

“We’re trying to restore the social and community aspect to music-making,” explains Randall. “The idea that music doesn’t happen unless a bunch of people come together and allow it to happen. … Music, it’s not something we buy — it’s not something we go to see. It’s something we do.”

Beauty Slap

  • Photo by Bill O’Driscoll
  • Beauty Slap

When it comes to Pittonkatonk, there’s a lot to be excited about — from plum brandy and impromptu crowd-surfing to activities hosted by the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse. What Spynda and Randall are most excited about, though, is the educational program that’s new to this year’s lineup.

“We want to show kids there’s life outside of the high school marching band,” says Spynda, who hopes he can melt today’s teens’ minds with music the same way his was.

Headliner What Cheer? Brigade will be in to town early for a three-day workshop with the Hill District’s University Prep Junior and Senior High Marching Bands. The program will provide students with insights into the business of touring and working as a full-time musician, while exploring the role of music in activism and change. The partnership will culminate in a collaborative performance at Saturday’s festival.

Spynda and Randall have applied for a grant through the Sprout Fund’s Hive Fund for Connected Learning, and hope to turn this pilot program into an even bigger outreach effort next year.

“It’s very different from what students are normally taught about what it means to be a musician after you graduate high school,” says Randall. “We’re not trying to change how the kids play. We’re just trying to say you can do different things with music, and you can do these things that have a positive impact in your immediate community.”


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

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The Pittonkatonk is an all-day brass band party.

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Pittonkatonk 2015: A May Day Brass BBQ Picnic

With: What Cheer? Brigade, Pitchblak Brass Band, Slide Worldwide, Timbeleza, Black Bear Combo, Detroit Party Marching Band, Beauty Slap, May Day Marching Band, Col. Eagleburger’s Goodtime Highstepping Band, U-Prep High School marching band

When: 2 p.m. May 2

Admission: Pay-what-you-want

Where: Vietnam Veterans Pavilion, Schenley Park, Oakland


Wednesday, April 29, 2015, 9:00 p.m.
Updated 2 hours ago

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 mmachosky@tribweb.comor 412-320-7901.

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May 2 The best-named cultural event of 2014 was Pittonkatonk: A Pittsburgh May Day Brass BBQ. Some 750 people came out to the Vietnam Veterans Pavilion in Schenley Park for the free, all-ages potluck and celebration of trumpets, tubas, trombones and shoulder-mounted bass drums. This year, the event’s top brass are bringing a wider variety of top brass to the city, including high-school marching bands, Balkans players, hip-hop crews and a 30-piece punk outfit out of Detroit. [Vietnam Veterans Pavilion, Schenley Park;] – See more at:


Summer might be 56 days away (yes we’re counting), but May officially kicks off the outdoor event season in our book. Named for the Roman goddess Maia—who oversaw the growth of plants—the Merry Month of May is packed with spring happenings and festivals spanning Bayardstown to Braddock. In between celebrating May Day, Cinco de Mayo and Memorial Day—not to mention honoring all of the mothers out there—we direct you to this month’s top events list, which was nearly impossible to whittle down to 10.

1. Pittonkatonk Festival: May 2, Vietnam Veterans Pavilion, Schenley Park


Honk, stomp and cheer your way into May at the authentically Pittsburgh first-of-its-kind Pittonkatonk Brass Festival. Quickly garnering “coolest event of 2014″ praise among local music lovers after its 2014 debut, the highly anticipated second edition of the free family-friendly celebration will bring feel-good vibes to the outdoor pavilion.

Nationally touring acts headlining Pittonk this year are Providence, RI-based 18-piece brass punk band What Cheer? Brigade, NYC’s Pitchblak Brass Band, prolific Balkan brass ensemble Black Bear Combo from Chicagoland and the funky 27-member Detroit Party Marching Band. Rounding out the roster are local ensembles Beauty Slap, May Day Marching Band, Colonel Eagleburger’s Goodtime Highstepping Band and more. New this year is the addition of two local high school marching bands and an educational partnership and collaborative performance featuring students from the UPrep High School Band and What Cheer.

Last year some 700 people gathered (many with homemade sausage and Slivovitz in hand) to enjoy the electrifying brass music, celebrate May Day and International Workers’ Day and take in the bucolic surroundings. Equal parts music festival and family potluck, Pittonkatonk is a labor of love presented by local DJ, promoter and event producer Pete Spynda along with Rich Randall and the Listening Spaces Project. Help make it happen by donating to their Indiegogo campaign or volunteering.

Post Gazette Article about our Fundraiser..


Prepare to put away some pierogies.

Brandon McCarthy, brewmaster at Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery in Homestead, is behind a fundraiser there tomorrow night (6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 22) where he’ll serve halushki with noodles he made from scratch, more than 40 dozen pierogies from Forgotten Taste in Wexford, 50 pounds of kielbasa, and sauerkraut.

Proceeds will benefit Pittonkatonk, a free potluck picnic and brass music festival that will be held May 2 at the Vietnam Veterans Pavilion in Schenley Park.

Tickets are $10 for all-you-can-eat food; the beer to wash it down is sold separately.

There will also be some raffle baskets, including the top prize, a “Pittsburgh Sammitch Basket.” Mr. McCarthy asked several sandwich shops to donate a gift certificate for a single sandwich, figuring this small outlay from a lot of different restaurants would make for a cool prize. But some restaurants chose to take it over the top. Union Pig & Chicken contributed a certificate for an office party’s worth of sandwiches. Alfred’s Deli in Polish Hill gave 10 sandwiches. Other contributors include Thin Man Sandwich Shop, Oh My Grill, The Steer & Wheel and Spoonwood Brewing.

Mr. McCarthy is friends with Pittonkatonk organizer Pete Spynda, a DJ who goes by the name “Pandemic,” and he provides beer at many of Mr. Spynda’s events. Mr. McCarthy said he wanted to help raise funds for Pittonkatonk because Mr. Spynda organizes “community-oriented, family-friendly events that aren’t a completely defanged thing where you’re not going to have fun as an adult.”

Pittonkatonk, he said, brings back the feel of the ethnic social clubs that used to dot Pittsburgh, where in the summertime, hundreds of people would show up for potluck picnics.

Admission to Pittonkatonk is free; attendees are asked to simply bring picnic food to share.

Read more about the Pierogi Fundraiser on Facebook.

Read more about Pittonkatonk here. – See more at:

It seems like not so long ago, crowdfunding was merely a trendy new way to raise funds for new projects and products. Today, it is a major instrument in investments and a World Bank-commissioned report predicts that it will grow to almost $100 billion in 10 years—nearly twice the size of the global venture capital industry.Not only will it match the current way we do business, it will overtake it. Crowdfunding is spurring entrepreneurship, helping revitalize the arts and enabling impact investing.Pittsburgh is a good example of this growth. A recent weeklong (un)conference showcased Indiegogo and a host of other nontraditional funding opportunities.NEXTpittsburgh has featured local projects whose potential for large-scale impact depend on your micro-investment. As crowdfunding grows, we will periodically feature artists and entrepreneurs whose campaigns contribute to the economic and cultural fabric of our city.Here are five you should crowdfund now!pittonkeventposter15PittonkatonkGoal: $5,000

Raised: 28%

Days left (as of 3/21): 46

Pittsburgh loves the merging of the old and the new and Pittonkatonk is no exception. This daylong brass band festival organized by Rich Randall and Pandemic’s Pete Spynda may seem like a newfangled hipster event but it’s actually  a modern homage to a Pittsburgh classic. “With Pittsburgh’s rich Eastern European history, an event like Pittonkatonk continues the traditions of the old social clubs but hosts it in a public forum for all ages and walks of life to enjoy,” says Spynda.

The first installment of this festival last year brought out over 700 people. The event, set for May 2nd at the Vietnam Veterans Pavilion in Schenley Park, is completely free to the public. This “picnic for the people” aims to break down the traditional music festival by eliminating what we most commonly expect—the stage, the tickets, the greenrooms, the vending. Spynda says, “Our goal is to create a platform where the social club can come alive in a public space for everyone to live, learn, celebrate and dance.”


Pittonkatonk festival brings Balkan brass bands to town

“I felt like it was time that we gave Pittsburgh its own festival.”

When Pete Spynda discovered Balkan brass music a decade ago, it was a personal revelation. “I was like, ‘This is what I’ve been searching for my whole life,'” he says. “I was just struck.” Since then, he’s worked to bring others the same experience, first through the long-running global-music dance night Pandemic and, more recently, bringing live Balkan brass bands to Pittsburgh.

On Sat., May 3, Spynda hosts Pittonkatonk: A Pittsburgh May Day Brass BBQ. Modeled loosely on similar festivals in other cities — Honk in Boston and Pronk in Providence (Pittonkatonk is a localized play on those names) — the event features eight national and local brass ensembles.

The Pittonkatonk lineup represents the genre’s variety. A band like Chicago’s Black Bear Combo, for example, tends toward the traditional, while Detroit Party Marching Band and Providence’s What Cheer? Brigade — with 30 and 18 members, respectively — bring in elements of contemporary pop, ’90s hip hop and jazz. Spynda describes locals C Street Brass Band, a group of CMU students, as “virtuoso musicians,” while the May Day Marching Band has a niche playing political events, like protests. In the future, Spynda would like to expand the range further, including some New Orleans brass or even a high-school marching band.

“If I was 16, 17, in the high-school marching band and heard this kind of music,” he says, “I think it would have changed my whole opinion on brass music, on what you can really do with it.”

While Spynda has hosted similar events in the past, this is the first time he’s put together something of this scale. “I felt like it was time that we gave Pittsburgh its own festival.” He set up an Indie Go Go fundraising campaign to help cover food, venue fees, travel costs and other expenses, but ultimately, Pittonkatonk is a labor of love.

“I wanted to raise awareness of this type of music and get people out to kind of celebrate that,” he says. “Pittsburgh has a lot of Eastern European roots, and I wanted to tap into that, to say, “Hey, there’s more to this style of music than just polka bands and bingo.”

Brillobox & Vietnam Veterans Pavilion (Schenley Park)

May 2 & 3
5 p.m. & 3 p.m.

Cambridge has Honk, Providence has Pronk and now Pittsburgh has Pittonkatonk Brass Festival.

The brainchild of Pittsburgh-based DJ, promoter and designer Pete Spynda, the lively two-day festival kicks off on Friday, May 2nd at Brillobox, with a May Day Music and Labor Roundtable from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Free and open to the public, the discussion will explore a wide range of topics, from how labor issues impact musicians locally and globally to DIY practices and the Internet’s problematic relationship with musicians.

Six panelists will share diverse opinions and experiences and then open the discussion up to the audience. Presented by The Center for Arts and Society, The Listening Spaces Project and Pandemic, the discussion will be followed by a free party featuring performances by MC Boogat (Montreal) and DJ Pandemic Pete (Pittsburgh).

Pittonkatonk turns up the volume on Saturday, May 3rd, with its main festival attraction at the Vietnam Veterans Pavilion in Schenley Park. Part music festival, part grassroots potluck and family BBQ, Pittonkatonk boasts an impressive lineup of local and national bands bringing the brass. Free and open to all ages, the concert starts at 3 p.m.

Featured national acts include the Providence, RI-based 18-piece brass punk band What Cheer? Brigade, a Pittsburgh favorite which blends traditional Balkan brass with samba, hip hop and Nola sounds; the funky 27-piece Detroit Party Marching Band, who are just back from a tour of Europe; and the Black Bear Combo, a prolific 8-piece Balkan brass ensemble from Chicago, IL with with roots in the Pittsburgh area.

Representing the home turf will be the high-octane samba group Timbeleeza; Pittsburgh’s favorite parade collective, the May Day Marching Band; C Street Brass featuring musical talents from Carnegie Mellon; and the festive Colonel Eagelburger’s Highstep Goodtime Marching Band.

Pittonkatonk is run by a dedicated crew of local volunteers. To support the event and get involved, contribute to the festival’s Indiegogo Campaign.

Pop Filter Hot Pick: Pittonakatonk May Day BBQ





Pittonakatonk is Sat., May 3 at 3PM at the Vietnam Veterans Pavilion in Schenley Park. 

For Pittsburgh music fans who can usually find local bands that hit at many different points across the sonic spectrum, the city’s growing brass scene has been a sight to behold. Coupled with the globetrotting DJ sets that regularly bring Balkan brass music to the dance floor with the first Friday Pandemic get-downs at Brillobox, bands like eight-piece brass/accordion/percussion ensemble Lung Face Feet have been steadily growing followings with their energetic take on Eastern European folk music. Now, local DJ/Pandemic host Pete Spynda has taken his love of brass music and turned it toward organizing Pittonakatonk, a May Day BBQ and mini music festival that will feature both local and national world music groups for a free concert Saturday, May 3 at the Vietnam Veterans Pavilion in Schenley Park.

“Pittsburgh is so rich in Eastern European roots and I feel a festival of this music celebrates those roots and how they have grown,” says Spynda. “My goal is to showcase bands that are feeding off of the traditions and adding their own spin to it.” 

Along with Lungs Face Feet, Spynda has corralled local batucada (Brazilian/African percussion)  group Timbeleza, Chicago-based “brass mashup Balkan dance” ensemble Black Bear Combo, Providence, RI’s 19-piece brass group The What? Cheer Brigade,  the nationally renown Balkan-New Orleans brass influenced Detroit Party Marching Band, and a few others. For Spynda, the time was right in Pittsburgh to get brass music out of the 21+ music clubs, move it to a more communal space, and put the city’s scene on the map.  

I’m glad this time the event is happening outdoors in a public spot where everyone can come instead of a small club,” he says. “I’ve been promoting Balkan brass band shows in Pittsburgh for over eight years and it’s finally time we had a festival. Boston has Honk, Providence has PRonk and now Pittsburgh has PITTONAKATONK.”

The event is free and while BBQ will be available, attendees are encouraged to bring a food dish of their liking and participate in the potluck. For more information, visit Pittonakatonk’s Indie GoGo crowdfunding page (they raised $3,000 to help with costs that are broken down into a nice pie chart), or visit the Facebook event listing here.

Balkans united via films, music in ‘Brasslands’ documentary

Three Rivers Film Festival
‘Brasslands,” a documentary about the wildly energetic, high-spirited brass bands of the Balkans


When: 8 p.m. April 11, 14 and 15, 6 and 8 p.m. April 12, 4 p.m. April 13

Admission: $8, $7 for senior citizens and students

Where: Melwood Screening Room, Oakland

Wednesday, April 9, 2014, 3:42 p.m.

If we know anything about the group of small states and peoples in southeastern Europe known as the Balkans, it’s that they don’t always get along.

The word “Balkanization” has even come to signify disintegration of states into ever-smaller fragments, because of centuries of intractable ethnic, religious and territorial conflicts.

But there’s another thing that this unlucky part of the world is known for — a brand of exuberant, exciting brass-band dance music.

The movie “Brasslands,” opening this week at Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ Melwood Screening Room in Oakland, explores this thriving culture at the source. It follows several competitors at the world’s largest trumpet festival and competition, as half a million fans swarm the small, Serbian town of Guca.

“It’s really fast-paced, fast-moving dance music,” says Adam Pogoff, executive producer of “Brasslands.” “It really compels you to want to move. It’s played off the beat, with a syncopated feeling to it. It’s got different rhythms and harmonies than we’re used to in Western traditional and pop music.”

“Brasslands” follows the returning Serbian champion, 25-year-old trumpeter and bandleader Dejan Petrovic, and upstart Roma Gypsy trumpet virtuoso Demiran Cerimovic who fights an uphill battle against virulent prejudice just to make a living.

“In Europe and all over the world, Roma are one of the most marginalized ethnic groups — not even recognized as displaced people — and lacking in social services and education,” Pogoff says. “One area, maybe the only area in which they are venerated and given elevated status, is music. They’re seen as the masters of this genre, and are the most sought-after musicians.”

“Brasslands” also goes across the sea to the music’s burgeoning frontier, where a band from New York City, Zlatne Uste, is preparing to go to Guca for the competition — a mere decade after U.S. bombs rained down on Belgrade.

The film screened in November at the Three Rivers Film Festival, and did so well that Pittsburgh Filmmakers is bringing it back for an extended run.

Pogoff felt drawn to the music, and knew he wanted to do something with it for a long time.

“I was introduced to the music in high school, and in college studied it further — I majored in ethnomusicology,” he says. “I moved to New York City to be closer to the music, probably the largest (concentration) in the world. There’s enough of a scene that you can go out almost every night to hear it. I’d say it’s a younger crowd. It’s like a ball rolling constantly, picking up new followers.”

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


Balkan brass has more than a foothold in Pittsburgh, with bands like Lungs Face Feet and the Pandemic DJ night at Brillobox turning younger crowds onto the music.

Pandemic DJ Pete Spynda is doing a crowd-funding campaign (through for the Pittonkatonk Pittsburgh May Day Brass Festival and BBQ on May 3 at the Vietnam Veterans Pavilion, Schenley Park, Oakland. The event will feature bands from all over the country, including What Cheer? Brigade, Timbeleza, Detroit Party Marching Band, Lungs Face Feet and Black Bear Combo.


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