Schenley Park hosts 3rd annual Pittonkatonk brass music festival and picnic

Photo by Alexis Kennell

Performing for a colorful sea of people splayed out on patchwork picnic blankets, national and local brass bands had people dancing and sweating into the night this Saturday.

The annual, free Pittonkatonk 2016: A May Day Brass Barbecue featured 12 bands and 150 performers at the Vietnam Veterans Pavilion in Schenley Park 12 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.

Pandemic and the Listening Spaces Project — two event-planning groups, the former for parties, the latter for music — organized and sponsored the event. Co-partners Pete Spyndaof Pandemic and Richard Randall of Listening Spaces, along with Stephanie Brea, funded the event themselves. The groups advertised on Facebook, where over 1,000 people said they’d be in attendance.

Because Pittonkatonk runs on donations, the food was a potluck — adding to the festival’s community vibe. Attendees could enjoy the feast so long as they brought something to contribute, or donated to the event financially.

Photo by Alexis Kennell

“[Pittonkatonk] is very grassroots. If people don’t actively participate, then the event doesn’t happen,” Spynda said. “It’s really about the community coming together and building something out of that.”

A mix of symphonic, New Orleans jazz, Balkan, street, protest and punk music filled the afternoon — rounding out the organizers’ intention of melding family reunion with music festival.

A continuous flow of people came in and out of the pavilion, some mingling while others scoured the available food. A few attendees, clad in colorful tutus and suspenders, danced with hula hoops in front of a makeshift stage at the entrance of the pavilion.

The organizers of Pittonkatonk wanted to make the event engaging, a way of giving back to the community while supporting its already well-formed artistic efforts. They worked with over 100 musicians throughout the year, providing educational programming as well as promoting events in Pittsburgh.

Sprinkled in this year’s lineup was the Colonel Eagleburger’s Highstepping Goodtime Band, and a local band, May Day Marching Band.

Cary Stewie Miller, the saxophone player for May Day Marching Band, said the band has been working with the University Prep High School Marching Band for more than five months as part of the Young Musicians Collaborative — a wing of the Pittonkatonk project.

“We played with them last year and it was a lot of fun,” Miller said.

The Young Musicians Collaborative is a project that includes workshops offering engagement in music-based opportunities for 50 Pittsburgh public high school students. The project engages youth from the Hill District and Homewood to break down the barriers between bands, musicians and the community.

Although it began to rain later in the day, Pittonkatonk maintained its lively momentum: one girl danced wearing only underwear, a conga line trailed under one of the drummer’s drums and people began live action role-playing.

“These guys showed up with literally a burlap sack of swords, nun chucks, axes and staves,” Anthony Cugini, a 2015 Pitt alum, said. “All the kids of course got involved and started having a mock battle.”

The bands played covers of popular songs like Alt-J’s “Fitzpleasure” and Radiohead’s “Kid A,” which encouraged everyone in attendance to dance.

“Pittonkatonk had me sweating all night,” Cugini said. “Brass section is an understatement — Pittonkatonk was gold.”

The festivities died down and the concert came to a close, ending on a note of camaraderie when everyone in attendance helped put all of the benches back into the pavilion.

“It’s about bringing the community together in a way that’s not about ticket sales or concession stand sales,” Spynda said. “It’s about getting everyone actively engaged and involved in the event to celebrate music, labor and culture.”

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