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Brass, beat, and summer heat

By Carol Fryday, Bloomfield Development Corporation

Though he’s best known for Pandemic, his long-running series of raucous dance parties, Bloomfield resident Pete Spynda, is now taking the festivities from the club scene to a number of outdoor, family-friendly venues.

Pandemic Pete
Spyda sets the beat at Brillobox, which hosts “Pandemic” the first Friday of the month.

This DJ, concert promoter, and party-thrower, will be introducing an eclectic mix of world music to Pittsburghers of all ages with a summer of foot-stomping events.

Spynda kicks off the merry-making on May 2nd with Pittonkatonk, a loud, riotous, and just-plain-fun brass band festival and potluck.

Like last years’ event, which drew a hip crowd of over 750, this year’s festival features an assortment of high-energy, mobile marching bands playing a global mix. And because there’s no stage, the bands mingle with revelers who dance until their feet hurt.

To the uninitiated, dancing to the music of brass marching bands may sound incongruous, so Spynda puts the scene into its musical context, pointing out that, “There’s a whole legacy of carnival bands in Brazil, marching jazz bands in New Orleans, and Balkan brass ensembles that perform at wedding, parades, and funerals.”

Pittonkatonk
The official poster for Pittonkatonk illustrates the May Day insanity.

But unlike these more established genres, Pittonkatonk features music that sometimes defies category.

While What Cheer? Brigade, an 18-piece punk brass band from Providence, RI, plays an aggressive mix of Bollywood, hip-hop, punk, and Latin; the 27-piece Detroit Party Marching Band, pumps out what it describes as party-ready “Guerrilla brass.”

After Pittonkatonk, the party continues with Weather Permitting, a summer-long Sunday evening concert series. A collaboration between Spynda and Shadyside Nursery owners, Bill Brittain and Mike Georges, the series is now in it’s third year. Every week the nursery turns into a vibrant outdoor event space featuring bands, beer from local breweries, food trucks, and a farmer’s market. Last year the series averaged 150-200 partygoers each week and it’s growing in popularity, in large part because it too is family-friendly.

Pandemic Poster 1
“Drinking Dancing Yelling Stomping,” pretty much sums it up.

As a father, Spynda understands the need for events where adults can bring their family. “An outdoor space allows everyone to enjoy the music away from the usual nighttime scene in bars and clubs.” While Spynda books the bands and sets the scene for his summer series, his 6-year-old daughter, Sophie, an aspiring event planner, organizes the childrens’ activities and personally tests all squirt guns, bubble wands, and other toys before they are distributed to the crowd.

Spynda also manages the Bayardstown Social Club, another cool summer alternative to the bar scene. The Club, which turns an empty lot in the Strip District into a backyard barbecue, provides members and guests with grills, a horseshoe pit, picnic tables, food trucks, and live music.

In addition to his roster of summer events, Spynda takes Pandemic for a spin the first Friday of every month at Brillobox in Lawrenceville where party-goers dance to a hybrid of traditional folk and contemporary dance music from around the world, including gypsy brass, cumbia, chalga, bollywood, afrobeats, Arabic and African hip hop, and Brazilian bass.

Pandemic has also turned up the volume at the Three Rivers Arts Festival, the Carnegie International, the Andy Warhol Museum, and the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, and is available to light up private parties throughout the region.