Pittonkatonk, the Pittsburgh music festival for marching bands and other acoustic street music, is back, but it will look a little different from years past.
The window is still free and the location is the same: the Vietnam Veterans Pavilion in Schenley Park. And the music remains an eclectic mix, with everything from Balkan brass combos (like New York’s Novi Hitovi) to political hip-hop (New York’s Rebel Diaz and Pittsburgh’s 1Hood) and cumbia practitioners from Son Rompe Pera from Mexico City. There will even be a group of Pittonkatonk’s perennial favorites, the Detroit Party Marching Band.
But thanks in part to the pandemic, Pittonkatonk will be slightly smaller and less common than before. Rather than the audience crowding around the bands roaming freely under the pavilion’s roof, they will see the artists perform on a temporary outdoor stage. And the large shared picnic will be replaced by a line of food trucks.
The changes are due, of course, to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Pittonkatonk founder Pete Spynda joined the organizers of almost every other festival in person in canceling Pittonkatonk last year and was not comfortable putting it on its regular seasonal schedule in May (when the international holiday of the worker, May 1). In previous years, the grassroots festival drew thousands of people to listen to bands, read information from social justice groups, and have a picnic on the pavilion’s extensive lawn.
Now, with infections on the rise again, Spynda asks participants to get vaccinated and wear masks, regardless of their vaccination status.
“We are just trying to be as responsible as possible,” he said.
Pittonkatonk’s world musical flavor includes Combo Chimbita, which is based in New York but whose members have their roots in Colombia and play in a style they call “tropical futurism.” The group shares a base in cumbia music with Son Rompe Pera, quintet led by marimba.
“They have dedicated themselves to the marimba and traditional cumbia from all over Latin America, so they play everything from traditional South American music to pop hits and contemporary things,” said Spynda, speaking of Son Rompe Pera. “Their shirts say, ‘Cumbia is the new punk.’ It’s like the spirit of what we’ve been doing with Pittonkatonk all these years, fusing world music and punk spirit with punk aesthetics. “
“Cumbia is the street music of Latin America and I think it is very important that it is represented at the festival,” said Spynda, whose vision for the festival was born from his work as a DJ exploring music from around the world. .
Pittonkatonk is also an educational group, and Spynda said Son Rompe Pera will stay in town for several days to play in school and community events.
Other local artists include the Afro Yaqui Music Collective, a great jazz band informed by world music, and Big Blitz, a brass and percussion jazz trio.
Pittonkatonk is open from 4:00 pm to 11:00 pm, Friday, September 3. For more information, see the festival website.