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For The (Young) People: a Guide to the Pittonkatonk Youth Showcase

Friday’s pre-Pittonkatonk performance features PEP! (Pittonkatonk Education Program) and Sto-Rox students at Salem’s Event Space in the Strip District

by Andrew Moore
May 9, 2019

The Pittonkatonk May Day Celebration is a family-friendly event, and includes youth performers from across the Pittsburgh region. But at a festival with professional touring bands, it’s easy for younger musicians to get lost in the shuffle.

To remedy that, youth performers have been given their own time–and day–to shine.

“We wanted the kids to have their own space,” said Pittonkatonk’s Pete Spynda. And on Friday, May 10th, 2019, Pittonkatonk will host its first-ever Youth Showcase, at Salem’s Event Center in the Strip District.

PEP!, or the Pittonkatonk Education Program, has partnered with the Sto-Rox School District for the past three years. Ben Barson–co-leader of Pittsburgh’s Afro Yaqui Music Collective–is Pittonkatonk’s education director and teaches a jazz program at Sto-Rox High School.

Barson said the experience of teaching jazz and improvisation–and the opportunity to perform in front of thousands of people–has opened doors for student expression and self-exploration. “It’s been really transformational,” Barson said. “Both for them, but also for us as musicians and educators.”

Lemon Bucket Orkestra + Sto-Rox High School

Throughout the year, Pittonkatonk also invites touring bands to lead workshops with Sto-Rox students. This past September, Lemon Bucket Orkestra –a Toronto-based, punk-influenced Balkan brass band –visited with students and presented on the Romani and Eastern European cultures that influence their music. The band will return to Sto-Rox tomorrow, for a second workshop, ahead of their Pittonkatonk performance on Saturday.

May Day Marching Band + Casa San Jose

Pittonkatonk has also begun a partnership with the May Day Marching Band and Casa San Jose, a Latino community resource center serving southwest Pennsylvania.

Last November, the May Day Marching Band traveled to the Nogales, Arizona, for an action to protest the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border. When the youth participants returned from that trip–organized by Christina Acuna Castillo, of Casa San Jose–they asked to start a music program of their own.

“Our intentions with starting the program was more towards a healing music aspect that allows kids to learn in any way that they want to,” Castillo said.

Castillo said the Casa San Jose program is designed for immigrants, refugees, and youths of color–specifically individuals whose families have been impacted by ICE deportations, or police violence.

“In addition to saying that our pain is interconnected, we also sort of come together and gather to say that our healing and our joy can be interconnected too,” Castillo said.

The Casa San Jose youth will share the stage with the Sto-Rox jazz band, and organizers hope they’ll make connections. “The concept is trying to build community and solidarity through music,” Barson said.

Other Pittonkatonk performers–including Big Blitz, and members of The KRUNK Movement–will participate in Friday’s youth showcase.

“It’s really important…that we create these kinds of programs and opportunities where it’s not just entertainment for entertainment’s sake,” Barson said, “but hopefully there’s some meaningful social change that’s happening on the ground as a result.”

2019 Pittonkatonk Events

Learn more about Pittonaktonk

Read our story about Los Mirlos, a psychedelic cumbia band, who will be launching their first ever US tour at Pittonkatonk on Saturday

Andrew Moore is a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer, and author of Pawpaw: In Search of America's Forgotten Fruit.

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