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, Slide Worldwide Brass 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.
2. Bayardstown Social Club Opening Night: May 8, 3008 Penn Avenue, Strip District
Where can you sit around a campfire with the city’s skyline at your back? No it’s not the name of Pittsburgh’s newest rugby club, nor is it a new musical opening at the Pittsburgh CLO. If you’ve heard the buzz about Bayardstown Social Club but still don’t know what the heck it is, you don’t want to miss its season opener. What began as a summer experiment in 2013, has become Pittsburgh’s most talked about outdoor venue with 1,000-plus members and counting.
Social clubbers will be treated to live music under the stars by good-time country and swing band The Turpentiners and funky soul by DJ Gordy G of the Title Town, movies and seasonal treats. Test your skills at outdoor games, including—if you dare—rounds of Stump (read: a game involving a hammer, nails, a tree stump and beer). Fuel up with grub at local food trucks and wash it all down with Rock Bottom brews.
Along with your membership ($40), you’ll want to snag some BSC merch, such as t-shirts, patches and koozies featuring the club’s logo—a tribute to the 19th-century street gang the Bayardstown Rats and the Strip’s former name. The brainchild of Pittsburgh-based innovation studio Deeplocal, the communal BYOB spot is equipped with picnic tables, grills, fire pits, tape decks, boom boxes, shade and rain cover and a stage.
Looking for another winning combo of outdoor fun, live music and beer? Don’t miss the kick-off of Weather Permitting‘s 2015 season on Sunday, May 31st at Shadyside Nursery, which is open to all ages and will feature music by Slim Forsyth and The Hills and The Rivers.
3. Pittsburgh Fringe Festival: May 8 – 10, Northside
Where can you see edgy productions in a German tavern or an art-house? What began in 1947 in Edinburgh, Scotland—and is now the world’s largest arts festival—has gone on to spawn a movement in 200-plus cities worldwide. For its second annual installment, the Pittsburgh Fringe Festival is presenting a weekend of experimental theatre in unconventional Northside-based venues, including restaurants Bistro to Go and Max’s Allegheny Tavern and eclectic house installation Randyland.
How does Fringe work? Participants produce, market and present original shows during a Pittsburgh or world premiere. Artists and companies may perform in designated Northside venues, on city sidewalks or in self-selected site-specific spaces. The lineup of 25 edgy acts includes Pittsburghers as well as artists from Kentucky, Massachusetts and New York. Underscoring Fringe’s staunchly grassroots spirit, performers were selected by festival staffers at random during an online party.
Fringe-goers will be treated to one-of-kind theatrical “spectacularities,” including a musical featuring puppets made from discarded materials, a blog‐style solo show exploring the everyday woman, a spoken‐word performance about LGBT themes, a fresh version of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a stand‐up horror show and a City of Play adventure. Performers include ManDamsel, FellaLady, Paul Strickland, Cheryl Capezzuti, Cup‐A‐Jo Productions, Carnegie Screenwriters and others.
4. Vintage Pittsburgh: May 9, Senator John Heinz History Center
Get your spring cleaning done now so you’ll have enough room to hold everything cool you find at Vintage Pittsburgh. Kitsch, conversation and collectibles will converge at this one-day showcase of hard-to-find-treasures. Whether you’re looking for a flashy polyester frock to wear to a Mad Men finale party or you need a mid-century end table, don’t miss the fifth edition of this locally produced retro marketplace.
Featuring 40-plus regional sellers with something for all budgets and retro tastes, the fair brings together collectors and small businesses under one roof for a celebration of design, community and nostalgia. Items for sale include furniture, fashion, art posters, toys, vinyl records, home décor and more. New this year will be sounds from WRCT DJ Jay Thurber—known for his Pittsburgh oldies show—who will broadcast live on 88.3 FM. Need a shave? Take a seat and have a stylists from Graham’s Barber Shop hook you up with a beard trim or a cut.
Attendees can explore the History Center’s new We Can Do It! WWII exhibition, which features four Jeeps, 275-plus rare artifacts, interactive displays and immersive environments. Showcasing Pittsburgh’s role during WWII from the home front to the battlefield, the 10,000-square-foot exhibition shares compelling stories behind “real-life Rosie the Riveters” and local Tuskegee Airmen whose significant contributions made a lasting impact on the war effort.
The event is included with regular museum admission (free for members). Want a first look at all of the wares? A limited number of $15 tickets are available for the VIP Preview which takes place from 9 to 10 a.m. View a complete list of vendors.
Looking for more deals? Check out the Neighborhood Flea on Sunday, May 10th in the Strip District.
5. #NOWSEETHIS with Kelela, Dinner, Juliana Huxtable: May 9, Carnegie Museum of Art
Where can you not only experience cutting-edge art but also become part of it? Carnegie Museum of Art and VIA are combining their talents to present a one-night-only collision of music and new media art. Celebrating the inaugural year of the Hillman Photography Initiative, the event will activate spaces throughout the museum with live visual and interactive projects, music and sound performances and cutting-edge applications of photography.
The cultural mashup will feature performances by LA-based vocalist and songwriter Kelela, Danish singer and producer Dinner (aka Anders Rhedin) and NYC-based producer Juliana Huxtable, a writer, model and leading trans voice within contemporary pop culture. Berlin-based collective Pussykrew, Pittsburgh-based artist Kevin Ramser and CMU students will present interactive video and works exploring real and virtual spaces. Attendees will encounter digital environments generated from 3D scans of local people and places, live video performances and activities using personal devices.
Ready to make your own art? Grab a friend or stranger and step into the group photo booth, CrashKiss. Watch as your faces digitally collide to a create surreal kiss in the premiere of this project created by artists Rollin and Tad Leonard. Take home a free print and add your image to the online CrashKiss archive. Next, swing by the Augmentats temporary tattoo installation to apply some ink, download a custom app and explore digital imagery.
The party also serves as the launch for a new publication documenting the online People’s History of Pittsburgh. Edited by artists-in-residence Melissa Catanese and Ed Panar, the book features photographs and stories from area residents.
Open to ages 18 and up. Purchase tickets.
6. American Falls: May 14 – 31, barebones productions
It seems fitting that Patrick Jordan chose Miki Johnson’s striking play, American Falls, as the inaugural production for christening his company’s new digs in Braddock (read more about that here). Don’t miss this unique theatrical experience that’s crafted around a local premiere and new growth on the horizon for both barebones and the Mon Valley town. Audiences will get a behind-the-scenes look at barebones’ intimate black box theater while it’s under construction and will be treated to a preview of the soon-to-open Superior Motors restaurant featuring small plates by chef Kevin Sousa and local libations.
Dubbed a “modern day Our Town,” Johnson’s debut play documents the lives of seven people—some living, some dead—in American Falls, Idaho. Says barebones: “From a ghost drinking beer in a lawn chair to a Native American shoe salesman, the population of American Falls is the product of America’s improbable experiment.” Theater-goers will follow the intertwining paths of multi-dimensional characters in a work that “carries us from Bruce Willis in Moonlighting to the actual moon; from the cool pain of alienation to the warm embrace of belonging.”
Audiences and actors alike will confront life’s age-old—and perhaps unanswerable—questions: What is it to live? What does it mean to die? Directed by Jordan, American Falls features Cary Anne Spear, Liz Hammond, Leandro Cano, Connor McCanlus, Dave Mansueto, Sarah Silk and John Steffenauer. A vital voice in contemporary American theatre, Johnson received Houston Theatre’s Best Playwright Award for American Falls in 2012. A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, she received her MFA from Yale and is a writer for AMC. Seating is extremely limited, so purchase tickets today.
7. 90 Neighborhoods and 7 Solo Exhibits: May 15, Pittsburgh Center for the Arts
Pittsburgh is known worldwide for its authentic neighborhoods and unique topographies. If there’s one local artist who has dedicated his craft to documenting the region, it’s Ron Donoughe.
From underneath bridges to inside cemeteries, experience all 90 of Pittsburgh’s distinct neighborhoods via Donoughe’s eyes when Pittsburgh Center for the Arts opens its latest lineup of exhibitions. On view through August 9th, Donoughe’s highly-anticipated exhibition features one view from each neighborhood painted by the Loretto, PA native, who is now based in Lawrenceville. Acclaimed for his realistic plein air landscapes, Donoughe can be spotted working outdoors around the region with his signature easel and palette in hand. Before becoming a full-time painter, Donoughe did stints as a landscaper, chicken catcher, museum installer and even a gravedigger.
Also opening at PCA are seven solo exhibitions showcasing new work by local artists Danny Bracken, Haylee Ebersole, B A Harrington with Chele Isaac, Brett Kashmere, Derek Reese, Mark Schatz and Steven Sherrill. Curated by Adam Welch, the solo and collaborative shows span a range of media, from immersive installations to mixed media sculptures. Don’t miss the opening reception on Friday, May 15th from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Admission is $5 (free to PF/PCA members).
One thing we love about Pittsburgh events, is that you can find yourself partying in abandoned warehouses, lofts, malls and even a once-roaring steel mill. At the Rivers of Steel Festival, attendees can experience another important local landmark—the historic Pump House situated at the Waterfront in Homestead.
A cornucopia of regional culture, cuisine and history, the free family-friendly festival will highlight the ethnic and folk traditions—both new and old—of Western PA. Peruse handcrafted gifts made by local artisans, sample regional foods from Pittsburgh’s culinary melting pot, enjoy live music by Steel Clover and Rankin Junior Tamburitzans and learn arts and crafts techniques during demos and workshops. Featured vendors include Steel City Grazers, Hip and Modern Soap, Dragon Lady Tie Dyes, North Avenue Candles and more.
Attendees can also learn about the site’s role during the 1892 Homestead strike and lockout—one of the bloodiest battles in in U.S. labor history—which involved Carnegie Steel Company’s Homestead Works. Part of the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, the Historic Pump House is a trailhead along the scenic Great Allegheny Passage.
9. Saints Tour: May 21 – June 13, Bricolage Production Company
Pittsburgh’s dramatic topography—with juxtapositions of winding city steps, urban hollers, skeletons of industry and nestled row houses—seems to engender an intersection of past, present and future. In Bricolage‘s newest immersive experience, audiences will eschew the passive seats of conventional theater and traverse the storied terrain of Pittsburgh’s Mon Valley. Teaming up with Pittsburgh’s newest theatre makers, Real/Time Interventions, Saints Tour takes the fluid form of a bus and walking trip designed to reveal “mystical things” along its route.
Created by playwright Molly Rice, Saints Tour follows on the heels of Bricolage’s recent shows, OjO and STRATA, which created buzz locally and garnered international attention as part of a burgeoning wave of immersive theatre. As active participants, tour-goers will move through the “nooks and crannies of Braddock, North Braddock and Braddock Hills, led by the Tour Guide whose family has been rooted to the land for centuries.” A site-specific play crafted for these neighborhoods (read: latitude and longitude 40.403402/-79.868382), the trek promises encounters with “visual enchantments, sudden music, mysterious occurrences and other sub rosa traces of the saints that shape the narrative of this community.”
Participating artists are Nathan Barnes, Sanford Barnes, TaeAjah Cannon, Lenka Clayton, Vanessa German, New Guild Studios, David Pohl, Zena Ruiz, Linsday Sherloum, James Simon, Bria Walker and others. Tour partners include Braddock Youth Project, Braddock Carnegie Library, Gardweeno, Grow Pittsburgh, Braddock Farms, Superior Motors and Unsmoke Systems. How does it all end? With a shared meal in a secret setting, and we could not dream up a better culmination.
Ready to believe? Book your Saints Tour today.
10. Pearlstein, Warhol, Cantor: From Pittsburgh to New York: May 29, The Andy Warhol Museum
Andy Warhol’s name is as synonymous with Pittsburgh as are 19th-century giants Heinz and Carnegie. But what about the King of Pop’s artistic circle during his early days in Pittsburgh? The Warhol Museum‘s latest exhibition explores the work of Philip Pearlstein, Andy Warhol and Dorothy Cantor during their pivotal time as students at Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon), and as aspiring young artists in NYC.
Co-curated by Jessica Beck and Matt Wrbican, Pearlstein, Warhol, Cantor: From Pittsburgh to New York is the first exhibition to examine this important early period for the three artists. Visitors will see the artists’ early assignments in commercial illustration and graphic design, and will discover how they navigated their way through the competitive art world during the 1940s and 1950s. With Pittsburgh as its starting point, the exhibition features rarely seen paintings and drawings completed for classes taught by Carnegie Tech professor Robert Lepper. Works include images of Pittsburgh cultural landmarks, dinosaur fossils at Carnegie Museum of Natural History, interiors of Carnegie Music Hall, the old Duquesne Gardens arena and more.
Featuring 175 works, the informative collection also explores the period when Warhol and Pearlstein were fellow students and roommates in NYC, Pearlstein’s time in the military and Cantor’s struggles within the male dominated art world, her marriage to Pearlstein in 1950 and her decision to abandon her practice and begin a family. Also featured are archival materials and photographs, Cantor’s visual explorations of NYC bridges, highways and subway stations and never-before-exhibited new work by Pearlstein depicting nude models wearing antique animal masks.
Don’t miss the public opening on May 29th from 7 to 10 p.m., which features swing-era jazz played by DJs Mike Plaskett and Dale Abraham of WESA’s Rhythm Sweet & Hot, half-price museum admission and a cash bar.
Because all good lists must come to an end, we give you our 6 very honorable mentions for May:
The Geek Art and Green Innovators Festival during Unblurred: May 1
Midsummer at City Theatre Company: May 9 – 31
Assemble’s Maker Date at the Teamster’s Temple in Lawrenceville: May 16
Chuck Palahniuk at Carnegie Library Lecture Hall in Oakland: May 21
TEDx Pittsburgh at The Byham Theater: May 23 which NEXTpittsburgh is sponsoring. Look for a story soon!
F295 photography symposium: May 28 – 31
Looking for music?
Check out our 10 can’t-miss Pittsburgh concerts in May feature.
Looking for family activities?
Check out our Top 10 Family Adventures this May in Pittsburgh feature.