How local events producer grew crowds from 100 to 8,000 and survived the preparation | Backstage | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

How local events producer grew crowds from 100 to 8,000 and survived the preparation

click to enlarge Pete Spynda - CP PHOTO: JARED WICKERHAM
CP photo: Jared Wickerham
Pete Spynda

Name: “Pandemic Pete” Spynda, Bloomfield Expatriate
Work: Event producer, DJ, and promoter: Pandemic Dance Party, Weather Permitting, Pittonkatonk, Pittsburgh Abides, and 25 Carrick Ave

What do you do all day?

A little bit of long term, a little bit of short term, a little bit of intermediate stuff. For Pittonkatonk, I’m in grant-writing mode, identifying staffing positions, putting out feelers to artists. Weather Permitting is this afternoon. Do I need to pick up bottled water? Do we have enough wristbands, change for the door? I have to write a press release for Pittsburgh Abides. I’m starting to think about September and October. I’m bringing a band from Peru that are older gentlemen so [they] need accommodations I can afford and they’re comfortable with. I have to think about promoting that event because the guarantee is high, so I have to stir up enough people to come out.

So in addition to the logistics, there’s drawing an audience.

Largely I work with artists who are not mainstream, from pocket-niche, world-music cultures. That requires almost twice as much work because I’m trying to create that audience. I think one of the biggest roles I play is hyping someone largely unknown or under-known here. Last month I brought a band from Mali. No one knew who they were, they were amazing musicians, and everyone who came was, “That was the best show I’ve ever seen!” I need to be able to get that word out to let people know, "This might be the best band you’ve ever seen."

And sometimes you’re developing an event for a specific audience?

With Weather Permitting, my daughter was 4 and had been to outdoor concerts. By the time bands started, it was too late or there was just nothing for her to do. I wanted to create something for friends with kids who don’t get bored, because there’s a sandbox, hula hoops, a big giant Jenga. I was able to curate to entertain kids but not with kids’ bands, with music adults want to see. That’s how I consider myself more of a promoter. I’m not someone you plug into a venue and say, “OK, go.” I need to take the situation into consideration. 

How did you start?

Collecting world music, playing in bands, sharing practice space with a couple other guys all talking about throwing a dance party. At the time, 2005, there were very few options — Strip District clubs and ’80s nights. We were relentless [in putting] together something different outside the mainstream. We would never go to dance clubs, but we wanted to dance to this music. We just started doing it not knowing anything, figured we’d try it a couple times and see what [happened]. Then I kept doing it.

For a pretty long time.

Pandemic, almost 14 years. Weather Permitting, we’re finishing up our seventh season, Pittonkatonk has been around seven years as well.

And has evolved significantly.

First, it was a hundred people in a garage. When we decided to bring more bands, we took it to a park. Public space, centrally located, shelter, picnic tables, the most cost-effective way of creating the event. Cool, we’ve got six or seven local bands, three or four international bands, we’ll see you in the park. 

Eight thousand people came this year. How the hell do you prepare for that? “How many port-a-potties do you need?” What? Originally you just reserved the pavilion, now you’ve got to get a special-events permit, hire police officers, think about insurance, and risk assessment, and more port-a-potties. 

I think this is what people don’t realize when it comes to event producing. That’s part of the job, that’s what every day is for me. And after every single event I think about what I can do to make that event a little bit better. 


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