There are so many excellent concerts and performances happening in Pittsburgh in May that we had no other choice: once again, we dialed it to 11.

Spinal Tap

That’s 11 can’t-miss concerts and festivals, excluding Beyonce at Heinz Field (which, face it, you already have tickets for) and a trio of shows not that have already sold out: Diiv at Spirit, Ellie Goulding at Stage AE, and The Struts at Altar Bar. (UPDATE: Diiv has been moved to Spirit upstairs and tickets are again on sale.) Read quickly, and buy your tickets soon before these shows sell out as well:


Smoke & Steel at the Carrie Furnaces: April 30 and May 1

The Bach Choir of Pittsburgh presents the world premiere of Smoke & Steel, a brand new choral work inspired by “the history of Pittsburgh and our legacy as a steel manufacturing giant,” composed by CMU Professor Nancy Galbraith using the poetry of Carl Sandburg. The 80+ member choir will be joined by a full orchestra as well as bass soloist Kevin Glavin, past winner of the Luciano Pavarotti Competition. The event takes place in front of the Carrie Furnaces, in Swissvale, lending the performance a striking background as evocative as the performance itself.

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Pittsburgh Festival of New Music: May 4 – May 30

Alia Musica presents a series of brand new, classic, and avant-garde musical performances throughout Pittsburgh all month long. There’s a flash mob performance of Stravinsky’s Firebird at Market Square; a mile-long, 21-member song/performance/public art installation along Penn Avenue; a world premiere performance by renowned throat singer/composer Ken Ueno; a two-day performance of Cornelius Cardew’s The Great Learning, inspired by Ezra Pound’s Confucius translations; and so much more. Get the full lineup at the Festival website. The event is made possible in part by a grant from the The National Endowment for the Arts, Heinz Endowments, Pittsburgh Foundation, and more.

PitchBlak Brass Band at Pittonkatonk. Photo by Jae Roberto.

Pittonkatonk: A May Day Brass BBQ/Picnic at the Vietnam Veterans Pavilion, Schenley Park: May 7

Pittonkatonk, now in its third year, is more than just a really fun word to say. It’s more than just a BBQ, and it’s more than just a concert. At it’s heart, Pittonkatonk is about community. The free, daylong event is a grassroots way of connecting people of all ages and backgrounds through music and food. There is no formal stage; instead, brass musicians of all styles and genres—Balkan, New Orleans jazz, punk, and more— perform with abandon throughout the day. This year’s performers include the What Cheer? Brigade (RI), West Philly Orchestra, Raya Brass Band (NY), and many more, including, from Pittsburgh, Timbeleza, Colonel Eagleburgers Highstepping Goodtime Band, and University Prep (Hill District) High School Marching Band. Those planning to attend are asked to bring a dish to contribute to the potluck. Donations will be accepted on the day of the event.

Baroness. Photo by Jimmy Hubbard.
Baroness. Photo by Jimmy Hubbard.

Baroness at Mr. Smalls: May 8

Baroness is one of the most consistently excellent metal bands around. Bubbling out of the same cauldron of sludge metal as fellow Savannahians Kylesa and Black Tusk, Baroness made a name for themselves with 2007’s Red Album, which was produced by Kylesa’s Phillip Cope and named album of the year by Revolver. The Blue Record came in 2009 and was followed by tours with Mastodon, Deftones and Metallica. A double album, Yellow & Green, came in 2012, and finally, in December of 2015, Purple. That album comes after a 2012 tour bus accident that nearly cost the band’s singer and rhythm guitarist, John Baizley, his arm, and resulted in serious injuries to the band’s bass player and drummer, both of whom subsequently left the band. Undaunted, and with two new members, Purple might be Baroness’s best album yet:

The Avett Brothers at Stage AE (outdoors): May 12

The Avett Brothers have played Pittsburgh a lot in the past decade, from Club Cafe and Diesel to the Ches-A-Rena (remember that place?), to headlining the Pete in 2014. This will be the second time the Avetts have headlined the outdoor stage at Stage AE. They blend folk-punk, rock and bluegrass into a sound that is distinctly and authentically American—one that bands like Dawes and Mumford and Sons wish they could emulate. It’s a performance pretty much guaranteed to be worth the $45 ticket price. Bluegrass group Chatham County Line open. Here are the Avetts on ACL:

Savages at Mr. Smalls: May 17

Brilliant London post-punk outfit Savages returns to Mr. Smalls in support of their new album, Adore Life, which somehow managed to live up to the lofty standards set by their debut album, 2013’s Silence Yourself.  The four-piece, clad in black, make for a striking site on stage, all the morose with lead singer Jehnny Beth lurching around like any good punk front person, prodding the audience with her lyrics, daring the crowd to put away their phones and experience this art form in the present and embrace the raw, visceral emotions their performance elicits.

Brian Conway is a writer and photographer whose articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune and local publications. In his free time, he operates Tripsburgh. Brian lives in the South Side.