Concert(s) review: HONK! Festival 2013

Technically the HONK! festival is only about half over, but I’ve worn myself out so much this week I don’t really see myself being able to attend any more of it (well, maybe the parade…). So: I will take this time to write and share videos and such.

The HONK! festival is an annual festival in Somerville, Massachusetts, bringing together activist street bands from across the world (although for cost reasons most of them are from the U.S., I did see both European and South American bands this weekend). From the “What is HONK!” page on their website…

Across the country and around the world, a new type of street band is emerging. Acoustic and mobile, borrowing repertoire and inspiration from a diverse set of folk music traditions – New Orleans second line brass bands, European Klezmer, Balkan and Romani music, Brazilian Afro Bloc and Frevo traditions, as well as the passion and spirit of Mardi Gras and Carnival– these “honkers” all share a commitment to several core principles. Metaphorically speaking, they honk their horns for the same reasons motorists honk theirs: to arouse fellow travelers, to warn of danger, to celebrate milestones, and to just plain have fun.

First and foremost, they honk their horns – or beat their drums, or wave their flags – to enliven and embolden their audience. Members vary widely in age, class, ethnicity and background, and although they often wear some kind of uniform, there is also always an emphasis on individuality and a “DIY” (do-it-yourself) sensibility to their instrumentation and attire. These bands play music that is truly of, by, and for “the people.” The distinction between performer and audience, just like the distinctions between different musical genres, is just one more arbitrary social boundary they aspire to overcome.

The result of all this as far as the audience goes is that we have a four-day entirely-free festival full of the craziest, most fun brass and marching bands that you’ll ever see in one place. Since Thursday I’ve seen nine bands plus a jam session, and my favorite band so far was Os Siderais from Brazil (so good I had to see them twice!):

That video was from Thursday night’s pre-HONK! kick-off concert, held in front of Precinct Bar in Union Square in Somerville (a nearly-convenient walk from where I live, so it was a no-brainer to attend). They were actually borrowing some (more…)