Street music with a mission
By Elizabeth Sheeran
Two-dozen self-described activist street bands will converge on Somerville and Cambridge this weekend for what promises to be a honking good time. The eight year-old HONK! Festival is the granddaddy of international gatherings for street bands whose mission is to make a difference with music.
For the public it’s a chance to take in an eclectic mix of boisterous street music from around the nation and beyond, over three days of free outdoor events. For the participants who spend much of the year taking their message to the streets, literally, it’s a chance to come together and celebrate the activist band movement.
“It doesn’t make sense for us to come up with a single mission for the festival because each of these bands has a cause, or sometimes a list of causes that are important to them,” said organizer Ken Field, a member of the locally-based Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society Brass Band, which is the host band for the festivities. “They come here because they like to hang out with like-minded bands. And of course they love performing.”
The bands’ musical takes, just like their hometowns, are all over the map. They hail from a dozen different states, as well as England and Brazil. They honor a long and diverse list of musical traditions: New Orleans brass, samba, Balkan folk, Haitian rara, punk, funk and hip hop, to name just a few. And set lists can range from familiar protest songs to original works that fuse anything from klezmer with tango, to oompah with rock. Field says the one thing that unites them all is a belief that music can be a force for positive change in their communities and in the world.
Special guests this year are dancers from the Original Big Seven Social Aid and Pleasure Club, a traditional second line parade organization based in New Orleans’ Seventh Ward, whose annual Mother’s Day parade this year was interrupted by gun violence, but who responded by successfully staging a “ReDo” parade. HONK! organizers said honoring the club “reaffirms the principle that the streets belong to the people.”
The 2013 HONK! festival starts making noise this Friday, October 11, with HONK! in the Neighborhoods, as the bands spread out around Somerville, Cambridge and Boston to play at, for and with youth organizations and other community groups. In a unique collaboration, Somerville High School students will play alongside Os Siderais, a street band from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in East Somerville’s Chuckie Harris Park from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Kids of all ages can participate in Friday night’s Lantern Parades. Seven different parades, led by seven different bands along seven different routes, will all leave Somerville’s Hodgkins Park at 7 p.m., illuminating the way with bike lights and homemade lanterns. Parade-walkers can get to the park early to create their lanterns during free workshops from 4 to 6 p.m. And Friday night also boasts a free evening of live music onstage at Johnny D’s in Davis Square, kicking off at 8 p.m. with a HONK! jam session featuring members from each of the festival bands.
The volume turns up a notch on Saturday with a full afternoon and evening of progressive street music in Davis Square, with two dozen bands spread among seven venues, from noon to 9 p.m. Original Big Seven dancers will entertain throughout the day. And kids can get up close and personal with music-makers at an instrument petting zoo from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
On Sunday the HONK! party moves en masse from Somerville to Cambridge, with a midday parade from Davis Square to Harvard Square, billed as a march to “Reclaim the Streets for Horns, Bikes and Feet.” The moving spectacle kicks off at noon with a line-up that features all of the HONK! bands, along with street performers and an ad hoc community band that will form just before the start. By Sunday afternoon, HONK! will merge with Harvard Square’s Oktoberfest, capping off the weekend with an All-Band Blowout Concert.
Field said HONK! represents the best of non-commercial community efforts, since most of the funding comes from individual donations, with a limited amount of city support, and unpaid volunteers do everything from staffing events to opening up their homes to hundreds of out-of-town musicians. Organizers don’t track attendance numbers, but HONK! 2013 is preparing to host lively crowds as in years past.
“What can you lose? It’s fun, it’s free, it’s outside. Check it out,” said Field.
HONK! 2013 runs from October 11-13. More information, including a complete schedule and line-up of bands, is available at honkfest.org.