The third annual "Providence Honk! Fest" (aka "Pronk!") rounds up 10 brass marching bands from Texas to Chicago to New York for a great big hootenanny in Providence on Monday, October 11. It's the kind of music — ranging from New Orleans-style brass to big band renditions of Indie rock to Caribbean dance rhythms — that knocks you back with its wall of sound, grabs your heart, and shakes your hips. And it's all free.
"We invite street bands — brass and drum bands — who also identify as activist bands from all over the country," co-organizer Lydia Stein explains. "We basically are trying to create a whole day of street takeover, public space takeover celebrations."
The festival kicks off with performances at India Point Park in the Fox Point section of Providence from 3:30 to 5 pm. Then at 5 pm, the bands parade with Big Nazo goons, bicyclists, and roller derby dames down Wickenden Street to South Water Street, where the river meets the hurricane barrier. From 6 to 10:30 pm, they play a block party in the Hot Club parking lot at 575 South Water Street and the neighboring greenway. Stein hints, "There may be a surprise spectacle involving the river."
Featured bands include Providence's own What Cheer? Brigade and Extraordinary Rendition Band, Black Bear Combo of Chicago, Dirty Water Brass Band of Boston, Environmental Encroachment of Chicago, Emperor Norton's Stationary Marching Band of Somerville, Massachusetts, Minor Mishap Marching Band of Austin, Texas, Rude Mechanical Orchestra of Brooklyn and — new this year — Dja-Rara, a Haitian community band from Brooklyn and Zu Krewe, the youth street band from Providence's AS220.
"It is totally a grassroots kind of celebration. We don't have any big sponsors to make it happen," Stein says. "All of us organizers are volunteers. The bands are just barely breaking even when they come here. They stay on people's couches."
"Pronk!" (providencehonkfest.org) grew out of the "Honk!" Festival, which was founded five years ago in Boston, and runs this year from October 8 to 10. "Honk!" was founded by (mainly) Bread and Puppet Theater alums, who had performed with many of these street bands while traveling the country protesting the impending US invasion of Iraq in 2003. "All over the country people are developing exciting ways to resist the everyday oppression and transform the streets," Stein says.
"Pronk!" isn't a protest per se, it's more of a big brass blowout, plus dancers, hula-hoopers and psychedelic bunnies. It lassos the marching band phenomenon that has become apparent over the past decade or so. Which itself is part of the larger trend of nerd culture — from Harry Potter fantasy to Magnetic Fields twee pop to former high school band geeks — moving to the center.
"These are bands that are revolutionizing the way of making music and making community," Stein says. "There is a whole range of ways they are doing it. Oftentimes they have open membership, or relatively open membership, meaning people can join if they are not virtuosos. So they can have the joy of being in a band, which is actually very special. They are often run democratically. They don't have one leader, as is traditional in bands. They often play for causes, whether it is anti-war or a community celebration or a fundraiser. They play for causes they believe in. It's not only that . . . They're just not focused on making money and getting famous."