James Retherford : Austin Street Band Festival: Marching for the Cause

The Honk!TX parade heads east down 2nd Street. Photo by James Retherford / The Rag Blog.

Marching for the cause:
Austin’s first community street band festival

By James Retherford / The Rag Blog / March 16, 2011

The streets belong to the people.
— Diggers, San Francisco, 1967

See more photos, Below.

AUSTIN — The first annual Honk!TX Fest, billed a “festival of community street hands,” marched on Austin Friday through Sunday, March 11-13.

Continuing a Honk! tradition started in 2006 in Somerville, Massachusetts — while also KEEPING AUSTIN WEIRD — some two dozen U.S. and Canadian street bands in gala attire created mobile “liberated zones” in East Austin and the North Campus area with color, costume, cacophony, and collective spirit, carrying “messages of hope, unity, and social change.” The weekend culminated on Sunday with a march from City Hall to East Austin’s Pan American Park, followed by an all-day jam.

(Though not formally associated with Austin’s massive South by Southwest [SXSW] festival, this event is part of hundreds of related music activities happening over the next week here in the “live music capital of the world.”)

The festival was organized by Austin’s Minor Mishap Marching Band, a 30-plus-member “renegade brass band” that describes itself as “Bourbon Street meets Budapest.” MMMP is a truly absurdist spectacle featuring a washboard-playing Roller Derby queen, an (almost) seven-foot-tall Elvis impersonator playing bass drum, a klezmer-shredding clarinet player, dancing tubas, and assorted other freaks of musical nature. Founded two years ago by multi-instrumentalist Datri Bean, this band really kicks it!

The Minor Mishap Marching Band hosted the weekend festival and set a high bar for musicality and theatre. Photo by James Retherford / The Rag Blog.

Also representing Austin (by way of Brazil, sorta) was the samba-sashaying Acadêmicos da Ópera, a huge contingent of drummers and dancers bringing the sensuous rhythms of the Carnaval parade.

The out-of-town guests brought their own hit-and-run street parties also. The red-and-white-themed Extraordinary Rendition Band from Providence, Rhode Island, the green-clad March Madness Marching Band (with hula-hoop twirlers) from Lexington, Kentucky, the Hubbub Club from Graton, California, Environmental Encroachment from Chicago, and Atlanta’s Seed & Feed Marching Abominable (founded in 1974) combined slapstick guerrilla street theatrics with high-energy funk, heavy metal, Eastern European, and Dixieland marching tunes.

Of special note: Seattle’s ultra-tight Titanium Sporkestra, named after the ubiquitous mutant fast food eating utensil. Their logo features a red spork and sickle.

The medium was unhinged fun, but the message from all of those hard-working, fun-loving musical groups was freedom and justice, starting from each public space liberated through the act of playing and then spiraling outward, with insistent drum beat, to the rest of the world. Ya gotta love it.

Minor Mishap Marching Band will open for White Ghost Shivers at Threadgill’s World Headquarters in Austin on March 26.

[Austin activist-journalist James Retherford was a founder and editor of The Spectator in Bloomington, Indiana, in 1966. A graphic designer, writer, and editor, Retherford is a director of the New Journalism Project, the nonprofit organization that publishes The Rag Blog.]

Atlanta’s Seed & Feed Marching Abominable’s “drum majorette” (left) leads the ensemble through some intricate dance steps. Right, The Titanium Sporkestra’s horn section feels the funk.

Austin’s Acadêmicos da Ópera sets a Carnaval mood with a spirited street samba.

The March Madness Marching Band from basketball-crazy Lexington, KY, is all about hoops.

Providence’s activist Extraordinary Rendition Band marches to the beat of a different drummer.

Big Elvis and Lil Miss Hap bring it to the street with that weird Austin beat. Photos by James Retherford / The Rag Blog.

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