Honk! if you're (French) horny
It starts with a little lip action – a wiggle and a tussle, as mouth meets mouthpiece. Each move, each contraction, a potential new note. Lungs fill, then empty, sometimes in short, staccato bursts, sometimes in delirious sustain. It's a game of control between taut lips and the air that's all around. One blow takes the gust from mouth to metal. The music goes round and around. And it comes out, in this case, through the meandering, big, brass tubes of Minor Mishap Marching Band's two dozen or so horns of all shapes and sizes.
There's nothing like a marching band, and Austin's Minor Mishap is but one of dozens of emergent community bands across the country – and one of 20 mobile acoustic units coming from all over to perform at the Honk!TX festival this weekend.
For most folks, exposure to marching bands is usually limited to sporting events, the occasional oompah experience at a Hill Country biergarten, or a junket to the Big Easy. And while New Orleans is still the first place that pops to mind for grassroots nonprofit street bands, other cities have taken the cue and started their own – enough to inspire the festival known simply as Honk!
The first Honk! happened five years ago in Somerville, Mass. Since then, loosely affiliated celebrations have popped up in sister cities Seattle; Providence, R.I.; and Brooklyn, N.Y. This month's is Austin's inaugural fest.
"There's no central governing structure," according to Jeff Luna, mellophone player in MMMB and Honk!TX coordinator. "Everybody does their own thing and caters to their own community's needs."
Honk!TX coordinator Chris Ledesma says: "We were encouraged by the other Honk! organizers. There are guiding principles to what a Honk! fest should be. We've stuck to the spirit of Honk! while giving it an Austin flavor."
"Once you've put on a Honk!," says Luna, "You're a mentor for the other Honk!s."
In spring 2010, Minor Mishap joined forces with local party posse iLoveMikeLitt to plan this year's fest. In mid-November, they launched a Kickstarter campaign, and within 30 days raised more than $10,000, attracting a handful of impressive sponsors, including Wheatsville, South by Southwest, and Whole Foods. The bulk of the total, however, came from "smaller, $25 donations," says MMMB trombone player and Honk! plotter Jason Fialkoff,
Lexington, Ky.'s March Madness Marching Band, notes Luna, "raised over $3,000 in a month and a half. The Scene of the Crime Rovers in Durham, N.C., raised about $2,500, and Titanium Sporkestra in Seattle raised $8,000." March Madness, says Ledesma, didn't even know about Honk! until this year. "They're bringing 40 people."
This festival, according to Fialkoff, "was so easy to book. I sent out an e-mail and got responses that same day: 'Oh yeah, sure, we'll bring 20 people to Austin.' Honk! has a good reputation," as does Austin, he muses. "You put those things together, and people come running."
It is sheer coincidence that Austin's first Honk! coincides with South by Southwest. In planning for the fest, coordinators aimed for Mardi Gras and landed on the major international festival.
"When we reached out, South by Southwest responded positively," says Luna. "Now we have this relationship." The collaboration makes sense to Honk!. "South by Southwest created this great thing in Austin. Similarly, they recognize the value in what we're doing."
Last year during SXSW Film, many folks in line at the Paramount Theatre on Congress were treated to the yellow-and-black-clad Mishaps' random, spontaneous eruptions of boisterous Balkan beats or New Orleans second line strains. This year, the potential is multiplied by 20 street bands. "We're talking hundreds of mobile musicians," Luna says in all earnestness. "I don't think Austin even knows what that looks like.
"We're not trying to compete with South by Southwest at all, but at the same time, there will be a lot of people waiting in lines. If some of our bands want to go out and entertain those people – we wouldn't encourage it, but we certainly wouldn't discourage it either."
The official Honk!TX shows will manifest on a number of stages and locations across town (see schedule, below) culminating in a parade from City Hall to the Eastside on Sunday.
"All we need to make something magical happen," smiles Fialkoff, "is a little bit of space and a lot of desire. To see that on a mass scale [as we did] in Boston and Seattle, where 20 bands get together and do it over the course of a weekend, is one of the most unique things I've ever been a part of."
Honk!TX happens Friday-Sunday, March 11-13, at a number of venues. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.honktx.org.
Friday, March 11 East Sixth Street area, 6-10pm
East Side Drive-In (two stages), 1001 E. Sixth
Cheer Up Charlie's, 1104 E. Sixth
Saturday, March 12 Adams Park area, 11am-7pm
Adams-Hemphill Park (two stages), 201 W. 30th
Spider House Patio Bar & Cafe (two stages), 2908 Fruth
Waterloo Cycles, 2815-A Fruth
Four Sons' Quality Cleaners, 3001 Guadalupe
Sunday, March 13 Crosstown parade and Pan Am Park, noon-5pm
Public parade from City Hall, 201 W. Second, to Pan Am Park, 2100 E. Third
Performances at Pan Am Park, 2-5pm