HONK! Fest Weekend | October 9-11

Who ever imagined that an "activist street band" -- a group of musicians self-described as whimsical, horn-honking purveyors of social justice -- existed? What's more, who could have pictured that dozens of these musical ensembles have formed in various cities across the United States and foreign countries, all in the name of breaking down perceived social barriers and battling the "fatalism and indifference that has gripped the advanced industrial societies"?

For one, the minds behind our own annual HONK! Festival, a cacophonous "revolutionary street spectacle of never-before-seen proportions." This year's weekend-long gathering of hundreds of musicians began last Friday night with performances across various neighborhoods on both sides of the river, followed by a marathon series of open-air performances in Davis Square on Saturday and a march down Mass. Ave. to Harvard Square, where honkers joined forces with the square's 30th annual Oktoberfest. The honktacular cherry on top of this ear-splitting sundae was reserved for festival die-hards: musicians and spectators poured into the Somerville Theatre for the grand finale show on Sunday evening, the sole indoor portion of the weekend and the only event that required ticket purchase.

Saturday's events in Davis consisted of a sort of round-robin mash of performances in which bands were dispersed between the square's open spaces. As the crowds bounced from cluster to cluster and the brassy decibels mounted, it became increasingly difficult to distinguish between spectators and performers, with many a straggler or non-musician decked out in full HONK! attire. The chaotic hodge-podge of festival performers and audience members alike included circus-style environmental activists, Brazilian Samba radicals, a bunch of mimes, some stilt-walkers, and hordes of wandering Pacific Northwest types sporting either dreadlocks or neon, or both. Toto, I don't believe we're at Burning Man anymore.

It was easy to feel confused about the exact strategies that HONK! participants aimed to employ to battle violence and oppression (both, uh ... rampant in Somerville) amid the bustle and surges of visual stimuli of Saturday's events in Davis Square. Need clarification? Just read the online mission statement of a group like the Pink Puffers Brass Band, who came all the way to Davis Square from Rome, and you'll ... well, sort of just feel more confused.

From the Puffers' bio: "Why pink? Because a pink band playing black music is an hymn to anti-racism, because the pink panther is pink (and swing, and jazz, and like them). Because pink people are against Bush and war and stupidity generally speaking, because pink is the colour of the flowers that will become peaches, and because pink puffers are clinical patients affected by emphysema (and emphysema is a disease of who works blowing, like them with their wind-instruments)."

To each his own, we say. The Pink Puffers do claim that their ultimate goal is to see people having fun, something the festival seems to consistently accomplish in its own roundabout but successful way. Passersby who were previously unaware of the fest had little choice but to wander through the crowds in awe of its jumble; giggly little kids filled the streets, entranced by the music and costumes. We don't know how much injustice the HONK! Festival squashed this weekend, but it sure did serve up a noisy, colorful plate of fun.

--Carrie Battan

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