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Honk! What Not To Miss At Free Marching Band Fest This Weekend

What Cheer? Brigade plays during Honk in Somerville. (Courtesy Leonardo March/Honk)

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What happens when a marching band breaks formation, ripping apart its double-breasted jackets and flinging aside those ostentatious helmets with the tight chin straps and extravagant plumes? Well, if the day is Oct. 12 and the place Somerville’s Davis Square, such a motley crew would probably blend seamlessly into the raucous, flamboyant dance party/street concert/carnival that is Honk!.

“The thing that defines Honk! bands is that they’re all mobile, they’re all acoustic, they play on the street — they are less interested in playing in a club, on a stage — and they are often politically motivated,” says Kate Riegle-van West, a member of the Honk! committee and the Second Line Social Aid & Pleasure Society Brass Band.

Honk!, which will host free events in Somerville and Cambridge Oct. 11 through 13, was founded in 2006 by members of Second Line, a New Orleans-style brass band based in Somerville. They hoped to harness what they recognized as an emerging, nation-wide trend of marching bands allied with lefty causes. Honk! is now in its eighth year, with last year’s festival the largest ever. Since its inception, similar events have sprung up as far as Austin and Seattle and as near as Providence and New York City.

“It basically just keeps getting bigger, and bigger and bigger,” Riegle-van West says.

Clad in loud colors and silly hats, with the younger contingent skewing towards asymmetrical haircuts and elaborate facial hair, Honk! bands are often found at Occupy protests and union rallies, as well as community events like farmer’s markets and fundraisers. Yet the custom of playing music on the street is one that, in many cultures, predates the particular movement that gave rise to Honk!. New Orleans and Haiti, both of which are represented in this year’s lineup, have rich street band traditions that are still very much alive.

Though the festival’s roots are located in activism, the ethos at Honk! is more like a New Orleans brass band parade or a Haitian carnival celebration: The bands are there to assert their right not to protest, but to party. And do they ever.

With kid and family-friendly activities on Friday, a huge street celebration in Davis Square on Saturday, and a parade on Sunday, you may need help finding your way through the ruckus (and the crowds — it’s best to get there early). Here are a few recommended events and bands, and where and when to find them:

One of the Honk! festival lantern parades through Somerville. (Courtesy Leonardo March/Honk)

One of the Honk! festival lantern parades through Somerville. (Courtesy Leonardo March/Honk)

Lantern Making Workshops And Lantern Parades

The first lantern-making workshops were a big hit last year so Honk! brought them back. Kids and families are invited to make lanterns and join the lit-up parades that snake through Somerville as darkness falls on Friday night.

Workshops: 4 to 6 p.m. Friday, Hodgkins-Curtin Park, Holland Street, Somerville; Parades: 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, leaving from Hodgkins-Curtin Park

The Honk! Parade

The culminating event of Honk! is a huge, cacophonous procession down Massachusetts Avenue on Sunday afternoon. It will be lead by the Original Big 7 Social Aid and Pleasure Club, a group from New Orleans that organizes parades and spearheads community relief in the city’s Seventh Ward. This past Mother’s Day, gunmen opened fire on an Original Big 7 procession, injuring 19 people, and Honk! invited the group to lead the festival’s parade as a gesture of solidarity and testament to their courage in continuing to march in New Orleans despite the threat of gun violence. |

Sunday, noon to 2 p.m., starting in Davis Square, Somerville, and ending at Oktoberfest in Harvard Square, Cambridge

Harvard Square Oktoberfest And All Band Concert

For the first time, the all-band Honk! concert will take place at the main stage of Harvard Square’s Oktoberfest. Honk! bands will also be performing at various locations around Harvard Square throughout the afternoon.

Sunday,  2 to 6 p.m. at the main stage in the Super Crosswalk in Harvard Square

DJA-Rara

DJA-Rara are a fixture in Brooklyn, where they play every night of the summer in Prospect Park. They specialize in a Haitian form of music called rara, a melding of Vodou ceremony, social protest, and street celebration played on drums and special bamboo or metal pipe trumpets called vaksen.

Saturday, 4 p.m. at Davis Square Plaza, Elm Street, Somerville; Saturday, 7 p.m at Kenney Park, Grove Street and Highland Avenue, Somerville; Sunday, 3:15 p.m. at Eliot Triangle, Eliot and Mt. Auburn Streets, Cambridge; and Sunday, 5 p.m., Oktoberfest main stage, Harvard Square, Cambridge

Perhaps Contraption

London’s Perhaps Contraption give an absurdist twist to marching band music, with a touch of virtuosity to boot. They also sport some pretty fantastical outfits.

Saturday, 4 p.m., Statue Park, Holland Street and College Avenue, Somerville; Saturday, 7 p.m. Davis Square Plaza, Elm Street, Somerville; Sunday, 3:48 p.m., Oktoberfest main stage, Harvard Square, Cambridge; And Sunday, 5:15p.m. Eliot Triangle, Eliot and Mt. Auburn Streets, Cambridge

Young Fellaz Brass Band

The Young Fellaz Brass Band is a New Orleans second line marching band that began in 2005 as just three young men playing music on the streets of their neighborhood. Since then, they have recorded three studio albums and toured extensively around the country.

Saturday, 5 p.m., Kenney Park, Grove Street and Highland Avenue, Somerville; Saturday, 8 p.m. Statue Park, Holland Street and College Avenue, Somerville; Sunday, 3:03 p.m. Oktoberfest main stage, Harvard Square, Cambridge; Sunday, 4:30 p.m. Eliot Triangle, Eliot and Mt. Auburn Streets, Cambridge

Detroit Party Marching Band

The Detroit Party Marching Band exemplifies the spirit of Honk! with their exuberant, no-holds-barred performances in unconventional urban spaces.

Saturday, 3 p.m., VFW Dilboy Hall, Summer and Russell Streets, Somerville; Saturday, 8 p.m., Seven Hills Park, Meacham Road, Somerville; Sunday, 3:15 p.m., Palmer Street Alley, Cambridge; Sunday, 5:18 p.m., Oktoberfest main stage, Harvard Square, Cambridge

Gora Gora Orkestar  

Gora Gora Orkestar is a 10-piece brass band from Boulder, Colo. that fuses Balkan folk tunes with funk and hip hop beats.

Saturday, 1 p.m., Davis Square Plaza, Elm Street, Somerville; Saturday, 6 p.m., Kenney Park, Grove Street and Highland Avenue, Somerville; Sunday, 2:45 p.m., Charlie’s Kitchen, 10 Eliot Street, Cambridge; Sunday, 4:24 p.m., Oktoberfest main stage, Harvard Square, Cambridge

Second Line Social Aid & Pleasure Society Brass Band

Second Line is a New Orleans-style brass band based in Somerville that founded Honk! in 2006.

Saturday, 1 p.m., 7 Hills Park, Meacham Road, Somerville; Saturday, 6 p.m., Davis Square Plaza, Elm Street, Somerville; Sunday, 2 p.m., Oktoberfest main stage, Harvard Square, Cambridge

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