HONK! For Social Change

The streets of Cambridge were recently invaded by musicians, each carrying a tune of activism and social change.
    The Community of Somerville held its fourth annual HONK! Festival which featured 30 street and marching bands from across the world all coming together to promote a wide variety of messages, including activism, social change, and above all, music.
    The festival, which is organized and funded by the Davis Square community, consisted of performances by nearly 30 street and marching bands performing throughout Davis and Harvard Square over Columbus Day weekend.
    “It’s a gathering of street bands from all over the country and some from outside the country, bands that define themselves as activists in some form or other,” said Trudi Cohen, member of the HONK! Festival’s Organizing Committee, and bass drummer for The Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society Grass Band. “The range of options for what constitutes activism is open, so it’s pretty wide.”     
    Cohen said of her band, “We like to support community groups that are looking to improve the lives of neighborhoods, and we have interesting global politics as well about the economy and justice, and anti-war messages generally.”
    Although over the past four years the HONK! Festival has exploded into a yearly Columbus weekend bash, highlighting bands from as far away as Rome, the festival originally consisted of one group of performers protesting the Iraq War back in 2003.
    “Our band is about six years old, and it was started about the time of the invasion of Iraq, in 2003 I guess it was,” said Cohen. “We were playing music mostly for anti-war protests, and we said ‘hey we should be a band, this is really pretty cool to play together.’ Then it occurred to us that there might be other bands that were similarly created and so we started putting out the call, and we said wouldn’t it be fun for us all to meet each other and play together.”
    Cohen continued, “The first year, twelve bands came, and when we persuaded them, a couple of bands to come we said, ‘hey this is really gonna happen.’ You know it was like a far fetched idea.”
    Since its assimilation into the Davis Square Community in 2005, the HONK! Festival has become a staple event for street bands across the country, such as Chicago’s Environmental Encroachment.
    “It’s one of the highlights of my year,” said Carlos Pecciotto Jr., a member of Environmental Encroachment. “I have been here four times already. It’s just a wonderful feeling to be among all these other marching bands and other kindred spirits, and other people who really appreciate the culture, the music, and the noise and everything about it.”
     According to their website, Environmental Encroachment is a magic circus band who are known to use circus acrobatics, costumes, and live music during their shows. The group has become fixture at the HONK Festival, attending every year since it’s inception in 2005.
    “To be around other bands that have a similar look [and] a similar instrumentation…it’s just astounding that there are so many of us that see fit to come together in this manner,” said Pecciotto Jr. “It’s so inspiring because you know, when we come back (to Chicago) we come back with all these ideas for what to do not only next time, but to basically influence the trajectory of the band.”
    Added fellow band member Bob Devore, “There’s a real sense of community among the musicians here, and the people who’ve come to hear the music. It’s really unlike other music festivals because it’s done at street level; it’s all interaction, and it feels great to do it.”
    Along with Environmental Encroachment, the festival has also had a positive effect on many other bands as well.
    “It feels great, this is my first year up here and I am just happy and proud to be part of the amusingness of HONK!,” Rich Goidel, a member of the Seed and Feed Marching Abominable, from Atlanta Georgia. “A bunch of the band members came two years ago, they didn’t play but they came up here, and then last year our band was part of the festival, a smaller contingent. This year we brought up about 30 of our members.”
    Rahul Bhargaba of AfroBrazil, a Somerville based band, said, “We’re a large group of about 20 drummers that plays a mix of stuff from Bahia, which is one of the states in Brazil, and the African rhythms that inspire it. We mix it with funky stuff like hip hop and things like that.’
    Bhargaba continued, “Well, we have done HONK! a few times actually. I think this is our second or third year, I am not sure which. It’s great, yea . It’s a fantastic festival. The crowds are just the best crowds around.” 
    While the HONK! Festival has given people across the country a taste of Somerville, the festival has started to become contagious as HONK! Festivals are starting to pop up across the country, including in Providence, RI and in California.
    “We come together here in Somerville and we’re spreading all over the country it seems, in California, New York, Providence, and hopefully in Europe soon to,” said Harris Gruman, a Committee member for the HONK! Festival.
    For images and video from this year’s HONK! Festival, enter the keywords ‘HONK’ and ‘Somerville’ into an online search engine and check out what’s been posted.

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