by Michael Antares
This March 11th-13th, Austin, Texas plays host to the inaugural HONK!TX Festival of Community Street Bands. Forged in the spirit of HONK! and HONK! Fest West, HONK!TX is unleashing some of the world’s most exciting, original, and talented radical marching bands to bring music, mirth and mayhem into the streets, parks and neighborhoods of the Texas capital. With the support and guidance of HONK! organizers, community businesses and scores of volunteers, the HONK!TX organizing committee is gearing up for a raucous first year. Indeed, with fifteen bands from around North America — many of them already HONK! and HONK! Fest West veterans — and five local bands slated to join in the festivities that weekend, expectations and excitement are running high. But can planning a festival, even one this joyous, ever be easy?
(Hubbub Club makes the West Seattle kids dance: HONK! Fest West 2010 – photo by Mike Antares)
In the beginning:
Freshly back from HONK! Fest West in Seattle, the initial cadre of organizers, almost all of them members of Minor Mishap Marching Band, met in late April of 2010 to begin hashing out the vision of HONK!TX, airing concerns and sharing ideas about what it would look like in Texas. With hearts on the table, we set about choosing the dates. Cognizant of potential timing conflicts with local festivals and HONK! Fest West, we chose the weekend immediately following Mardi Gras and preceding SXSW Music to take advantage of Austin weather and offer potential gigging opportunities for visiting bands before and after HONK!TX. We left that first meeting excited about giving back to the HONK! community and welcoming musicians to Austin.
Over the summer, however, different visions of the festival began contrast, conflict, and compete. Owing to other obligations and differences in personalities or schedules, the core group members began to shift. Even though we were focused on writing letters, seeking grants, looking into street closures, booking venues, and setting up a website, things seemed just a half-step out of cohesive collaboration. Enthusiasm remained steadfast, but urgency proved elusive: there still seemed to be plenty of time, even as it ticked away. By the third planning meeting, held in July, one of the principal organizers, Jason Fialkoff, brought local community organizers Christopher Ledesma and Michael Litt into the fray to help with community outreach, fundraising, social networking, web presence and organizing. We welcomed the extra leverage and began establishing key local contacts with city council members, business districts and neighborhood associations, ensuring cooperation and positive reception to the festival’s debut.
Through late summer and early autumn, the team members worked to sort out their philosophical and experiential differences. The honeymoon phase had ended and it proved a collectively challenging time; even as the meetings became more frequent and more productive, emotions ran high. Different concepts of what HONK!TX would look like continued to collide as individual organizers attempted to reconcile their personal understanding of the spirit of HONK! with the other organizers’ visions. Meetings ran longer, task lists grew, and a few more folks found themselves unable to keep up with the demanding schedule. And yet, it was in these trying days that committee members began to realize the potential of this festival to be something bigger than any of us could conceive on our own. HONK!TX, and the HONK! spirit as a whole, were becoming so much greater than the people who put it together, the musicians who perform, or the audience: we were finding that, even in our discord, we still all HONK!ed together — HONK!TX was going to happen, and it would be better than we could hope for.
(L-R: Llana Soleil, Adam Loudermilk, Jason Fialkoff, Michael Litt and Joe England (legs) hash out HONK!TX visions at Mike Antares’ home; photo by Mike Antares)
Realizing we still needed a lot of community financial support, we plunged headlong into planning a Kickstarter campaign in October, and on November 11, launched “Austin for HONK!TX” to raise $10,000. Why $10,000? As a committee, we felt that amount struck the balance between a challenging goal and realistically achievable one, and it was a large enough amount that it would greatly assist our first-year budget. We held our collective breath throughout the month-long fundraising drive, and through the dedication of donors at large, as well as some personal miracles and generous efforts on behalf of the committee, their families and their friends, we raised $10,355. This was a key milestone: had donors pledged $9,999 or less, we would not have hit our goal, and per Kickstarter rules, the project would not have been funded — a month’s worth of excited fundraising would have yielded nothing. Instead, thanks to the generous support of 232 people, we had good reason to celebrate.
(Datri Bean leads the Minor Mishap revelry during the HONK!TX Winter Fundraiser
- photo by Roy Moore)
So, on the cool night of December 10th, Minor Mishap Marching Band and friends took over the stages of Austin’s Scoot Inn. Many of the performers that night — The Inheritance, Kwassadelic, and JD Limelight & Sarah Kihls — were tied intimately to Minor Mishap. Local rock trio The Suicide Pistols found themselves performing amidst Balkan, second-line brass, Klezmer, Afropop, and accordion music. Members of Minor Mishap and other creatives supportive of HONK!TX also donated items and services to a raffle and silent auction, and many of the event organizers spoke about HONK!TX and had the opportunity to recruit volunteers and attendees while generating excitement and publicity for the festival.
As the visceral excitement among the local community has increased, so has the pledged support of local businesses. Thanks to the efforts of committee organizers working many days of most weeks throughout the festival planning stages, Wheatsville Food Co-op, a staple of the Austin community, became our grand marshal sponsor early on (and received a heckuva thank you show from Minor Mishap!), and Hahn Texas, a local PR firm with wide area reach, agreed to do a full-spectrum media blast as an in-kind donation. Whole Foods also made a generous donation, and offered to provide food for visiting musicians as well. Such support from local businesses, which have not yet seen the fruit that a HONK! festival is capable of bearing, is highly encouraging. Still, the door-to-door outreach continues as we pursue a more robust budget and additional in-kind and financial sponsorships.
The local volunteer community is signing on to help us out, too, though at times it seems more a trickle than a stream, and often demands creative outreach. Recognizing a need for more assistance with organizational flow, we recruited a recent college graduate and former SXSW intern to assist with volunteer coordinating. Her enthusiasm and immediate immersion was a welcome boost to the overall vision of HONK!TX. Recently, the cinematographer for Louder Than Words (which incidentally has been submitted to the Film Festival portion of SXSW) has also pledged assistance. Indeed, as the excitement grows, it attracts still others. Burning Man listservs, local arts groups, and word of mouth via band members, friends and supporters all serve to drum up support for housing, transportation, and festival help. To that end, other coordinators and members of the HONK! community at large, both in Boston and in Seattle, have also been a tremendous help, passing along lessons learned and helpful tips garnered from
previous festivals, along with generous doses of encouragement.
Challenges still remain:
Now, in the final lead-up to HONK!TX, the organizing committee members set about attending to daily tasks, volumes of email correspondence, and the critical stages of planning and programming a festival that will play host to 240 visiting musicians. Passions still run high, meetings still run long, and everyone is encouraged to speak freely rather than hold back; some ideas are adopted, others are transformed, still others are discarded. Through all of it, we remind ourselves and each other that this is a collaborative effort to transform Austin and bring joy and inspiration to others in our local and musical community, or what principal organizer Adam Loudermilk refers to as “lighter footsteps and clearer vision in their everyday life.”
In our first year, our primary challenge has been collectively convincing the Austin public this festival represents amazing opportunities. With the Volunteer Social and orientation almost here, there is still a high demand for housing for visiting musicians, for general volunteerism, and for requisitioning a fleet of vehicles. When I asked my fellow coordinators what was stil l needed, I received some tongue-in-cheek responses: “Please please please offer your house to visiting musicians,” co-founder Jason Fialkoff quipped. “Volunteers and vehicles. The rest is gravy,” transportation coordinator Llana Soleil noted.
In answer to those anxieties, and in the spirit of sharing, HONK! and HONK! Fest West committee members have offered support, assistance, and advice. “There were moments of genuine panic,” HONK! housing coordinator Trudi Cohen noted in an email; “miraculously, it’s always worked out….people really like being a part of the festival this way.” Such anecdotes serve as a boost to morale and an encouragement to persevere, think creatively, and continue working collaboratively.
In the overall effort to locate willing assistance, we’ve posted volunteer calls on the HONK!TX website, spread the word through social media networks and neighborhood and email listservs, and published announcements in the local alternative weekly newspaper. We’ve also rolled information into the forthcoming media campaign, and continued to seek advice from our Boston and Seattle counterparts. The steady stream of sign-ups, leads, and creative solutions continues: what about housing co-ops? What about the circus clown who has a bus in his garden? What about soliciting volunteers at the farmer’s market? Ideas are passed back and forth, and from them, new potential solutions spring forth. “I feel really privileged to be a part of this groundbreaking and working with passionate people,” fellow organizer Christopher Ledesma told me. The excitement grows, the confidence returns.
(Titanium Sporkestra lets the kids play a bit at HONK! Fest West 2010 – photo
by Mike Antares)
The parade ahead:
So here we are, the ten members of the HONK!TX organizing committee, building on a passionate idea that has inspired and inflamed our hearts. With 45 days on the clock, we take stock of our own and each others’ efforts, and continue to contribute to the vision of HONK!TX as a place and time where, as Adam Loudermilk puts it, “we can learn and grow from each other personally, politically, socially, and culturally. And have a lot of fun in the process.”
Other organizers summed up their hopes for HONK!TX with creative three-word blasts:
“Huge. Beautiful. Transformative.”
“Marching Family Reunion!”
“Merriment. Love. Awe-inspiring.”
“Music sharing Joy. or vice-versa.”
And we’re not alone in that excitement; visiting bands share similar enthusiastic sentiments: “we’re psyyyched!” quipped What Cheer? Brigade, with Scene of the Crime Rovers adding, “we LOVE you!!!!” Minor Mishap’s own Bruce Salmon, who has also offered his co-op to help house visiting bands, chimed in, “as a resident of Austin and a member of [Minor Mishap Marching Band], I want to express my gratitude for everyone’s hard work.”
It is in that spirit that we, the organizers of HONK!TX, welcome musicians from around the continent to play to and with our home community, to HONK! together; we are honored and warmed at the prospect of bringing this festival to the public come March. Transportation coordinator Llana Soleil notes one great reward “is being part of the birth of something that builds community both in place and in music.” And Adam Loudermilk shared this gem: “my greatest pleasure in helping put on the first HONK south of the Mason-Dixon comes from extending a gracious and warm welcome to all my HONK sisters and brothers as many of them travel to Texas for the very first time! My hope is to show them a grand ol’ time here in the Lone Star State, and that we may share many unforgettable memories together.”
Howdy HONK!ers — we’re overjoyed to welcome y’all here.
(Party in the Streets! Members of Environmental Encroachment, Emperor Norton’s Stationary Marching Band, Minor Mishap, the Carnival Band and Extraordinary Rendition Band say “Ciao” to Seattle (and hello to Texas?) at HONK! Fest West 2010 – photo by Mike Antares)
What? HONK!TX Festival of Community Street Bands
When? March 11th-13th, 2011
Where? In the streets, neighborhoods and parks of Austin, Texas
Who? The planned lineup includes:
Acadêmicos da Ópera (Austin, TX)
Best Best Best Friends (Austin, TX)
Brass Messengers (Minneapolis, MN)
The Carnival Band (Vancouver, BC)
Emperor Norton’s Stationary Marching Band (Somerville, MA)
Environmental Encroachment (Chicago, IL)
Extraordinary Rendition Band (Providence, RI)
Fandango Tejás (Texas-wide, Austin, TX)
Hubbub Club (Graton, CA)
March Madness Marching Band (Lexington, KY)
Minor Mishap Marching Band (Austin, TX)
Scene of the Crime Rovers (Durham, NC)
Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society (Somerville, MA)
Seed and Feed Marching Abominable (Atlanta, GA)
Seu Jacinto (Austin, TX)
Titanium Sporkestra (Seattle, WA)
What Cheer? Brigade (Providence, RI)
HONK!TX organizing committee: Adam Loudermilk * Christopher Ledesma * Jace Toronto * Jason Fialkoff * Jeff Luna * Jessica Ryan * Joe England * Llana Soleil * Mike Antares * Mike Litt
Additional assistance, encouragement, support and rallying from: Alexis Almeida, Datri Bean, Adelyn Botto, Sarah Kihls, Rachel Proctor May, Bruce Salmon, Mikaela Thomas, James Williams, Samantha X, and the members of the Minor Mishap Marching Band
Photos shown here by Roy Moore and Mike Antares are licensed under Creative CommonsAttribution-NoDerivatives [CC BY-ND]