A Regular Column for Activist Street Band Reports
In this issue: Anti-Fascist Marching Band, Carnival Band, Hubbub Club, That DAMNED Band, What Cheer? Brigade, and a bit of breaking news…
Anti-Fascist Marching Band: Still Tootling After 27 Years
January: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade. This annual march is one of the AFMB’s favorite events. When we started playing for this march, it was not yet a holiday (officially observed for the first time in 1986). In 2009, we marched on a boulevard named after Dr. King, in a county that has been renamed for him, on a now-federal holiday. Some things do get better
February: 90th anniversary of Seattle General Strike. The AFMB has long played tunes from the Industrial Workers of the World’s Little Red Song Book. This year, we put them to especially good use at the observance of the 90th anniversary of the 1919 Seattle General Strike, held at the King County Labor Temple in downtown Seattle. At this kickoff for the Washington state Labor History Year, which was agitated for by the University of Washington’s Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies, the AFMB collaborated with other groups in re-creating a Skid Road confrontation of the WWI era: IWW composer-singer Jess Grant was typecast as the Wobblie Soapboxer; members of the Seattle Labor Chorus provided the unruly mob; longtime labor organizer Bob Barnes played the Long-Haired Preacher; and the AFMB backed him up as the Starvation Army Band. Although about 100 people were expected to show up for the four hours of talks on the strike and its aftermath, organizers were flabbergasted to have an SRO crowd of 400. Links to video and audio can be found at http://depts.washington.edu/pcls/genstrike.html.
March: Labor Historians Convention? nah. After the General Strike commemoration, the AFMB was approached by the president of the Labor and Working Class History Association about playing for the Organization of American Historians convention in March. Ordinarily, the AFMB does not play for money, but this convention was to be held in the Washington State Convention and Trade Center, a union house. Several AFMBeasties are members of the American Federation of Musicians Union (Local 76-493), and they said, “No way unless it pays scale.” LAWCHA is a worthy organization and supports union campaigns, and the members of OAH are tenured professors who make salaries that most of us would find generous; together, these organizations had rented an expensive facility. But they couldn’t find the cash to pay us $85 each, so we didn’t do it.
April: Honk Fest West 2. Of course, the AFMB played at Honk Fest West in Seattle, but with some misgivings about its tilt toward taverns and exhibitionism. Somebody has to support the ideals of the ’60s left.
May: NARAL Pro-Choice Washington’s annual Fun Run. Right-to-life religious zealots left a fat curveball hanging over the plate, so the AFMB knocked it out of the park–Seattle’s popular Greenlake Park. For the last six years, a large and noisy group of anti-choice wingnuts has disrupted NARAL Pro-Choice Washington’s annual fund-raiser. This year, NARAL asked us to help out in fighting back with some noise of our own. The AFMB kept the fundamentalists on the defensive while NARAL registered 600 runners and raised $12,000. NARAL Pro-Choice Washington organizer Sasha Summer Cousineau said, “The AFMB is absolutely invited back. Our participants loved you! You helped keep the atmosphere festive and were the perfect distraction from the anti-choice jerks.” So we are working on organizing some of the NARAL running teams into a second line for next year. Game on. —Bill Clifford, aka Memo
The Carnival Band: Let the Games Begin
HonKanada is still a totally strong desire up here; we’re still looking at fall 2010 for hosting a Honk Fest in Vancouver, British Columbia. No real status updates, other than we have a great story from a parade we were just in:
July 1: Canada Day parade. The Carnival Band was supposed to be playing behind the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition, a totally radical group of bike advocates, and we were having a good time jamming for them. At the last minute, though, as we were getting ready to step into the official parade route, these two trucks came out of a side street with these big ugly, furry creatures in them and shoehorned in between us! This “last-minute change to the parade itinerary” had us effectively playing for the 2010 Olympic mascots: Sumi and Quatchi. Have a look here: http://www.vancouver2010.com/mascot. It’s as scary as it sounds.
So we decided to take matters into our own hands and run around their trucks honking away at them, then went back to playing for the cyclists and the crowd. When I explained to the irate parade officials that we simply weren’t okay with being perceived as being associated with the Olympics, they were actually pretty cool, seemed to understand, and let us go back to playing where we liked. At the end of the route, some of them were rolling their eyes and saying, “Okay, the parade is over now,” to which we, of course, replied, “We’re not done yet!” and then drew in a crowd of several hundred on a street corner a couple of blocks away. Good times.
More in July: Annual general meeting. We just had our annual general meeting last night, and with a new baby (see sidebar), Brandon has stepped down as president. A new board of very capable and motivated directors has been elected, and they’ll be meeting soon. The visioning session we had at our meeting was totally mind-blowing, with a wildly high degree of agreement on what our purpose is in the world: We are not a band. We are a social aid and educational society who happen to get people dancing when we play together. We now have a resident photographer, and our antics are being documented like never before.
Coming up: 2010 Olympics. So all that is to say, there’s a bit of a love-hate relationship with the Olympics up here. Mostly hate, although the athletes themselves are, of course, totally inspiring. It looks like 2010 is going to be a funny year. I think we’ll have to be quite creative in how we protest so we present ourselves as activists with a cause of compassion rather than antagonism. And I think hosting a terrific party like HonKanada will be just the right way get all our good friends from the international street band culture to help us do it right.
Check out all the action on our flickr site:
For more regular updates, you can look at the blog entries on our website: http://www.thecarnivalband.com. The Carnival Band has big plans for the upcoming year, and we look forward to crossing paths with our brothers and sisters in dissidence. —Brandon Walker and Jesse Whitehead
The Hubbub Club: Marching Through Your Neighborhood!
The Hubbub Club, an ensemble of 20-plus musicians of various instruments, started making music together in 2008 or so, in a funky, fun fashion to promote, uplift, and support our local communities—Graton, California, and surroundings. Here’s what we’ve been stirring up:
March: Hubbub benefit. We started off 2009 with a fund-raiser with the Jungle Love Orchestra and the Brass Liberation Orchestra.
April: Honk Fest West 2. Then we turned up in Seattle to play with other West Coast street bands.
Spring 2009: raising Hubbubs everywhere. At a Future Farmers parade, we joined the Healdsburg Peace Project. Then we cavorted in the Guerveville Pride Parade, among floats and serious costumes. The Occidental Fools Parade also had spectacular costumes.
July: fireworks & music. We had a great guerrilla street concert on the crowded back streets of Sebastopol, California, where everyone gathers to watch the Fourth of July fireworks for free (rather than paying to sit on the high-school field to see them). We walked the streets and played before it got dark, dodging small fireworks and bringing a lot of smiles to people’s faces. For a while, we had a nice entourage of spontaneous marchers. It was especially fun to sing “Down by the Riverside” to a crowd of pleased onlookers on Independence Day.
Coming up: We’re playing at the Santa Rosa Downtown Market and the Occidental Farmers Market. Check out our MySpace page for photos, videos, and more news: http://www.myspace.com/hubbubclub. Maybe we’ll be marching through your neighborhood soon! —Jean Redus, trombone
THAT Damned Band and 999 Eyes Freak Show
Samantha X and Dylan M. Blackthorn, part of an honest-to-god freak show stationed near Houston, Texas, were among the participants at Honk Fest West 2 in Seattle in April 2009. They claim that 999 Eyes Freak Show is the first freak show in 40 years and that it is suitable for all ages, containing no blatant vulgarity or explicit sexual content.
THAT Damned Band: Samantha and Dylan also play in the freak show’s house band, THAT Damned Band, which they proclaim sounds like “a circus train wreck’t into a folk revival next to a hobo camp where wandering Jews, eastern Europeans, and other estranged folk have been learning Irish drinking songs from Tom Waits.” Their band is another example of Fauxmanian klezmeroid, in this case solid sousaphone overlaid by mournful accordion and fiddle with a skiff of jug band effects.
Celebrating genetic diversity: Among the reasons that freak shows (along with the major circuses and small cages at zoos) have become scarce is that their air of exploitation makes people uncomfortable. Samantha was happy to address that criticism. “999 Eyes celebrates genetic diversity. The average 10-fingered and 10-toed genetic blueprint for humanity is boring. In their heyday, traveling freaks were well-paid celebrities.”
A freak by any other name: She also claims that the etymology of freak is from the Greek “to dance with nature.” This is news to Webster’s Third International Dictionary, which traces the word freak to Old English freca, “a warrior, hero,” from frec, “greedy, eager, bold.” While the accepted derivation might have worked as well as Samantha’s version, we are talking about a sideshow from Texas with a whiff of Black Rock City. Hokum and snake oil come with the territory.
Is 999 Eyes a bold statement of acceptance for freaks? Or does its self-serving exploitation of freaks pander to voyeurs? If you want to answer this question for yourself, you can wait until they turn up in a bar near you, hire them for your own event, or check them out at http://www.999eyes.com/. —Bill Clifford
What Cheer? Brigade Summer Tour Report
The What Cheer? Brigade (Providence, RI) just returned from a two-week tour through the South, plus some shows in Chicago. Every show down South was a memorable party! Each night, the crowd seemed rowdier and sweatier than the night before, and everywhere we went, people effusively thanked us for stopping in their town. Many were careful to say that they were especially grateful because they could only imagine the difficulty of traveling with 18 people. It took a little while for us cold Northeasterners to get accustomed to all this gratitude and empathy. There are many stories to tell from our tour, but here are some worthy highlights.
Greensboro, NC – On our first night, the Fire Marshall had shut down the underground space where we were going to play, but our contact got us on the bill at a slick rock club hosting a pop-punk and emo show. We’ve been tacked onto bills in that manner before—rarely with good results. So, when the crowd and the club staff loved it, we were pleasantly surprised. Folks from Caka!ak Thunder, Greensboro’s activist Samba school, came, and afterward, I spoke with some of them about charging money for shows. Specifically, we were talking about what it would mean for their band to hold a fund raiser to help pay their way to Honk 2009. Fund raiser or not, I hope they make it.
Atlanta, GA – We played at the nonprofit venue EYEDRUM, which, unfortunately, is in dire financial straits right now. Of all the audiences, this one probably had the highest proportion of fellow brass and drum weirdos. It seemed as though over half the crowd was a member of the Atlanta Sedition Orchestra or the Seed and Feed Marching Abominable. As a result, they were more than happy to oblige us for a complicated series of crowd participation exercises, including one in which we squeezed the entire audience onto the stage while we played on the floor and watched them dance.
New Orleans, LA – The Krewe of Eris, New Orleans’ Anarchist Krewe, holds an unpermitted parade the Sunday before Mardi Gras, and its band, Dysnomia, is open membership for the occasion. What Cheer? has many friends in the extended family of bands that overlap in Dysnomia, and some of our members went to NOLA and joined this year’s Eris parade. With so many familiar faces, New Orleans felt like a homecoming, but it was also slightly intimidating to play for an audience containing so many musicians with a deep understanding of the musical traditions from which we draw. Despite some jitters, we rose to the occasion.
Chicago, IL – A few months ago, here in Providence, we collaborated with electronic musician Dan Deacon and his 14-person ensemble of drummers, mallet percussionists, synthesizers and guitars to perform some of his songs as a 32-member band. When he heard that we were going to be in the Midwest at the same time, he asked us to extend our tour to join him for his Chicago shows. This is how we found ourselves in the surreal experience of playing at Lollapalooza—or as we prefer to call it, “the time we opened for Snoop Dogg.” After playing for thousands with Dan Deacon, festival staff ushered us to “Kidzapalooza,” where we were supposed to play for a dwindling crowd of 50 children and their exhausted parents.
Not content to be contained, we marched those children onto a main plaza, where a crowd of about 300 soon amassed. After two and a half days of seeing bands play on insurmountable stages, projected on (What Cheer? Brigade continued) JumboTrons and amplified through 1000-watt P.A. systems, they were at first unsure what to do. Quickly, however, it became apparent that this unmediated, unexpected musical experience was sating a hunger that, until that moment, they didn’t even know they had. Soon we had one of the most aggressively merry crowds I have ever witnessed. They were purposely running in between us, as though they couldn’t get close enough, dowsing each other with water and earnestly forming conga lines. When festival staff eventually appeared to shut us down for straying too far from Kidzapalooza, the crowd began chanting, “Let them play! Let them play!” As the sun set over the Chicago skyline, we felt triumphant; we had struck a blow for Music.
Disclaimer: What Cheer? is not a political band. Many members are deeply involved in political issues, and the band, or a subset thereof, often plays at rallies and marches in Rhode Island, but in those instances, we don’t advertise as What Cheer? We do not claim to be political for two reasons. First, there is a variety of political beliefs in the band (although all of us are left-leaning), and we have no points of unity; sassiness and musical skill are the primary qualifications for being in the band. Second, we greatly respect those bands that are expressly political, and we feel it would be disingenuous and demeaning to claim that, in terms of dedication and bravery, we are even close to their league. Specifically, much love to the Brass Liberation Orchestra (thanks for our first three songs) and the Rude Mechanical Orchestra (thanks for always dancing the hardest). For more info see http://www.whatcheerbrigade.com/ —Daniel Schleifer, Sousaphone
Breaking News!!! (as of the end of August 2009 that is)
Carnival Band trumpeter and Harmonic Dissidents Editorial Committee member Brandon Walker welcomes the newest Carnie, Morgan Clare Walker. A long-term commitment is expected. Congratulations to our Canadian Honk friends and new parents Brandon and Rhian and a big Honk welcome to Morgan!
A Battle of Radical Marching Bands happens at Burning Man (Black Rock City, NV) in Center Camp, Friday night of Labor Day weekend. Orkestar Zirconium, March Fourth Marching Band, Titanium Sporkestra and Environmental Encroachment are among the bands attending.
Hungry March Band is leaving for Sardinia, ITALY!!!!!!
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