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Street Sounds BY MICHAEL MAY Photo credits: Top row, left to right: igniferroque, igniferroque, Michael May, igniferroque. Bottom row: Michael May, Ellar Coltrane, Rich Beaubien, Rachel Proctor May. Inset: Marsha Riti It’s never too late to run away with the circus, and sometimes you don’t have to go far. That thought was running through my head as I played a gypsy waltz under 1-35 in downtown Austin with the Minor Mishap Marching Band. It was a Sunday afternoon, and we were dressed in our bright yellow and black uniforms. I was strumming a chunky upbeat rhythm on the banjo. Trombones poked at the sky. Snares rattled the sidewalk. A tuba groove kept us moving forward. As we stepped under the overpass, the sound came bouncing back at us, the clarinets’ soulful whine swirling up and around like swallows at dusk. The band slowed and jammed, enjoying the accidental amphitheater. And all around us was our captive audience, dozens of people in cars waiting for the light to change, some unrolling their windows to grin and wonder how the hell a highway intersection can also be a party. When the founder and queen bee of Minor Mishap, Datri Bean, asked my wife and me last November to join a marching band for a New Year’s parade, it seemed like a lark. I figured, if nothing else, I would get to dress in funny clothes, march around and make some noise. Little did I know that Minor Mishap would end up as some kind of squawking musical collective that wouldn’t need an excuse to go parading around town, even stopping to serenade a highway overpass. And we are not alone. There are literally dozens of do-it-yourself marching bands across the country, and this October we converged at the fourth annual HONK! Festival in Boston, the epicenter of this nascent movement: thousands of us wailing, banging, howling, rifling in the streets like a single organism. I wasn’t just joining a band, I was joining some sort of freak movement. Marching bands were originally used to inspire soldiers to carry on, the heavy brass and drums keeping tired legs on the march, but the new crop of marching bands turns this tactic on its head. Around io years ago, marching bands started to block streets and disrupt events at protests, a strategy that is more disarming and fun than groups of blackhooded anarchists armed with bolt cutters and spray paint. \(Plus, the police know that using tear gas on a marching inspired by one of these radical bands, a Seattle outfit called the Infernal Noise Brigade. The Brigade was formed at the legendary World Trade Organization protest in Seattle in 1999 and continued to raise hell for years after. The editors of Seattle’s alternative newspaper, The 26 THE TEXAS OBSERVER NOVEMBER 27, 2009