What do you get when you bring twenty street bands from around North America together to play in Austin? I don’t know either, but after eleven months of helping plan the HONK!TX festival, I’m going to have a lot of fun finding out.
A little over a year ago, the street band scene was brand new to me. My neighbor at the time, a drummer who plays snare with the Minor Mishap Marching Band, kept urging me to come out and see a show. When I finally did, I felt as though I’d crossed into a magical realm. All my social defenses melted away. I could not comprehend what I was witnessing – and I had no urge to do so. I just wanted to be with it. I began going to every show I could, snapping photos to try and capture some essence of their exuberance.
Soon after, a mysterious itinerant soprano sax player suggested I go to HONK! Fest West for my birthday. Despite being knee-deep in schoolwork, I did, and I quickly understood why she had urged me to: for three days and nights, musicians filled the streets of four Seattle neighborhoods with ecstatic free music for an enthralled public. Everywhere I looked, bands were playing fantastic songs on brass, reeds and drums; people of all ages were dancing with a spirit of merriment – joy was written on every face and in every eye. I found four hours of sleep a night was more than enough, and each morning, I charged out to find the magic again.
All too soon, it was a mere hour-and-a-half before my homeward flight. Yet, rather than loping around in the airport, I found myself at Seattle Center, watching a rag-tag HONK! pickup band playing in front of – and then in – International Fountain. The moment overwhelmed me with that rare, pure, crying joy, before a Seattle musician I had just met drove me straight to the airport to make sure I didn’t miss my flight home. In the shadow of the Space Needle, that moment defined the HONK! experience for me: musicians joyfully reclaiming public space and redefining what it means to be a community.
Two weeks later, I caught word that some of the members of Minor Mishap were meeting to discuss bringing HONK! to Texas and wondered if I was interested in taking part. There was no hesitation: yes, I would be there.
The first meetings were full a tentative excitement as the initial cadre eagerly shared ideas. Over the summer, group dynamics began to take shape as people came and went, and we, the members of the HONK!TX organizing committee plunged into the planning sessions headlong, bringing members of a local arts and culture group into the fold.
In September, after shutterbugging at a few more Minor Mishap shows, I put the camera down and picked up a doumbek. Following several months of busy rehearsals, gigging, and even band camp, I – along with six others – was officially welcomed into the band.
As the autumn turned to winter, my involvement with organizing increased and I found myself hungry for more responsibility. I tried on new roles, and was soon writing web content, recruiting volunteers and organizing free homestays for 190 visiting musicians. I also had the pleasure of watching my fellow organizers – my friends – shatter their own boundaries and grow. Together, we learned that planning a festival of this scope and working toward something amazing demands group effort, consensus vision, shared workload, persistent enthusiasm and frequently, a sense of humor.
Of course, when we set out to bring this vision to fruition, we had no way of knowing how capital citizens would react. To our delight, a number of Austin businesses, officials and residents have opened their hearts and homes by providing financial sponsorships, in-kind donations, venue spaces, donated services, rides, bikes (a HONK! first) and sleeping arrangements. Such a great reception for the festival’s first year has warmed my heart and reminded me why I love this city.
After all, just like the other HONK!s, HONK!TX relies exclusively on community support and is entirely volunteer-staffed. The musicians – volunteers themselves – travel at personal expense, receiving only a modest travel stipend to help offset their costs. In return, HONK!TX provides free food, transportation support, housing, and introduces them to the eclectic Texas charm that is Austin.
And now, just a few days from the festival, I’m running around like my peg-leg’s on fire, taking care of last-minute logistics while my nine cohorts and scores of volunteers do the same. I’m probably feeling a little crazy, too, but that’s perfectly OK. This craziness comes with an irreplaceable gift: my family is now this huge musical community that encompasses most of North America, and this event is my family reunion.
I can’t speak for the other organizers, for their journeys are their own. But for me, I say this: if just one other person experiences in HONK!TX even a fraction of what I have had the profound luck of experiencing over the course of the last year, then my deepest wishes for this festival will have come true.
What do we have in store?
HONK!TX bands take to the streets, parks and neighborhoods March 11th-13th in a city that’s about to find out just how weird it really is.
Friday afternoon: Four bands play the Austin Children’s Museum from 12P-5P, two others play ARCH at 4P. This is a prelude to the main festival.
Friday evening: The festival begins in the 1100 block of East 6th St., 6P-10P
Saturday daytime: All 20 bands converge on Adams Park and the North University neighborhood, 12P-7P
Sunday daytime: A public parade from Austin City Hall to Pan-American Park, followed by a closing band revue, 12P-5P
Want to know more?
Visit www.honktx.org for the latest schedules and more information.
Mike Antares recently drove 5,200 miles in seven days and knows which of W.’s Presidential cabinet had the best phone manners. He is frequently seen dressed as a pirate.