HONK! Fest West rattles Seattle streets and parks
Christy Wolyniak, News Intern and , UW News Lab student
HONK! Fest West invaded Georgetown, Gas Works, and the Seattle Center this past weekend, carrying with them an energetic explosion of musical rhythms and entertainment.
Over 20 bands joined forces with acoustic energy on Friday May 13 through Sunday May 15. Musical sounds from brass, samba and drums to African and Moroccan beats interlaced, providing a pleasing, lively experience to the community.
HONK! first began in Boston a few years ago, and has now expanded into a total of three festival locations: Austin, Boston, and our very own Seattle. This marked Seattle’s fourth annual HONK! Fest West event.
“HONK! exists to break down barriers between the audience and the band, [encouraging] people to be a part of the entertainment, not just be entertained,” said HONK! organizer and Titanium Sporkestra member, David Stern.
What began as a drum corps similar to what one might see in the movie “Drumline” soon married its deep drumbeats with horns, developing into the solid rhythms perking up the ears of the west coast.
“It’s like Ride of the Valkryies meets Baby Got Back,” described Titanium Sporkestra member, ‘Demon Spice’. The band incorporated Southern-style rhythms with a Moroccan trance and horns.
Seattle natives, Titanium Sporkestra won Burning Man last year and played in the Fremont Solstice, the Gay Pride Parade, and other celebratory events.
Another band that was a sight to see was bunny-clad Environmental Encroachment members, who hopped a few borders from Chicago to stir up Seattle with their circus-like music.
Trumpet player, Jeff Wichman described his band as a ‘psychedelic bunny marching band’.
The Billion Bunny March at Burning Man inspired their bunny theme, but the ears did not stick until after the band performed a space bunny-themed Easter show, according to member, Carlos Pecciotto on snare drum.
“[HONK] has been unspeakably fun. [It provides] the ability to perform in a way that you can’t do outside the festival,” said Environment Encroachment member, Joe Correia.
Musicians from all over the U.S. banded together to celebrate, build friendships, and make some noise through this festival.
“There’s a lot of invasion that goes on here, challenging and cross-honking. There’s no sound that’s illegal. The music is globally crossed, everyone steals songs from other countries,” said One Love member and HONK! organizer, Robert Treat.
Regardless of some sound and rhythm theft, the musicians seemed to be having a good time playing alongside each other. Many mixed with other bands, which evolved into a massive jam session and dance party.
“Music is the most fun you can have without breaking the law. It’s a relaxing, fun activity playing with [other musicians] and an opportunity [to support] valuable causes, said Seamus Walsu, Artesian Rumble Arkestra member from Olympia.
Some of the band members are activists, using their rhythms to inspire change. Carnival Band from Vancouver, B.C. is one such band.
“We play at a lot of rallies and protests – anything from social housing, addiction and homelessness, to environmental issues and freeway expansion,” said Carnival Band crash symbols, Eddie Rothschild.
While bands like Titanium Sporkestra play only celebratory events, and Artesian Rumble Arkestra events varying from graduations to roller derbies, others join Carnival Band in their pursuit of social causes.
“It’s inspiring bringing musicians together. A lot of us are activists in our communities, so we’re already like-minded people,” said Rothschild.
According to Stern, HONK! Fest West was a well-attended festival, with roughly 300-400 people gathering at each location; a crowd of 1000 in Gas Works on Saturday enjoyed the great weather and received a booming surprise.
“The festival is a celebration of the bands themselves and the spirit of the people. [It is] an honor to serve the people and community…it’s a celebration amongst musicians – a proliferation,” said Treat.
HonkFest West gets thousands grooving at Gas Works Park
Lindsay Love stands behind a donation booth at the entrance of Gas Works Park. As she welcomes visitors in her striped corset and knee high boots, guests know they’re in for a surprise.
Love was one of many people dressed in a theatrical costume for the HONK! festivities held in Gasworks Park. The performers ranged from samba musicians to marching bands.
“It’s important because a lot of people don’t have their horizons broadened,” said Love, a volunteer. Love believes that most people usually associate marching bands with traditional high school bands. “These are career musicians that have been living the punk rock life forever,” she said.
Carlos Pecciotto is a member of the acoustic band Environmental Encroachment. The band traveled from their hometown, Chicago, for their third performance at HonkFest West. Pecciotto said he enjoys performing in Seattle because the audiences are appreciative. “Those crowds are extremely enthusiastic and they get the idea of Honk,” he said. The band has also performed in Somerville, Mass., where Honk originated.
Pecciotto, who plays the drums and percussions, believes that there is a brass band resurgence. “This is a new form of folk music,” he said. “Anyone can pick up a brass instrument, form a group and do something participatory like this.”
Environmental Encroachment’s music is energetic. The band is inspired by North African rhythms and melodies, as well as music from the Caribbean. Their music isn’t only pleasing to the ear, their performance is visually entertaining. The band’s signature costume is bunny ears and the band leader prefers to dress in a bunny suit.
Bands that were new to the festival also had colorful performances. The Nu Klezmer Army, a band inspired by traditional Eastern European music, performed at Honkfest West for the first time.
Gus Clark, a member of the Nu Klezmer Army, believes that the festival gives people the opportunity to learn about brass bands in a less traditional setting. “Brass bands are so much in the context of organized sports and schools, and so to see people doing it independently is something that kids that are studying music in school may not know about,” he said.
The festival drew 6,000 visitors on the weekend. Tyson Lynn, a member of the organizing committee, said that he wants people to make use of Seattle’s beautiful public parks. “I want people to take away that all of these spaces are open for joyous celebration,” said Lynn.
Billy Kessler, an attendee, said that regular events like Honkfest West build a community. “Festivals and events like this are ways for a community to renew itself and for people to connect with each other,” said Kessler.
Ballard resident Andrew Barton was at the festival to support Soundwave, the Seattle Sounders’ Football Club band. Wearing a Sounders jersey and hat, Barton said that the wide variety of performers at the festival encourages the community to come together. “I think there are a lot of diverse people here which generates a closer knit community,” he said. “That’s always something that benefits the livelihood of the culture and the closeness of the neighborhood.”
For more information about HONK! Fest West, visit www.honkfestwest.com.