What is HONK!

Across the country and around the world, a new type of street band is emerging. Acoustic and mobile, borrowing repertoire and inspiration from a diverse set of folk music traditions – New Orleans second line brass bands, European Klezmer, Balkan and Romani music, Brazilian Afro Bloc and Frevo traditions, as well as the passion and spirit of Mardi Gras and Carnival– these “honkers” all share a commitment to several core principles. Metaphorically speaking, they honk their horns for the same reasons motorists honk theirs: to arouse fellow travelers, to warn of danger, to celebrate milestones, and to just plain have fun.

First and foremost, they honk their horns – or beat their drums, or wave their flags – to enliven and embolden their audience. Members vary widely in age, class, ethnicity and background, and although they often wear some kind of uniform, there is also always an emphasis on individuality and a “DIY” (do-it-yourself) sensibility to their instrumentation and attire. These bands play music that is truly of, by, and for “the people.” The distinction between performer and audience, just like the distinctions between different musical genres, is just one more arbitrary social boundary they aspire to overcome. Spectators often think “Hey, I could do that!” and often these bands do recruit members right off the street.



Just as important, they honk their horns because it’s the best way they know to protest a world of violence and oppression. Many of these bands are less than a decade old, and many were born in reaction to the fatalism and indifference that has gripped the advanced industrialized democracies. In response, honkers have been providing a heartfelt musical antidote, a soundtrack for anti-war rallies, political mobilizations, pride parades and joyous reclamations of public space. Each band has a unique sense of humor to complement their sound, as they mock and discredit the roots of hatred and injustice through the whimsical act of making music together. The result is a spectacle that is radical and subversive without being militant or sanctimonious.

As often as they honk in protest, however, they also perform to celebrate the causes and institutions they support: multicultural festivals, peace conferences, social forums, artists collectives, community gardens, children’s workshops, neighborhood fundraisers, block parties, relief benefits and homeless shelters. In these cases, as in every case, the honkers’ ultimate goal is to have fun, to relish the art of making fun as a form of individual and collective transcendence, and to encourage others to see and do the same.



Who is HONK?

Since its founding, more than 50 bands have attended the HONK! Festival. You can see a full listing here! The all-volunteer organizing committee has been changing and growing since the festival began, benefiting from the talents and enthusiasm of many friends and colleagues. Right now, it is made up of John Bell, David Blank-Edelman, Trudi Cohen, Shaunalynn Duffy, Ken Field, Reebee Garofalo, Harris Gruman, Kevin Leppmann, Maury Martin, Charlo Maurer, Kate Riegle-van West, Joanna Vouriotis, and Rand Wilson.

But The HONK! Festival isn’t just the organizers and the musicians. It’s a grassroots, non-profit event made possible by the financial and in-kind support of a thousand local residents and businesses. For the duration of the Festival, more than 500 musicians will be housed by generous neighbors and friends and many local restaurants will generously provide food for the performers and volunteers. Scores of community members have donated hours of labor to make HONK! possible. Most significantly, none of the bands will be earning any money for the festival, and most will have only some of their travel expenses covered. The bands are inspired to travel great distances, at great personal expense, to joyously celebrate our hard work to reclaim public space—the world over—for all people. The bands long to connect in honor of our struggles for justice. We hope you will come, to connect and celebrate with us, and further the cause of freedom, justice and collective emancipation.



What is an Activist Band?

By describing HONK! bands as activist, we are referring to bands which are socially engaged — some in direct action and outright political protest, others in community building, be it performing for social justice or community-based organizations or conducting workshops in the public schools. Further, by performing at street level, usually for free, without sound amplification and with very little distance between artist and audience, HONK! bands create a participatory spectacle to reclaim public space in ways that place them at the heart of activist politics.