As you’ve probably noticed, Austin has about as many festivals as it has Mexican Free-Tailed Bats. That tells you everything you need to know about this town: we love community, we applaud creativity, and we have an insatiable hunger for fun.
In that spirit, a small troupe of Austin locals, myself among them, set out in 2010 to bring a spectacular and totally new kind of festival to the heart of the Lone Star State. It’s a high-energy sonic invasion that draws brass bands from around the continent each spring to fill our streets with three days of nonstop music. Welcome to HONK!TX.
What Is HONK!?
It’s hard to really explain a HONK! festival to someone who hasn’t been there because it’s like nothing you’ve seen before. No stages, no vendors, no gated entry. HONK!TX just kind of unfolds around you in a seemingly spontaneous explosion of joie-de-vivre.
The concept of a “HONK!” festival started in Somerville, MA, when the members of the radical marching band Second Line Social Aid And Pleasure Society noticed a tide of similar bands emerging across the continent. These rogue marching bands were breaking out of their traditional confines and striking out to share their music in new arenas. They were playing at local festivals and benefits, marching in pride parades and political rallies, and springing up just about anywhere they felt like making some noise.
Somerville’s HONK! Fest was born in 2006. For the first time, these scattered bands were able to converge and turn their individual sparks into a collective blaze of music, self-expression, and celebration.
Each band brings its unique flavor to the festival. Some wear elaborate costumes, some bring a posse of dancers, and all bring their seemingly tireless love of performance. Unfettered by mics and amps, these unruly bands are known to wander from their performance space at times, even leading impromptu mini-parades around the area.
But HONK! festivals are about much more than great bands. They are about reuniting a growingly detached community. As Somerville’s HONK! Fest puts it on their site, the bands “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.” The music calls us into the streets, away from our various screens, and out of our shells.
The HONK!TX Community
Proving that fun doesn’t have to have a price tag attached, HONK!TX is nonprofit and completely free and open to the public. The entire event, from housing and feeding the bands, to road closures and permits, is dependent on donations and support from individuals and businesses in the community. Scores of volunteers and local businesses give time, energy, and money to bring HONK!TX to life each year.
People open up their homes to host the visiting musicians. Restaurants and even a few culinarily-inclined volunteers whomp up heaping meals to feed the hungry bands. Drivers are called upon to chauffeur bodies and instruments to and fro, and The Yellow Bike Project even fixes up donated bikes for those musicians who prefer to pedal.
Simultaneously simple and fantastical, HONK!TX feels like something created organically right before your eyes. But this is one child that really does take a village to raise. Help is always needed and we invite everyone to join in!
What You Can Expect This March
The festival runs March 22-24th. But this year the party starts early with a benefit for traveling HONK! bands on March 21st, including performances by the bands. There will also be special film screenings on March 24th from 6-9 PM – location TBA.
Then the festival kicks off officially with a Friday night shakedown. The bands converge in the streets to ring in the weekend and warm up your dancin’ limbs. Saturday is an all-day revelry held at Adams Park, near Spiderhouse Coffee, with performance spaces located in and around the park and surrounding areas.
Sunday rounds off the weekend with a huge parade through East Austin. The Austin Samba School leads the procession, while dancers, puppets, and the giant peddled beasts of the Austin Bike Zoo circle and weave through the crowd. The parade will conclude at PanAm Park, where you can sprawl out on the grassy slope to rest your feet and enjoy 22 bands perform a back-to-back brass blowout.
Mark your calendars and come out this March to enjoy the magic and mayhem that is HONK!TX.
Mikaela Thomas is an Austin native and one of the city’s biggest admirers. When she’s not writing or coordinating events, you’ll find her two-steppin’ at the Broken Spoke, kayaking on Ladybird Lake, or sprawled out in Zilker Park reading a good book.
Photos courtesy of Michael Antares.
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